CHICAGO — President Bush on Monday called on state governors to meet with him in September for a two-day "summit" aimed at finding new ways to raise the quality of American education.
"Together we can find ways to strengthen our schools, to enlarge opportunities and to improve our nation's educational performance," the President told the semiannual meeting of the National Governors Assn. here.
In general, the governors welcomed the idea as a way to call attention to the problems of public education. Some were skeptical about whether much could be accomplished by such a meeting unless the President seeks additional federal funds to help state and local governments upgrade educational systems.
The idea for a summit meeting on education was first raised by Bush during the 1988 presidential campaign, when he vowed to be "the education President." He mentioned the proposal again during a meeting with a group of governors in May.
First Specific Proposal
His remarks here Monday represented the first formal and specific invitation to such a meeting. Bush said that the conference would be held on Sept. 27 and 28. He did not say where.
The President did not spell out an agenda in his 20-minute speech to the governors, but he did refer to the educational reform package he submitted to Congress last April, in which he proposed setting up a system of awards to encourage extra achievement on the part of schools and teachers and a $100-million-a-year fund to help start and expand so-called "magnet schools" offering special curricula.
"I don't view (a summit meeting) as something like today, where I spend a few minutes and then take off," Bush said here. "This is going to be a session where we will have an opportunity together to take a considerable amount of time to discuss these issues."
"It certainly will be helpful," California Gov. George Deukmejian said of the summit proposal. "I think the main thing the federal government and the President can do is to continue to focus the nation's attention on the importance of improvement in the quality of our educational program. By having a presidential summit on education with the governors, that's certainly going to highlight it."
"I think it will be a good thing," said Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, like Deukmejian a Republican. "We need a national educational policy, and (federal officials) can help give us direction and help us pull together."
"I actually think (Bush) wants to do something," Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, said. "We ought to give him the chance."
"I don't think you can do anything but profit from sitting down with 50 governors to discuss these issues," said New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, another Democrat. Cuomo said that Bush deserved praise because "he is showing interest in the issue and he is showing that he is willing to listen."
Nevertheless, Cuomo said he is concerned that the President will simply "focus attention on the issue and leave the states to pay for it."
Unless Bush relents in his opposition to new taxes, Cuomo said, "there is no meaningful way you can make progress" on education or any of the other social problems the states are facing.
After his speech here, Bush cut short what was to have been a two-day trip, including Las Vegas and Oklahoma City, and returned to Washington because of reports that pro-Iranian Muslims in Lebanon had executed U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins.