WASHINGTON, DC—Vowing to give the nation's public schools "a much-needed boost," President Bush announced Monday that his 2003 budget proposal would allocate 1.5 billion gold-star stickers for education.
"As class sizes continue to grow and test scores continue to decline, our public schools are in a state of crisis," Bush said at a White House press conference. "There is no more time for deliberation. It is time to act. Our children need these adhesive gold stars."
Bush went on to describe the "alarming state" of many of the nation's public schools, citing underpaid teachers, buildings badly in need of repair, and woefully outdated textbooks.
"If a child is going to learn under these conditions, he or she is going to need lots of encouragement," Bush said. "These gold stars will serve as reinforcement for our best students while motivating underachievers to do better. You have no idea what a difference it makes to a young child's self-esteem to see a big, shiny star at the top of his or her spelling test. I know it made a big difference to me as a child."
Bush said the stars, which are expected to cost the government an estimated $2.3 thousand, are well worth the expense.
"Can we really put a price tag on the future of our nation?" Bush asked. "Can we ever put a dollar amount on success?"
Should the Bush proposal pass, teachers in any school across the country will be eligible for up to 200 gold stars, depending upon the population of the school. The stars will then be distributed to students according to academic performance and need for encouragement.
"I am so thrilled to hear this," said Linda Egan, a sixth-grade teacher at Chicago's Eisenhower Elementary School, one of Bush's "Gold Star Schools." "For so long, we've been just barely scraping by with no federal support whatsoever. Now I feel like we've got a friend in Washington."
Bush is not without opposition. Shortly after the press conference, U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) called the president's plan "preposterous."
"What kind of president would think that distributing gold stars would improve the country's education system?" Hollings said. "Kids don't even care about gold stars anymore. At the very least, we're going to need Pokémon stickers and lick-'n'-stick Hello Kitty stamps. And what about candy? The president is talking about rewarding good behavior, and he doesn't even mention candy?"
Bush said that if the gold stars are successful, he intends to expand the program to include other achievement-fostering adhesives. Among them are sheets of stickers featuring ducks, turtles, and other cartoon animals offering students such exhortations as "Awesome!," "Super Job!," and "You Deserve A High Five!"
Despite his confidence in his gold-star plan, Bush stressed that the government cannot be expected to fix America's schools by itself.
"I ask that each and every American do their part," Bush said. "If you can spare any gold stars, stickers, or even a sparkly pencil or multi-colored pen, please donate it to your local school district. We've all got to come together to make this work."