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Priority: education or the economy?

washington - President George W. Bush is changing his tune about education. Last week, with his education plan bogged down in Congress, and amid new questions about federal school funding raised by the dwindling budget surplus, White House officials called the struggling US economy Bush's No. 1 priority - a distinction that education had long held. On Sunday, the administration sought to fuse the two issues. "Education is part of our economy, and remains a top priority to the president," spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said.

This week Bush campaigned in Florida to prod lawmakers into action. His two-day trip to Jacksonville and Sarasota opened a week in which he planned to emphasize education, and reading in particular.

African schools getting heat

ABIdjan - The new academic year begins in schools across West Africa this month against heavy odds.

In Ivory Coast, 1,991 teachers began a hunger strike - just before the new session, which will start on Sept. 17 - to demand the payment of 12 months' salary arrears. In adjoining Ghana, inflation has hit hard, and many parents have seen school fees rise by 50 percent. Togo fares little better: The rector of its Lome University just announced the annulment of the 2000-01 academic year, due to several months of interruption after an April student strike. In Niger, the national Niger Teachers' Association announced last week that teachers would boycott the new academic session, scheduled to start Oct. 1, over a conflict with the government. Meanwhile, one Nigerian university has been paralyzed by a student protest since a demonstration in February that led to violence.

Benin is the one exception. Its education budget rose from $91 million in 1990 to $194 million in 1999, and the percentage of schoolgoing children increased from 69 percent in 1996 to 76 percent in 1999.

Art vs. education in monument debate

Davis, Calif. - A national-memorials scholar says the proposed construction of an educational structure near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington seems ill-considered. Legislation now before Congress would add the structure to educate visitors about the public artwork. But Carole Blair, professor of American studies at the University of California, Davis, says it has been difficult to keep interpretation of the memorial from lapsing into interpretation of the Vietnam conflict. "There is a difference," she says, "between commemoration and education. An education center somewhere in Washington may be appropriate, but not at the memorial site."

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