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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Margaret Spellings
Margaret Spellings
Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
May 14, 2004

Margaret Spellings
Good morning. I'm so excited that education continues to get such a good response on the President's education policies. So I'm glad to be here again on this subject.

Steve, from new york writes:
I agree with the President that we need to raise standards and expectations for both students and teachers. However, I do not believe that meeting these standards is the sole responsibility of either student or teacher.

The societal and economic problems we Americans are experiencing are also important factors which need to be addressed.

Margaret Spellings

You are so right. Student achievement is not the exclusive responsibility of students and teachers. That is why NCLB holds schools and states accountable for student achievement. The role of the fed government in education has always been focused on the neediest students such as poor or disadvantaged kids. With the President's '05 budget request, funding for education will be up 49 percent. You also recognize the societal and economic issues as part of addressing education.

That is why he has proposed improvements for Head Start which puts kids on the road to be successful in school and for reforms to our welfare system which address issues such as child care and support for families.

Alex, from Chester SC writes:
Hello My mom is a special education teacher in South Carolina. The President's No Child Left Behind sometimes seems impossible for Special Education. Not every child is going to be on Third Grade level. Many Special Education students would benefit from an alternate course, in which they

learn a trade. What types of things such as alternate courses are avalible under No Child Left Behind? Also a comment: I love how the president leaves his coat on while speaking A gentlemen always leaves his coat on...unlike the presidents competition Thanks

Margaret Spellings
Hi Alex

You are right that special education students require us to tailor policies to their needs. That is why the department of education recently released flexibility in states in the NCLB Act to provide opportunities for such students to be tested on alternate assessments and for the participation by those students to be factored into the school's and states accountability system.

On your point about the President and his suit coat, you are so right. In fact, just this week he was in Arkansas in a junior high auditorium that was at least 110 degrees and he had his coat on at all time.

Thank God he had a clean shirt to change into when he got back on the plane.

Herbert, from Haughton, Louisiana writes:
Is it possible to submit a question concerning a specific school situation and expect an answer? MY daughter works at the Madison High School in Madison, Ohio in the capacity of Teachers Aide Secretary. She tells me

that their school board is saying that Federal Funds have been cut so that her job looks as though it may be in question, as far as continuation is concerned.

She has also been a supporter of President Bush until these kind of stories started circulating in her area.

My specific question is: whether the local school board in Madison is guilty of "playing politics" to sway their employees?

Margaret Spellings

Federal funding for education in Ohio is up 38.8 percent since 2001 and the NCLB Act has granted states more flexibility in using those resources. There may be other motivations or issues at play. You should ask your daughter to ask about how much federal funding has increased in her school district.

Lisa, from Beavercreek, OH writes:
How would you respond to President Bush's opponent who has stated that the "No Child Left Behind Act" was poorly funded when he actually voted for it? Thanks


Margaret Spellings

Thanks for writing. Federal funding for education is up 43 percent since the President took office and with his 05 budget will be up 49 percent. Studies have been done that have affirmed that NCLB is not an unfunded mandate.

I cannot speak to those who may have voted for it and have now changed their mind.

Hernst, from Silver Spring, MD writes:
Can you summarize some of the accomplishments in Education directly related to the "NO child left behind" education program? I believe that the full implementation of this program will make it possible for students, teachers, and parents to significantly improve the Education system in the US.

Margaret Spellings
NCLB is a profound education reform bill. It calls for the annual assessment of all children in grades 3 - 8 in reading and math and importantly requires that that data be "disaggregated" -- that means student achievement must be reported by student group (African American, Hispanic, poor, etc.)

The reason this is important is that when all student results are grouped together the actual progress of particular students can be masked and those students are frequently left behind. These two provisions allow teachers to identify who needs help and in what subjects or skills.

This information is also shared with parents and others and provides consequences such as options to transfer to a better performing public school or to seek extra help for their children if a school is not serving a child year after year.

We completely agree that these policies will do much to close the very significant achievement gap we have in our country so that we can remain competitive in the world.

Ron, from East Wenatchee, WA writes:
How do we as private citizens, prevent our Educational systems from lowering testing standards so that more students pass rather than dealing with the resaons that our students are failing?

Margaret Spellings
An important part of NCLB requires that all states participate in our nation's education report card called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP tests a sample of children in each state so that we can see how states and their students are doing relative to each other.

This is an important tool for federal, state and local policymakers to check the quality of state standards, testing and accountability systems.

So for example, if a state says that all their kids are proficient in their state standards yet they show up in the bottom of the NAEP rankings, state officials and local parents can act on that.

Part of the strength of our education system is that it is locally controlled. And the President believes that local officials are best able to chart the course to excellence for their students.

Lucinda, from Grand Forks, ND writes:
What is being done by President Bush and his cabinet to ensure that we have enough students, especially minorities, going into the SEM(science, engineering, and mathematics) fields?

Margaret Spellings

The President shares your concern about this issue and we have recently made this a major policy focus. In the State of the Union, and recent events, the President has called for a number of programs to ensure that science, engineering and math fields are pursued.

