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Resurgent Bush to extend bold reforms

United States. George Bush will push a bold education agenda, after his surprisingly emphatic election victory and enhanced majorities in Congress, Republicans said this week.

The president will use his new mandate to extend the testing and accountability measures in his No Child Left Behind reforms to pre-school programmes, secondary schools, vocational training and universities, his advisers said.

But Democrats say that classrooms will become an ideological battleground.

They claim Mr Bush will not spend any more on school initiatives, siding with conservatives spoiling to squeeze funding. They also claim he will use his power to impose socially conservative policies. For instance they fear he will overturn the Supreme Court ban on school prayer to repay the swathe of Christian fundamentalist voters who helped him win re-election.

Education was a minor issue in the campaign overshadowed by terrorism, Iraq and the economy. But with a log-jam of pending legislation, Mr Bush will put his ideological stamp on the school system, says Sandy Kress, former Bush chief education aide and the architect of the No Child Left Behind laws.

Next year, lawmakers intend to pass legislation on higher education, vocational training, special education and pre-school programmes. Mr Bush wants stiffer academic standards for vocational students and pre-school testing.

Mr Kress said the Higher Education Act would "link college expectations to school performance", emphasising how well schools prepare pupils for colleges, and introducing stricter accountability for teacher training.

Standardised tests and literacy instruction will be extended to students at secondary school, said another Bush adviser, Bill Evers, of the Hoover Institute. Last week, a jubilant Mr Bush pledged to make "public schools all they can be", characteristically alluding to a US military recruiting pitch.

But opponents said this was empty rhetoric without adequate funding. Former leading Democrat adviser Jack Jennings of the Centre on Education Policy said that Republicans would skimp on school spending to pursue priorities such as privatising social security and waging the war on terror.

"The real controversy will be social issues, because Bush owes it to religious fundamentalists who helped elect him to bring up issues like prayer in school," he said.

Last week, Mr Bush touted his reforms as a model for bipartisan co-operation. But Democrats and Republicans have fallen out over funding and implementation.

A spokesman for America's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, said unless the law was drastically overhauled, it "would collapse under its own weight".

The NEA, one of the most vociferous backers of the Kerry campaign, said it will strive to bury the hatchet. But officials have already put themselves on collision course with the White House, affirming their opposition to school voucher schemes, which Mr Kress said Mr Bush may now push more aggressively.

Another voice 22. Talkback, Friday Magazine 20

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