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Article from Sarasota Herald-Tribune Confirms Public Knowledge of Bush's Plan to Visit Booker on 11 September
[Posted 17 January 2002]
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[FROM:] Sarasota Herald-Tribune September 11, 2001 Tuesday All Editions - Pg. A10

[HEADLINE:] Lessons for the president; In visit to Sarasota school, he should look beyond the photo-op

Whether or not it rains today, President Bush will bask in a golden glow when he visits a Sarasota elementary school this morning to tout his federal education initiative.

It's Sarasota's honor, of course, to host the leader of the free world, but, beyond that, Bush has reason to expect a warm welcome: This is GOP country, predisposed to hear and like what the president has to say. And Sarasota, with one of the best performing school districts in the state, has a strong interest in education. Bush's visit to Emma E. Booker Elementary School will give youngsters an indelibly personal lesson on who's who in Washington. But the school can offer Bush some lessons, too -- if he looks beyond the surface of the photo opportunity and sees the everyday struggle involved in funding today's classrooms.

Bush, for instance, will see a well-maintained school that is bright and not much older than its students. What he may not notice, however, is the way recent budget cuts have enlarged classes in some grades. He won't see the missing reading aide, or the three teachers who couldn't be replaced due to the funding shortage.

Bush will notice that Booker's youngsters are neatly attired in uniforms; what is not so evident is the poverty those uniforms obscure. The school has a very high percentage of children from low-income households, presenting special educational and social challenges -- not the least of which is finding money to pay for the extra programs required.

The president will see a facility proud of improving to a "C" school last year, up from two years of "D's." A special reading program at Booker was instrumental in boosting that grade, and the president -- whose new initiative focuses on reading skills -- no doubt noticed it. What he may miss, however, is how difficult it will be to maintain that "C" in the face of recent budget cuts.

President Bush's focus on reading skills is a welcome one, especially if it is accompanied by federal dollars to augment the meager diet that Tallahassee dishes out for Florida's public schools. But it is important to recognize that the federal largess, no matter how welcome, is essentially gravy; state and local taxes provide the meat and potatoes for schools.

If the president really cares about education, he'll remind his kid brother -- Gov. Jeb Bush -- that there's no way to do it on the cheap.

Copyright 2001 Sarasota Herald-Tribune Co. Posted for Fair Use Only

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