Bush sticking to education message, this time

AUSTIN, Texas - George W. Bush pressed ahead with his education reform message on Monday, resisting rival Al Gore's efforts to knock him off-balance again.

''What I've got to do is continue to draw distinctions about where we differ,'' Bush said.

While talking about education, as planned, Bush had to deal with Gore's proposals on health care and the cost of drugs for senior citizens - and the Democrat's questions about Bush's stance - a week after Gore's pressure on taxes prodded Bush to acknowledge he needed to do a better job making his case to voters.

Running mate Dick Cheney said there would be drug-plan details next week, though Bush also indicated some of his prescription drug plan won't be new. The bulk of it is built around legislation proposed by Sens. John Breaux, D-La. and Bill Frist, R-Tenn. that would subsidize insurance companies that provide drug coverage for low-income seniors.

Taking his own shot at Gore, Bush talked up Texas education improvements and accused the vice president of offering only ''failed ideas of the past.''

He said Gore ''doesn't understand that in order to reform education you've got to hold people accountable and there needs to be strong accountability and local control of schools.''

Educators from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Texas were among those appearing at the Governor's Mansion to proclaim support for Bush, the Republican presidential nominee.

''Our goal is not just to win an election. Our goal is to spur a great movement in education reform by putting an education reformer in the White House,'' Bush said at a news conference - before reporters questioned him repeatedly about prescription drug coverage for the elderly.

Bush says education is his top priority, and he is embarking on the second week of an ''education tour'' through battleground states.

His proposals include school accountability based on yearly testing and reading diagnostics and special teacher training for kindergarten through second grade, Bush said.

He said of Gore, ''He will not end the status quo because he is the status quo. He offers the failed ideas of the past.''

Kym Spell, a spokeswoman for the Gore campaign, said the Democrat supports voluntary testing in fourth- and eighth-grade and at the end of high school and wants to require schools to issue performance report cards to help parents hold schools accountable.

Also, she said, the Clinton-Gore administration has taken steps to improve reading in early grades with passage of the Reading Excellence Act and by refocusing federally funded Head Start to make it a school readiness program.

Earlier Monday, Bush addressed the annual convention of B'nai B'rith International in Washington and renewed his support for moving the U.S. Embassy from outside Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ''the city Israel has chosen as its capital.''

Bush's travel schedule this week has him returning Tuesday to the site of his campaign's most devastating primary defeat, New Hampshire, at the start of a three-day trip that will also take him to Maine, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

In the Granite State seven months ago, Sen. John McCain clobbered Bush by 18 points in the nation's first primary, forcing the well-funded governor to fight for the GOP nomination against an underdog.

''I learned that first place is better than second place,'' he said Monday, grinning. ''I can reach out to some of John McCain's supporters and carry that important state.''

But he also acknowledged some bad memories.

''I still remember sitting in that hotel there in Manchester after I got the results watching the exit polls,'' he said. Losing New Hampshire, Bush added, was the experience that taught him to ''define myself more clearly.''


EDITOR'S NOTE - Associated Press Writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report.


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