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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., welcomed First Lady Laura Bush today at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to address the development of education and literacy for America's young children.

The meeting was originally scheduled to be held Sept. 11, but was interrupted by the attacks.

Bush's remarks can be accessed by visiting the White House web page.

Enzi's statement is included below.

JANUARY 24, 2002

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the vital issue of early childhood education. I would like to thank First Lady Laura Bush for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her expertise on the issue of early learning with us -- especially after the tragic events of September 11 delayed her initial appearance before this Committee. Her experience as a public school teacher and librarian in the Houston, Dallas and Austin school systems makes her an invaluable asset to this Committee and I look forward to hearing her perspective on this important issue.

In her short time as First Lady, Mrs. Bush has established an impressive record when it comes to advocating educational reforms and increased childhood literacy. One of her first official acts as First Lady involved visiting with students at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Hyattsville, Maryland and she has continued her efforts to improve the lives of America's children ever since.

As an avid reader, I am particularly happy to see the extraordinary effort the First Lady has made to promote reading in our nation. The National Book Festival, which she hosted on September 8, 2001, was a great success. Modeled after the Texas Book Festival that Mrs. Bush founded during her tenure as the First Lady of Texas, the National Book Festival allowed America's families to celebrate the joys of reading surrounded by some of our nation's most notable authors on the East Lawn of the Capitol and inside the Library of Congress.

In an effort to improve school libraries, Mrs. Bush has also announced the creation of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries to attract private money to help purchase up-to-date materials for school libraries. Her efforts will help to ensure that school libraries can extend their collections so that children across the country can access books about science, history, drama, classic literature, or any other subject that they find appropriate .

Perhaps Mrs. Bush's greatest accomplishment so far has involved her efforts to bring together hundreds of educators, researchers, librarians, business leaders and federal officials to discuss early childhood learning at the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Two important early education initiatives, which will directly impact the work of this Committee, were announced at this event. First, the formation of a joint task force, headed by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, that will work to determine the best ways to ensure young children enter school ready to learn. This goal will be accomplished by studying research-based strategies on reading and math readiness and recommending how they can be widely implemented in federally funded pre-school programs. Second, Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, announced a plan to overhaul the Head Start program, which currently serves 880,000 poor children. This proposal, which I wholeheartedly support, will shift the focus of the federal government's major preschool effort to emphasize literacy and pre-reading skills for the first time. I am confident that this shift in the focus of the Head Start program will bring our nation's children closer to reaching President Bush's goal of ensuring that all children can read before the end of the third grade.

We all agree that making sure that our nation's children are ready to learn when they reach the schoolhouse door is a top priority. In fact, research indicates that the early years are crucial for brain development, and that there is a direct correlation between the amount of stimulation young children receive in their early years and their success in learning and intellectual growth as they mature. I was surprised to discover, however, that there is still a great deal of disagreement between experts in the field about the best way, or time, to start helping young children learn.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing the First Lady's testimony. I know her expertise in the field of early childhood education will bring us closer to developing solutions that will ensure that the President Bush's promise to leave no child behind is kept.