Former President George W. Bush on Thursday evening said the availability of a quality education in the United States is “one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time.”

“Over the last 50 years, educational progress has been generally positive, but completely insufficient,” Bush said at the Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas. “But it still is not effectively equal.”

Bush closed the three-day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act by highlighting the achievement gaps between whites and minorities, and urging elected officials from both political parties to pursue reform. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also delivered speeches during the summit as did President Obama on Thursday. 


“This should be a national scandal demanding action,” said Bush, who signed the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation into law in 2002. 

The legislation required schools to provide standardized tests to students, and it instituted a penalty to schools whose students scored below benchmarks.

“No law is perfect,” Bush said. “Every legislative instrument eventually requires adjustment. The problem comes when people start giving up on the goal.” 

None of the solutions are “easy,” Bush said, but added the nation should not lose sight of “meaningful accountability” in schools.

“Without meaningful accountability, it is poor and minority children who suffer the most,” he said. “The goal of ending achievement gaps should unite Republicans and Democrats. It should unite teachers and parents, business leaders and civil rights leaders.” 

No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, and Congress has failed to pass a new version. In 2011, the Obama administration said it would allow states to apply for waivers that allow them to opt out of some of the law’s requirements.