The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
February 17, 2004

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Media Availability in Bentonville, Arkansas
Bentonville High School
Bentonville, Arkansas

11:16 A.M. CST

MRS. BUSH: Thanks for coming out today to hear about TeachArkansas. I'm so excited to be here at Bentonville High School to try to recruit teachers, recruit mid-career people to think about changing jobs -- like Kyle Miller has; he told his story in there in the speech -- or new students, the high school students, to think about going into education as a college degree and then teaching.

Bentonville High School really is a very good example of a school that is helping high school students find their career path, with a lot of technology courses and a lot of AP courses. Bentonville also allows students to go to the community -- local community college concurrently, while they're going to high school, to be able to get a head start when they go to college.

I'm also on the road to talk about the No Child Left Behind Act, because one of the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act is to make sure there's a quality teacher in every classroom. And there's a lot of money appropriated in the No Child Left Behind Act for teacher training; and then also for programs like The New Teacher Project, which is what TeachArkansas is part of; or the Troops to Teachers program, which I know Arkansas has also used, which tries to encourage retiring military for their second career to teach in schools here in Arkansas.

Many school districts need the opportunities and the personnel to strengthen their instruction. And that's what The New Teacher Project and Troops to Teachers tries to do, along with the grants available to states for teacher training that are in the No Child Left Behind Act.

So thank you all for coming out today, and I'd be glad to answer your questions.

Q Mrs. Bush, a lot of teachers in Arkansas leave the state for higher-paying jobs, and I'm wondering how TeachArkansas --

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm not sure about TeachArkansas, but I will want to say to everyone that teacher pay is a very, very important issue. It's important for school districts and states to come to terms with the fact that teachers are professionals, that they deserve good pay, and to do what they can to raise teacher salaries.

I understand that a lot of states have budget problems and that since teachers are funded with either local school district or state monies, that money is tight. But I also know how crucial really good teachers are to the whole future of our country. And so I want to urge state legislatures, as they make the really tough decisions that they have to make, to remember the teachers and to try to appropriate the monies so that students, school work and teachers' careers aren't hurt with budget cuts.

Q I know one of the main problems with the No Child Left Behind Act is for states and local districts, that it's under-funded. And I wondered --

MRS. BUSH: Well, there is actually more funding in the No Child Left Behind Act than has ever been in any other education funding. And, in fact, there are about $6 billion left in it that states have not drawn on. So, you know, it's incumbent upon state departments of education and state legislators to work to make sure they ask for those grants and the money that's in the No Child Left Behind Act. And the President is proposing for 2005 even more money, particularly for Title I, under the No Child Left Behind Act. But there is more money appropriated with that Act than there has ever been with any other federal education bill in history.

Q How do you feel about the misconception that students in Arkansas are uneducated?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it is a misconception. And I think Kyle Miller made a really good point when he spoke about deciding to become a teacher instead of working for a television station. And I loved his idea that when he worked for a television station that he felt like they spent most of their time on covering things that were bad -- murders and scandals. And when they ever covered anything -- and I know this is so true -- about somebody that needed help, the station would get hundreds of calls from people who said, "How can I help?" And that gave him the idea that he could help by becoming a teacher. And I think it's really important. I think his speech was really the best one of all the speeches that were up there, because it really let us know what local people can do -- just like Mr. Chapman said in his class that I was in earlier -- what ordinary people can do to make everything better.

Q The No Child Left Behind Act is providing a lot of money and training for teachers, but what about some of the standards under the Act that say, like, a special education student or a child with Down's Syndrome or a disability has to perform at a standard equal to or close to that of an honor student or a student without those challenges, making higher grades? How can a classroom teacher overcome that and meet those standards that are set as part of that Act?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that is something that actually is being looked at. But the idea behind the No Child Left Behind Act is that every person can learn. That's what the whole point is. That it's not fair to say because you don't speak English, because English is your second language that you get just get shuffled off somewhere else, and that you aren't included in the mainstream and that you can't learn like everyone else can.

