Local News

Laura Bush Promotes Head Start En Route To N.C. Campaign Stop

Posted July 18, 2003 5:47 a.m. EDT

— First Lady Laura Bush read to a group of children in a Head Start program for migrant families on Friday, but the White House pets were the real hit of the event as far as the kids were concerned.

In a mock-up classroom created in a maintenance building at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Bush read to six boys and two girls from a book called "That's My Dog!" by Rick Walton.

That wasn't enough for the wiggling preschoolers, who were brought in from the Raleigh suburb of Clayton where their program is based.

"You want to see MY dog?" Bush said. "Well, I brought some pictures of him. Were you hoping I'd actually brought him?"

They clustered around as she handed out small photographs of Spot and Barney, the first family's spaniel and Scottie dogs, and of India, their cat.

Then it fell to the former teacher and school librarian to settle down the excited preschoolers so she could talk to reporters about congressional efforts to reorganize Head Start. "She's my press spokesman," Bush said as she draped her arm around one jumpy little girl.

Bush urged support for a House bill would give up to eight states greater authority over Head Start so they can better coordinate it with other child-education efforts. That experiment -- part of a broader update of the federal program -- has drawn intense opposition from advocates who believe Head Start standards and spending will suffer.

Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, had planned to vote on the bill Friday, but pulled back when it became clear they might not have enough votes.

Head Start is a federal preschool program for the poor that has helped roughly 20 million children with social, behavioral, nutritional and literacy development.

Bush had been scheduled to visit the program's classroom in Clayton on her way to a fund-raising luncheon in Raleigh, but the brief event's location was changed to the airport to accommodate her tight schedule.

The $1,000 per person luncheon was held at a home on Lake View Drive -- not far from the home of Sen. John Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Attendees included Sen. Elizabeth Dole, former Sen. Jesse Helms, Wake County sheriff Donnie Harrison, Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, and Jim Cain, former president of the Carolina Hurricanes.

The luncheon was expected to bring in $300,000 for President George. W. Bush's re-election campaign.