RESTON, Va. -- Calling childhood illiteracy a ''national emergency,'' Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Tuesday unveiled a five-year, $5 billion proposal to ensure that all American children can read by the end of third grade.
Bush's reading initiative would provide federal money to states to diagnose reading problems in kindergarten and first grade. It would pay for training kindergarten and first-grade teachers in reading instruction. And it would fund research-based intervention programs, such as tutoring or summer school, for children with reading problems.
As part of the effort, which the Bush campaign figures would affect 920,000 largely poor children nationwide, the reading initiative would also push states to create ongoing reading assessment tests for students in grades three to eight.
And it would allow parents to pull their children from schools that accept federal money but still fail to teach children to read after three years; such parents could use federal vouchers to send their children to private schools.
Bush unveiled his plan in the fourth major education speech of his White House campaign, part of a continuing effort to make the issue a cornerstone of his candidacy and to appeal to centrist voters, particularly women. He also used the occasion to paint strong differences between himself, Democratic opponent Al Gore and conservative Republicans, who would leave education policy for the states to decide.
The plan, which would give states some latitude in choosing diagnostic tools and intervention efforts, ''is different from those who would throw money into schools without reforming them,'' he continued.
Gore has proposed using $115 billion of the expected federal budget surplus over 10 years -- in addition to current spending -- to fund universal preschool and to continue the Clinton administration's class-size reduction efforts. He also wants to triple the number of charter schools and expand Head Start.
''Bush's plan does not address big issues,'' such as preschool, expansion and improvement of aging schools and teacher hiring, says Doug Hattaway, a Gore spokesman.
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