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WHITE HOUSE: FUROR OVER SPEECH SILLY

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday dismissed as pointless the furor over President Barack Obama's plan to deliver a televised back-to-school speech to the nation's students.

"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Obama's planned address to students at noon Tuesday has prompted a surprising push-back from some quarters over what the White House sees as an important but innocuous topic.

Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender in 2012, said that Obama's speech is "uninvited" and that the president's move raises questions of content and motive.

Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell said, "This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Friday defended Obama's plan to address students. "The bottom line is we need the president of the United States of America to use his bully pulpit to talk to kids about the importance of education and to help inspire kids," she said.

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it.

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