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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
Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy

September 29, 2004

Margaret Spellings

Good morning. Great to be back talking about one of my favorite things -- education. It is a subject that always gets much attention. So let's get to it.

Kat, from Birmingham, Alabama writes:
I am 13 years old and in the 8th grade. I go to Altamont, a private school. I take U.S. Government as one of my classes. I am writing a paper on what the Cabinet of Education does. I am supposed to read it aloud infront of my class. I was wondering if you could help me on this question. Thank you, Kathryn Elizabeth Tracey :)

Margaret Spellings, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, answered questions on "Ask the White House" Wednesday, September 29, 2004.
Margaret Spellings
Hey, Kat. I have a seventh grader myself so I think I know what you are going through. Let me first clarify your question. The President's Cabinet has many members # -- one of the positions is dedicated to Education and is known as the Secretary of education. The Secretary of Education is Rod Paige who was the supt of schools in Houston ISD before joining the Bush admin. His job is to oversee the approx 5000 of employees at the Dept of Education who are charged with overseeing and implementing federal education policy and federal funds to education. These include funding for higher education which among other things provides support for grants and loans to college and university students as well as overseeing various programs that support K-12 education such as grants to states for teacher training, poor schools working to provide opportunity for minority students, technology, reading and math and many others. Secretary Paige is the President's "go to guy" on implementing the landmark No Child Left Behind Act which calls on states to work to ensure academic proficiency for all students.

Mrs. Wright, from Oklahoma writes:
Yes, Homeschooling is becoming more widespread and I would like to know how the President feels about Homeschooling? Is he in favor of testing all children public school educated and homeschooled according to a state mandated set of guidelines? Does he feel that the government schools and/or private organized schools can provide the best education for all children or that parents should have the right to educate their children themselves?

Margaret Spellings
President Bush absolutely believes that parents should aboslutely have the right to educate their children themselves. Whether or not home school students are tested is a state issue. As Governor of Texas, President Bush did not support testing for home schooled students and Texas was considered to be one of the most home school friendly states. President Bush believes that good education can be found in public schools, private schools and home schools.

Lori, from Baltimore writes:
How can I vote for you? I am a special education teacher with 24 12 years of experience. In addition, I have a master's degree. I was just informed today that because my school is now a Title 1 school I am not considered HIGHLY QUALIFIED. How can you simply negate all of effort I put into getting my degrees and all of my work in the classroom? How can you arbitrarily draw such a conclusion?? You have never met me nor have you observed my teaching.

Although I will be eligible for early retirement in June, I may have to go back to school. By the way, who is supposed to pay for this????

(P.S. This is one Catholic who finds miss leading the public and the immoral war far greater wrongs than a woman's right to choose.)

Margaret Spellings
Lori, I am sorry you feel that way but I think it is important for you to understand what the federal law requires and what role states play in implementing No Child Left Behind and specifically the provisions relating to the call for highly qualified teachers in every classroom.

No Child Left behind requires that by the 2005-2006 school year all teachers be highly qualified. The federal law says that teachers must have subject area expertise and be certified by the state.

Beyond that, the state determines how a teacher demonstrates the subject area expertise --- such as attending a class or taking a test and establishes the requirements for certification so I think your issue may really lie with the state certification board in Maryland. In addition the federal government provides about 3 billion dollars to states – a 39% increase over 2001

Marie, from Brooklyn writes:
Mr. President: Talking about the economy: My kids education depends on it, is there anything you can do to really improve it,because too many African American families cannot afford paying college for their children.

What's up with that? I need an answeron ASAP

Margaret Spellings
Marie, you are so right. We have a major “achievement gap” in our country between minority and Anglo students which we must close. That is what “No Child Left Behind” is all about.

For starters, we must make sure that more African American students get out of high school ready to enter and be successful in higher education. Funding for federal student aid for higher education is up by 51% since 2001.

The Pell Grant – which is the primary financial aid program for low and middle income students, is up from $3750 to $4050 per year – and about 5.3 million students receive them -- that’s a million more students than in 2001. The Dept. of Ed has a website that may be useful to you on finding financial aid opportunities – it is

Laurel, from Rancho Santa Margarita, CA writes:
First of all, I am huge supporter of "No Child Left Behind." One of the reasons is I have two children that were in many ways victims of social promotion in our public educational system. I personally spent thousands of dollars in private tutoring in order for them to get the education they deserved. My question relates to school vouchers and where does the President stands on this initiative? I believe vouchers will not only give parents a choice in educational opportunities, but will serve to force our public school system to reinvent itself to better serve our children.

Margaret Spellings
Laurel, thanks for your support for No Child Left Behind. One of the important provisions of this law is that it allows parents options for their children when schools are not successful in serving students.

