WASHINGTON -- President Bush plans to stake his claim to be the "education president" by proposing national student testing, a federal program of research and development contracts to invent new kinds of public schools, and a plan for schools to provide children with a range of social services, administration officials said yesterday.
The wide-ranging proposal, to be announced Thursday, is a bid not only to change U.S. education but also to seize the Democrats' best political issue. For two years Democrats have scoffed at Mr. Bush's speeches on education while they steadily proposed bigger expenditures for existing federal programs.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., recently dismissed the president's education budget as "tepid incrementalism." Earlier this month, Democrats on both the Senate and House Budget committees urged greater spending on education.
The program assembled by Lamar Alexander, the new secretary of education, involves less additional money than those committees sought.
It calls for several hundred million dollars in new federal expenditures, a senior administration official said. Most would go for grants to encourage states and localities to try a broad variety of educational innovations.
The plan still was being polished this weekend after an initial version of about 200 pages won Mr. Bush's approval. It is divided into four sections, which were described by officials who insisted on not being identified.
The first section, called "better and more accountable schools," focuses on improving schools for the children now in them.
Along with national testing, some of the ideas in this area include promoting parental choices on which schools their children should attend and possibly a system in which federal aid to schools is based at least in part on their showing improvement in test scores.
The second section envisions "a new generation of American schools"; the third, "back to school," involves literacy, job skills and other forms of adult education.
The fourth section is concerned with coordinating the local, state and federal services that affect a student's schooling, from child nutrition to employment help for parents. It is called "the other 91 percent" to reflect the proportion of a high school graduate's time that has been spent outside the classroom.
The administration does not expect serious opposition to its proposals initially, the officials said.
It counts on getting them passed because of national concerns about failing schools and international competition, and because the support of the nation's governors, who have worked with Mr. Bush in setting educational goals.
Mr. Alexander himself was Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987, focusing on education while chairman of the National Governors' Association in 1985-86.