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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 23, 2001

President Bush Discusses Education Plan Before Meeting with Joint Congressional Education Leadership Group

PRESIDENT BUSH: Good morning, everybody. I want to welcome you all. I particularly want to welcome senior members of the Senate and the House. We're here today to discuss a domestic policy issue of high importance, and that's public education -- how to make sure every child in America gets educated.

I have always said that public schools, the common schools, issues related to public schools are not a Republican issue or Democrat issue; it's an American issue.  And we'll agree on things, we won't agree on things, but we will always agree that making sure every child is educated is of national importance, because it is a major priority.

There is a role for the federal government, there's a role for state government, there's a role for local governments, and part of the -- part of our discussions and eventual legislation will recognize those roles.

And I am so honored that the senators came over and members of the House leadership that's going to help carry legislation. I believe the best way for the vice president and I to help the legislative process is to discuss issues in a frank and open way, and that's the beginning of a process here. So thank you all for coming. I'm honored you're here.

Q Mr. President, Senator McCain yesterday said that he has a mandate. Do you agree with him that he has a mandate and, if so, what is that mandate?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm going to meet with the senator tomorrow night to discuss issues of concern for him. I suspect one of them might be campaign funding reform. But I'll let you know how the conversation goes. I'm confident it's going to be friendly and productive.

John and I are friends. I remember we debated the issue several times -- I think you might have been there -- and I think there's a need to discuss good campaign funding reform, and we will.

Q Mr. President, how much of a sticking point for Democrats do you think your school choice, or voucher, program is?

And are you willing to give ground in order to get a broader deal?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that there is consensus on a couple things. One, accountability is the cornerstone for reform. And secondly, in order for there to be a -- an accountability system that's got merit, there has to be a consequence. And that's what we're going to discuss.

Representative Miller from the state of California understands that accountability is crucial for success. And so does Boehner, and I hope the senator -- I haven't had a chance to speak specifically with Senator Kennedy yet. I'm about to. But we got to measure, and there needs to be flexibility at the local level, to make sure that local folks can chart the path to excellence.

But in order for an accountability system to work, there has to be consequences, and I believe one of the most important consequences will be, after a period of time, giving the schools time to adjust and districts time to try different things, if they're failing, that parents ought to be given different options.

If children are trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change, there has to be a different consequence.

None of us at the federal government should try to impose a school voucher plan on states and local jurisdictions. That's not the prerogative of the federal government, as far as I'm concerned. But to the extent that the federal government spends money, we ought to expect good results and good consequences.

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