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Bush Touts New System to Track Education Data

September 10, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — President Bush on Tuesday announced the creation of a nationwide data-gathering system to help parents and policymakers assess student achievement under the 2001 No Child Left Behind education reform law.

The new $55-million public-private partnership would enable states to collect and analyze education information and consolidate it in a database accessible via the Internet.

The main sponsor of the data-collection initiative is the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. Its founder, philanthropist Eli Broad, said in a telephone interview that the nation could ill afford to wait for financially strapped states to emerge from their fiscal crises before beginning the work of education reform.

Other participants in the two-year project include Standard & Poor's, a leading provider of financial information and analytical services; and Just for the Kids, a private organization based in Austin, Texas, that analyzes academic achievement.

Bush announced the initiative during an appearance at Hyde Park Elementary School here.

The president then flew to Fort Lauderdale for his third reelection fund-raising event in two days. Earlier in the day, he spoke at a fund-raiser in Jacksonville.

The nonpartisan environment of Bush's education announcement was noteworthy, given the attacks recently leveled at him in Washington by Democrats such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of Martinez, Calif., who say that the president has failed to deliver on his promise to reform public education.

Broad is a Democrat and close friend of former President Clinton. And Tom Luce, chairman of Just for the Kids, managed Reform Party candidate Ross Perot's presidential campaign in 1992 -- a candidacy that drew sufficient support away from the current president's father, George H.W. Bush, to deliver the election to Clinton.

Education should not be a partisan issue, Broad emphasized: "When it comes to education, I like to say: We've got to be party-blind, in addition to color-blind."

The hope, he said, is that after two years, states will continue the project on their own.

The Broad Foundation is supplying just over half of the $50.9 million in private contributions; the Department of Education will provide $4.7 million. As the 2004 presidential campaign gets underway, the Democratic candidates and Bush are jockeying for partisan advantage over federal education policy -- specifically the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to set achievement standards and test their students to make sure the goals are being met.

"We're putting money behind what we said we would do," Bush said at Hyde Park, rejecting Democratic accusations that his administration has not adequately funded education reforms.

He noted that he is seeking $53.1 billion for elementary and secondary school programs in the fiscal 2004 budget, which begins Oct. 1.

But Kennedy was not persuaded. "I'm amazed that President Bush has the chutzpah to go back to the state that gave him the White House and brag about his record on education," Kennedy said Tuesday. "He's breaking his specific promise to pay for the reforms he signed into law a year and a half ago, and Florida schools, students and teachers will be shortchanged by $300 million in the coming year because of that broken promise."

Tuesday was Bush's 16th visit as president to Florida, a state that most political analysts say he will probably have to carry if he is to win reelection.

Both Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale have strong Democratic leanings, but also plenty of well-heeled Republicans to make the president's stops worthwhile.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, said that the $1.7 million collected here was the largest amount ever raised at a Jacksonville event. In a trip to the Sunshine State this summer, the president raised $3 million at events in Miami and Tampa.

Bush raised $1.3 million more Tuesday evening in Fort Lauderdale.

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