So people -- students, all students were included in the No Child Left Behind Act, but certainly school districts recognize that there are children with certain disabilities who can't perform like other students can on those tests. And I think that's what school districts have to recognize.

Q I want to ask you two questions -- probably the toughest ones you'll have all day. What do you find unique about northwest Arkansas? And do you plan on seeing, or have you seen, "The Passion of the Christ"?

MRS. BUSH: Those are interesting questions. No, I haven't seen the movie, but I hope to get to see it sometime. I think it sounds very interesting and I'd like to see it.

You know, I grew up in Texas, just right over here, so I'm very aware of Arkansas. I've traveled to Arkansas a lot, back when my college was in the Southwest Conference, along with the University of Arkansas, for those football games -- which we always lost. (Laughter.) And, you know, I really -- I feel very at home here, in that I know this part of the country and part of our country is very similar to the state where I grew up.

I also know that this is a -- this part of Arkansas is an unbelievably entrepreneurial part of the United States, that there are a lot of really world-famous entrepreneurs from here. In fact, I have a joke in another speech I'm giving that the part of the President's stimulus plan, economic stimulus plan, he wanted to bottle the water from Beaver Lake. (Laughter.)

Q You sat in the history class today. What words of encouragement do you have for, maybe, high school students going into the teaching profession, or considering it?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I asked those students, that I hoped that they would consider teaching, and one student told me she was considering teaching. I know that when young people graduate from high school and then go on to graduate from college, it's a very idealistic time of their life. I know that that was certainly the way I was when I got out of college and went to work as a teacher.

And I think -- I hope -- our country will take advantage of that and that young people will take advantage of that, too, and choose that time in life to try to really make a difference for their country, and for their fellow men and women or students that they know.

So I hope that people will really consider teaching as a career. I think they will. I think there is actually more interest -- I see this in my girls' friends. Many of my girls' friends -- and my girls are seniors in college -- have applied for Teach for America. Teach for America gets many, many more applications than they can possibly accept, and I think that shows that recent college graduates are interested in teaching. This project, TeachArkansas, got many, many more applications in its very first year than it could accept. So I know there is -- I think there is a trend in our country for young people to consider teaching again as a career.

Q Mrs. Bush, you probably have been briefed -- in fact, you mentioned earlier about the tough things that have to be decided by the legislature. The state of Arkansas is in an educational crisis right now. The legislature just finished a 61-day session to raise $400 million. And part of the package was to give incentives to teachers who would not go to larger districts.

Is TeachArkansas going to marry into that program? Do you see how the two would work together?

MRS. BUSH: Well, that's what TeachArkansas and Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, that's really their purpose. And that is to recruit really good teachers who agree to -- who commit to teaching in rural or urban under-served areas. And like Kyle Miller talking today, talking about teaching in the delta -- those are the neighborhoods, those are the areas that we know need really, really good teachers. And his optimism about knowing that those students, those kids are as smart as any other kids, and that they can succeed with a lot of help is really the message of The New Teacher Project and Teach for America. So, yes, I think they will be a part of that.

Q Overall, based on your experience, especially as a teacher, what advice would you give our legislature and the people that are making our decisions as they try to improve our educational system?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think the most important advice is to always keep the students first and foremost. You know, do what's best for the students in your school districts -- not what's best for the administrators or not what's best or the most convenient for the adults, but make the choices that are the very best for the students so that they get the best education you can possibly provide them and that they're the focus -- because they are the focus, that's the whole point. So that would be my advice to the legislators. And I know it's difficult, it's very difficult to spread the money around, especially when the economies are not bringing in a lot of money. Fortunately, I think that times are changing and the economies will start bringing in more money.

Thank you all very much. Thanks for covering this, I really appreciate it. Get the word out to people about TeachArkansas. Thanks a lot.

END 11:28 A.M. CST

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