He has proposed a Presidential Math Science scholars program which would provide additional funds for higher education for worthy students to study math and science; he has also proposed loan forgiveness for teachers who pursue those fields of study so we can get more math/science teachers in middle and high schools; and he has called for resources for adjunct teachers which would encourage professionals with expertise in these areas to come into our classrooms.

In addition, he has called for an expansion of the State Scholars program which currently 13 states participate in and requires a rigorous course of study to make sure that kids are ready to be successful in college -- and gives an additional funding for their college education. Finally, he has proposed expansion of advanced placement programs in our high schools.

In short, the President supports policies to get more teachers in our public schools who can teach the next generation of mathematicians and scientists to encourage those students to study those fields in higher education and to encourage prospective teachers to train in those fields.

LIBA, from BROOKLYN writes:

Margaret Spellings
If you can make the work here 35 instead of 50 weeks ( ha ha ). Hang in there Liba, the school year is almost over. Your time in school is really important. If you only went to school for 100 days, you wouldn't be prepared with the skills you need to have to be successful in your life and I know you wouldn't want that. Hang in there.

andy, from washington middle school writes:
in your picture, you are wearing red. does that mean you like spider man? i am going to see spider man II when it comes out this summer. i like president bush and his dog, barney. are you his friend?

Margaret Spellings
Of course I like Spidey. I can't wait to see Spiderman II.

Yes, I am President Bush's friend and President Bush's best friend is his dog Barney.

Joe, from West Chester, Pa. writes:
Dear Mrs. Spelling: I am currently studying to be a school teacher. The one thing Ive noticed is that schools do not have an equal playing field. I was wondering does the federal government have a specific set of guidelines for schools to have the same amount of computers, books, teachers as per

student population. And if not, do you think there should be?

Thank you Joe.

Margaret Spellings
Public education in our country has always been a state and local responsibility. The federal government pays about 9 percent of financing public education. States around the country have struggled with the issue of school financing and school equity.

The fed government does not have a specific set of guidelines for computers, books, teachers, etc. However, the federal government's investment has always been to focus our neediest schools and students.

Craig, from Richmond, VA writes:
Why are we allowing test scores, numbers and figures to be the determining factor of success for the youth of our country? Grades are important but if you put a student into society who has no morals or character, then you end up with the type of young people who become adults, like we have today, who

contribute to the decline of our nation.

Margaret Spellings

We agree that character education as well as academics are important in education.

Character education provides children with the tools to develop moral and ethical strength. The Administration has requested $25 million for the First Lady’s Character Education Initiative to encourage schools and school districts to develop curricula that teach strong values, promote good character, and help children develop a sense of responsibility to the community. Funding has increased from $7.8 million in 2001 to a proposed $25 million in the FY 05 budget.

In the 2003 State of the Union Address, the President announced his request for a $450 million mentoring initiative to support schools and non-profit, community, and faith-based organizations in matching disadvantaged children with caring adult mentors. The two components of this mentoring initiative include a program to provide new mentors to at-risk middle school students and a program to provide mentors to children whose parents are in prison.

The FY 2004 budget includes $100 million ($50 million each for the middle school and mentoring children of prisoners initiative)to support the development, expansion, and strengthening of exemplary mentoring programs specifically targeted at disadvantaged middle school students and children of prisoners.

The President’s FY 2005 budget request includes an additional $50 million in competitive grants to train adult volunteers as mentors to children of prisoners, and $100 million for school and community-based organizations for school-based mentoring.

Cliff, from Brimfield Ohio writes:
Assistan Spellings I just read that Ohio State is going to raise their tution 13.5 and Kent State is raising theirs also. Many of the students and kids trying to go to college already work what amounts to full time jobs plus some work between two jobs. What good is having a domestic policy in education. That's is pricing many kids out of the chance to attend colledge and adding a finical burden on the partents of kids that are trying?

Margaret Spellings

The President is committed to providing increased funding for the Pell Grant program, which provides needy students with grants to pay for college.

If the President’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget is enacted, funding for the Pell Grant program will have increased $4.1 billion, or 47%, since 2001.

In addition, the number of Pell Grant recipients has risen by approximately one million since 2001, and the maximum Pell Grant has risen from $3,750 in 2001 to $4,050 in the President’s FY 2005 budget.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget would expand overall student financial aid available to $73.1 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion or 6% over the 2004 level. The number of recipients of grant, loan, and work-study assistance would grow by 426,000 to 10 million students and parents.

The President's FY 2005 budget also proposes several changes to the student loan system to make college more affordable for students. To help students meet rising tuition costs, the Administration proposes to increase loan limits for first-year students, extend the favorable interest rate framework currently available to students, and ease and expand repayment options so millions of students can manage higher debts.

In total, the President’s budget would provide $7.4 billion in additional benefits to students over the next 10 years. These costs are offset by proposals that help strengthen the financial stability of the student loan programs.

In regard to the interest rate issue, the borrower rate on Stafford and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans is scheduled to be fixed at 6.8 percent for new loans beginning July 1, 2006.

Under current interest rate projections, this would result in a substantial increase in interest rates for most borrowers. The budget proposes to eliminate the scheduled change and maintain the current variable interest rate formula, allowing students and their families to take advantage of the historically low interest rate environment.

Margaret Spellings
Gosh, our time always goes so fast. But I hope I can come back again.