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GOP test opposition threatens literacy program

October 21, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton aimed today to keep his youth literacy drive from being shot down by Republican opposition to his proposal for testing school children in reading and math.

Surrounded by dozens of college presidents at the White House, Clinton sat with Victoria Adeniji, a second grader pupil here, to read ``The Carrot Seed.″ Her confident rendering was proof, Clinton said, that his literacy effort should be funded by Congress.

``We have to first plant the seed and then we have to tell the doubters it will grow,″ the president said.

Dubbed ``America Reads,″ Clinton’s program would employ hundreds of thousands of college students as volunteer tutors to make sure all students can read on their own by the time they are fourth-graders.

``It is so important for Congress to fund America Reads,″ Clinton said today. ``It would be a shame if we did not reach the full goal.″

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, has held up any work on the literacy proposal until the dispute over the national tests is resolved.

Education Secretary Richard Riley said Monday that killing or delaying the reading program would be a serious mistake.

``We have thousands of energetic college students signed up to be reading tutors and ready to go, and we’re excited about that,″ Riley said.

He added: ``I’m concerned that the House is starting to get stuck in the usual partisan rut and (is) losing sight of what is really important in education. I think it’s a sad day when a reading initiative _ a reading initiative _ becomes a political pawn because some members of Congress do not support the president’s call for voluntary national tests in reading and math.″

The Clinton proposal calls for voluntary testing of fourth-graders in reading skills and eighth-graders in math.

Today’s event was one of several Clinton was holding this week to push his education agenda. On Monday, Riley released an Education Department report that said early exposure to serious math, algebra and geometry opens the gate to college for large numbers of students, including minorities and those from low-income families.

Riley said the core of Clinton’s ambitious education agenda was ``making sure that all of our children have mastered the basics once and for all.″

``My biggest concern is that Congress is fiddling at the margins and not focusing on these essential and central issues that define American education,″ he said. ``The president wants some action and I think the American people want to see some movement as well.″

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