WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush on Saturday commemorated Black History Month, highlighting the importance of education as his administration sets aside increased funding for the nation's historically black colleges and universities.
"Education is the beginning of opportunity. Through the historic Education Reform Bill I recently signed, we are returning high standards and accountability to all our public schools. And my administration strongly supports the work and the mission of our historically black colleges and universities," Bush said during his weekly radio address.
President Bush is seeking $56.6 billion in funding for the U. S. Department of Education in his 2003 federal budget request. That includes $50.3 billion for discretionary programs including those that would fulfill his pledge to leave no child behind. In January, Bush said the Education Department would implement the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars Program for promising students across the country.
Bush has called education reform a "civil rights issue," saying it is discriminatory not to provide learning opportunities. Civil rights groups such as the NAACP have agreed with Bush on that point, but say they have concerns about the continued push for school voucher programs. Others say his commitment to black colleges and universities has been inadequate.
Marian Wright Edelman, director of the Children's Defense Fund, on Wednesday said her organization had originally coined the phrase "Leave No Child Behind," which Bush now uses for his education reform platform that addresses problems with children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The difference, she said, was Bush's funding proposal for education "actually leaves millions of children behind."
Bush's education proposal provides $1 billion for the Reading First Program, a $100 million increase over 2002. It also includes $75 million for Early Reading First, the same level as 2002. The budget proposes $387 million for the second year of states' development of annual reading and math assessments for grades 3 through 8.
It provides $2.9 billion for Teacher Quality State Grants to recruit, train and retain qualified teachers, and ensures the quality of new teachers in schools receiving Title I funds.
Last year Bush pledged a 30 percent increase over four years and federal support for historically black institutions and those serving the Hispanic population.
"My new budget, even in a time of recession and war, keeps us on track to reach that target. These are schools like Morehouse College in Atlanta, where Dr. King earned his first degree, schools like Howard University in Washington, D.C., where Carter Woodson was Dean of the College of Liberal Arts," Bush said.
Bush went on to say he hoped that all Americans could draw inspiration from the message of Black History month even as the United States fights a war both at home and abroad.
"Today we are fighting for freedom in a new way, and on new battlefields. And we continue to press for equal opportunity for every American here at home. We want every American to be educated up to his or her full potential," Bush said.