The law provides that parents can either choose a higher performing public school or get funds for tutoring or summer school to help their child. It is important in any accountability system that consequences occur if schools don’t change and improve and that is what No Child Left Behind calls for.

In addition, the President has called on Congress to set aside 50 million dollars for a Choice Incentive Fund that states can access to help provide seed money for states and localities who want to implement choice programs.

Finally, the President supported, along with DC Mayor Tony Williams, a major choice initiative in the District of Columbia for the first time. It is being implemented for the first time this school year and provides 14 million dollars in scholarships to student’s private school.

Matt, from UT writes:
I have a question about the Marinesmillitary dont get me wrong I belive in everything that's going on.But anyway the question is the Military is the Military so why r the standars different from state to state to get in. I would go fight for my Country but they tell me that my GED dont mean anything in the state of UT. That I have to go to a special school to finish up what I didnt finish in school well that dont make any since becouse that's why I went and got my GED so I wouldent have to finish school but still have my education.Well I guess what I am saying is the goverment's missing out on soldiers.

Margaret Spellings
Success in any branch of the Military depends on a good education, and a high school diploma is most desirable. Candidates with a GED can enlist, but some services may limit opportunities. It is very difficult to be considered a serious candidate without either a high school diploma or accepted alternative credential. I encourage you to seek the additional certification. That way you will benefit from more education and be able to pursue opportunties in the military. The willingness to serve our nation in the armed forces is a high honor and will earn you lasting gratitude.

Robyn, from North Carolina writes:
I am an Occupational Therapist in the school system. I understand that the No Child Left Behind is a great incentive to help our educators be the best they can be to help our children become as successful as possible. I have been ask to present the question--Why are Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist not included in the ABC bonus when the Speech Therapist and nurses receive the ABC bonus if their school makes AYP? I think Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy have been over looked. We work with the children weeking to help them perform to the best of their ability and help them become as successful as possible. Please let me know what I can do or my organization can to to help you gain more knowledge regarding Occupational Therapy in the school setting. You can also contact the NBCOT (National Board of Certified Occupational Therapy). Thank you so much for your time.Thank you, Robyn Shelton

Margaret Spellings
Hi Robyn

It appears that the ABC bonus system you wrote about is a state program in North Carolina, and therefore the federal government has no oversight over that issue. While the No Child Left Behind Act requires states to have accountability systems in place, it does not proscribe how states reward effective schools.

tina, from ohio writes:

Margaret Spellings
Hi, Tina: You may want to contact your local office of vocational rehabilitation operated through the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission.

Vocational rehabilitation is a State and Federal partnership program with a mission to assist and empower eligible individuals with disabilities to achieve and maintain meaningful employment.

If you are eligible, a vocational rehabilitation counselor will work individually with you to provide support and assistance as you work toward reaching your job goal. College or university-based education may be a part of your plan to become employed and vocational rehabilitation is a source to help you achieve your goals.

Also, I encourage you to contact the office at your college or university providing services to students with disabilities. This office –- typically in the student services office -- will be a rich resource of support and the staff may be able to provide suggestions unique to you and your school that will help you manage your coursework each semester.

They will likely be able to help coordinate with the state vocational rehabilitation program.

To find the nearest vocational rehabilitation office, Tina may contact the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission at 400 E. Campus View Boulevard, Columbus, Ohio 43235-4604, 614-438-1214 (TTY/V).

Tony, from Newark writes:
I want to know specifically the President is doing to help economically disadvantaged students (ESEA Title I) and to support children with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA Part B).


Margaret Spellings
Hello Tony

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to be accountable for the education of all students, including economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, and provides the resources to ensure results.

President Bush has increased Title I funding for disadvantaged students from $8.8 billion in 2001 to $13.3 billion in his 2005 budget, an increase of 52%.

This money goes to schools with large numbers of low-income students, and schools can use this funding to provide teacher training or tutoring, hire reading specialists, purchase new curricula, or for any other purpose to increase academic achievement.

President Bush has also increased funding for special education state grants from $6.3 billion in 2001 to $11.1 billion in 2005, a 75% increase.

Michael, from Air War College writes:
What is the Bush Administration's position on education within Iraq

Margaret Spellings
Thank you for your question. President Bush i s strongly committed to education in Iraq and refurbishing Iraqi schools was one of his highest priorities in order to stop spreading the erroneous messages of Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine. To date, over 2,405 schools in Iraq have been rehabilitated; 32,000 secondary school teachers have been trained; 8.7 million new textbooks have been printed, 25 Fullbright scholars are now s tuding in the United States ; and 20 Iraqi high school students are studying at US institutions. The President is firmly committed to the Iraqi people and especially to helping the young people of Iraq acheive their academic goals.

