The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 8, 2004

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Knoxville, Tennessee

9:53 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, pool. Let me begin with the President's day. The President had two world leader calls this morning, to the President of Colombia and the President of Ecuador. If you all will recall, there was a senior member of FARC who was apprehended late last week. The President spoke with President Uribe and the President congratulated him on the recent successes of Colombia against FARC narco terrorists. And both leaders indicated they look forward to working together on a successful hemispheric summit next week in Mexico.

Then the President spoke with President Gutierrez. The President thanked President Gutierrez for his support in fighting terrorism, and again, both leaders indicated that they look forward to working together for a successful hemispheric summit next week.

Q He called Gutierrez to thank him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Because they're involved in the -- well, one, they were involved in apprehending this senior member of FARC last Friday.

Q Both leaders were involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, both countries.

Then the President had his usual briefings. Upon arrival in Knoxville, the President will meet briefly with a Freedom Corps greeter. His name is Nathaniel Foster. He's an active volunteer in the Knoxville community for 25 years now, and he chairs the mentoring committee of the Knoxville chapter of 100 Black Men of America, which is a nonprofit which seeks to improve the lives of young African Americans through mentoring, health and wellness, education, economic development.

And following that, the President will go to West View Elementary -- and let me give you a little bit about West View Elementary. West View Elementary serves 237 students in grades K through 5; 91 percent of the students are low-income, from low-income families. West View is a Title I school and they did make adequate yearly progress this year.

Q They did?

MR. McCLELLAN: They did. Eighty percent of 3rd graders scored proficiently in reading and math on last year's state test, and students also made above average gains in both reading and math between 2002 and 2003.

When the President first gets there he will briefly visit with students, about 40 students and 3 teachers from the school in a classroom, and that will be pool coverage, as it was the other day. And then, following that, the President will participate in a conversation on the second anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act.

This is the second -- today marks the second anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. And the President will continue to highlight the unprecedented commitment we have made to making sure that every child is learning and succeeding by insisting on high standards and real accountability and results. And the President, I expect, will also talk about the historic levels of support we've provided to make sure we meet that commitment by giving states the resources they need to implement these standards.

And the participants in that, in the conversation, will include Secretary Paige, who is traveling with us. It will include the State Superintendent of Schools for the Georgia Department of Education. It will include some leaders from education groups, the principal of Barton Elementary School from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the superintendent from Charlotte, North Carolina. And the President I expect will also touch on the progress that we are making on the national level in student achievement, and the progress we are making to close the achievement gap.

And then, following that, the President makes remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon in Knoxville. Then we will go to Palm Beach, Florida, and the President, upon arrival, will have a Freedom Corps greeter there, Gordon Stanley, who is an active volunteer with the Delray Beach Police Department since 1996. This is part of the Volunteers in Police Service which is part of our Citizen Corps initiative. Gordon Stanley is a retired individual living in Florida and he is spending his time volunteering with the local police department.

And then he makes remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. And that's all I've got.

Q Is he still loosening up, or is he going to say anything more directly --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's still focused on the people's business, he's still loosening up.

Q Do you have anything about the helicopter down, the Blackhawk helicopter?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. First of all, our men and women in the military are serving and sacrificing in Iraq for an important cause, a cause that is making the world a safer and better place. I know exactly what you all have heard publicly from the Central Command officials in Iraq. And the President is saddened any time we lose men and women in the military.

Q Saddened any time --

MR. McCLELLAN: Any time we lose a member of our military. And our thoughts and prayers are always with the families and loved ones of those who lose their lives, sacrificing to make the world a better place.

Q Scott, there are reports that the United States has quietly pulled out its team searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Is that correct, and does that amount to a concession that you don't expect to find --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was a report in one of the papers this morning that was talking about I think two separate things -- in the paper talking about some of the members who are responsible for disposing of weapons, and separate and apart from, I believe, the Iraq Survey Group. I mean, obviously, you talk to the military about how they're allocating our resources, but the Iraq Survey Group continues to do its work. We already know from their interim report that Saddam Hussein's regime was in serious violation of 1441, which called for serious consequences.