Randy, from Pennsylvania writes:
I am a supporter of George Bush, and I am an educator. The one concern I have with his re-election is NCLB. The fact that he holds special education students and certain other classifications of students at the same accountability level as main stream students is disturbing. Will he change components of NCLB to make obtaining goals more realistic?

Apparently the ones making this legislation have never taught, or have never taken the tests they are requiring students to. The idea that we have to prepare special education students to be able to achieve at a four year college level is unrealistic. Some children, no matter how hard you try, want to be left behind. There is no way any school will ever meet 100 achievement, I'll bet my house on it. Every school will eventually fail, under the stipulations of NCLB, and children will be left behind. I am all for accountability, and all the teachers I work with feel the same, however I think this is more about making education a private entity. I wish Dubya well in the election, and I realize it is more about many issues instead of one; however this is one that is real important to the education community.

Please update us on any possible changes to NCLB.

Margaret Spellings

The President has great faith in our schools and educators that these goals can be met and they are proving it everyday. In every state we are seeing improvement in closing the achievement gap and in reducing the number of schools needing improving -- every state is making progress under NCLB.

No Child Left Behind, while it does hold states accountable for the education of special education students, provides ways to meet this goal in a reasonable way.

As you know, the assessment of special ed students is governed largely by ARD committees. NCLB recognizes that different assessment systems will need to be developed for students who are not working at grade level and are classified as special ed.

Further, the law allows states to get credit for making continuous progress with these students under the safe harbor provision in the law.

Finally, states proscribe the standards and assessments that are used to measure regular and special ed students. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify these points.

Cathy, from Oklahoma writes:
I have been an adult educator for over twenty years. I teach many students who are overweight and suffering from poor physical fitness. Many of these students are living in poverty, going to school on government grants, and have limited previous education. I try to encourage them to have better diets and start walking. One complaint I hear over and over again is that diet foods are much more expensive than regular foods. It is hard to get someone, even if they are willing, to spend $2.50 on a Healthy Choice prepared dinner when they can get a Big Mac for 99 cents...or spend $4.04 for a sack of Baked Doritos when they can purchase the regular Doritos for $2.89. I realize these examples may seem extreme, but these are typical scenarios I hear. Is there any initiative that could be advanced that encourages food makers to adjust this situation? Taste counts, of course, but when you are trying to get a nation to watch fat and count calories it would be a big advantage if price was not such an issue. Thank you. Cathy L. Stewart

Margaret Spellings
You are doing the right thing in encouraging your students to eat right and exercise. Keep it up!

The President is concerned that half of American adults do not exercise at all and that obesity rates are on the rise in adults and children. He strongly believes that increasing personal fitness and becoming healthier is critical to achieving a better and longer life. That is why he created the HealthierUS Initiative to use the resources of the Federal government to educate Americans about the benefits from simple and modest improvements in their physical activity, nutrition, and behavior. You don't have to join a gym or become a marathon runner. We all can make small changes in our daily lives to reduce the risk and severity of many chronic diseases.

The President's budget includes $125 million for the Step to a HealthierUS program which helps local communities promote behaviors that reduce obesity, diabetes, and asthma. Also, the USDA is expanding a program to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs.

For your students, remind them that they don't have to choose "diet" foods, just healthy foods. Instead of chips for a snack, a piece of fruit is healthier and cheaper. Why not a simple vegetable soup prepared at home instead of fast food or prepared meals? When pursuing a healthy lifestyle, make sure you take advantage of all the choices available to you!

Lori, from Shawnee, Oklahoma writes:
Dear Mr. President, I am a 5th grade elementary school teacher. I have heard so many interpretations of your policy, No Child Left Behind. Are you saying that all children, regardless of IQ, should be able to learn the objectives deemed appropriate for their grade level, or are you saying that all children should achieve to their highest potential based on their IQ? For example, would a child with an IQ of 70 be required to master all of the 5th grade objectives, or would they be required to master all of the skills of which they are capable based on their abilities? Thank you for your time and the job you do Lori

Margaret Spellings

You are so right. It is frustrating when I hear how much misinformation is out there on No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind simply is about results for kids. And requires that children from grades 3 - 8 be tested in reading and math and that this information be reported to parents, educators and the community so that children can get help.

Of course, for special ed students the standards and assessments will be different and states are developing proper measurement systems for those students.

Lori, thanks to you for being a teacher.

Margaret Spellings
Thanks again for the chance to chat. The interest in this topic shows how Americans understand and appreciate the role public education plays in our democracy and our society and in our economy. I look forward chatting with you again soon.

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