Q Are our efforts to find weapons being scaled down in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you want to talk to our military in terms of the resources being allocated to all our different priorities in Iraq. But the Iraq Survey Group continues to do its work, continues to pursue its mission.

Q You mentioned Secretary Paige would be on the trip. 60 Minutes had a show last night detailing how the Houston School District overstated its graduation rates, or understated dropout rates, overstated its achievement. Is the President still confident in Secretary Paige's leadership?

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Paige is doing an outstanding job and he shares the President's commitment to making sure that we set high expectations, because we believe that every child can learn and succeed. And that's what the President and the Secretary will be talking about today in Tennessee. Texas certainly has been a state that was on the leading edge of improving our public schools.

Q Does he see a need for safeguards to ensure against the sort of manipulation that was alleged in this --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with the way you're characterizing things in the first place, and I think Secretary Paige has addressed that matter himself.

Q So no additional steps need to be taken?

MR. McCLELLAN: For what? I mean, I disagree with the premise of your question. I just disagree with the premise of your question in the first place. What the President is talking about today is the importance of making sure that we set high standards and real accountability and we insist on results so that every child is learning and succeeding. And he will talk about the progress that we are making as we measure the student achievement.

Q Will he announce any new budget figures or anything --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, in fact --

Q Can we have a factsheet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we have a factsheet that Mr. Deckard is getting for you right now. And the President will talk about -- as I mentioned, he will talk about the historic levels of support that we are providing in terms of resources for states and school districts as we make an unprecedented commitment to improving public schools.

And this factsheet lays out some of the additional increases the President will be seeking in his '05 budget proposal. And his '05 budget proposal represents a 48-percent increase for elementary and secondary education since Fiscal Year 2001. It includes an additional $1 billion in Title I funding for disadvantaged students; it includes an additional $138 million for reading programs. The President often talks about reading is the key to success. And an additional $1 billion for special education programs.

I would just point out that there are still -- there are nearly -- and this is in the factsheet, as well -- that there's nearly $6 billion in federal education funds that remained unspent, waiting to be drawn down by the states.

Q -- Democrats who are saying that this measure is not funded adequately, they're just wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that that argument rings hollow after what I just pointed out to you, the fact that I just pointed out to you that there's nearly $6 billion in unspent federal education funds that states have yet to draw down.

Q Is that just an absorption problem, or is there -- has the administration looked into why $6 billion is still --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it talks in here, it lays out in here that we've made these resources available to local school districts, but that they've -- but those states and local school districts have not been able to take full advantage of the ample resources that are currently available to them. So we've made --

Q I'm sorry, how much is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: The $6 billion.

Q Why is that? I'm sure you've analyzed that and looked at why they haven't been able to use the $6 billion. Why would that be?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there are probably a variety of reasons. You have to look at each -- at the states and the local school districts about their ability to spend those resources.

Q -- you guys put out, break it down by states for us?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the Department of Education has actually put this information out, so you can get that from the Department of Education. They actually have or are about to or are putting out this information. So they can get you all that information in terms of those questions you're asking right now. We can check and maybe we can get that to you on the road. The Tennessee numbers are actually in the factsheet.

Q On the education bill, people -- Democrats like Kennedy, George Miller worked with the President real closely. Given this divide over this issue now, what are the chances that the President and the Democrats can get together on any other legislation in this election year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, the President has never been someone to shy away from the big challenges that face this country. And I think that we've often heard on some very important priorities those same kind of questions. If you go back to the No Child Left Behind Act two years ago, there were a lot of questions about whether or not it would get passed. There were questions about whether or not the Medicare legislation would get passed.

This President is committed to leading and acting decisively to address our nation's highest priorities, and we have achieved some important success on a number of areas, including the two I just mentioned, as well as passing tax cuts for the American people to get the economy growing again. And the President is someone that will continue to remind members of Congress that there are remaining big challenges that face this country and we need to work together across the aisle to address those priorities, including one that he talked about yesterday.

Anything else? Thank you.

END 10:08 A.M. EST

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