Associated Press WriterHAMILTON, Ohio (AP) -- President Bush, acting Tuesday on his No. 1 domestic priority, signed into law a sweeping education bill that will require new reading and math tests, seek to close the education gap between rich and poor students and raise teacher standards.
"As of this hour, America's schools will be on a new path of reform and a new path of results," Bush said to an audience of hundreds at Hamilton High School, west of Cincinnati. "From this day forward, all students will have a better chance to learn, to excel and to live out their dreams."
Though he spoke at length about the details of the bill, and articulated his plan to get all students reading by third grade, Bush joked of the bill, "I don't intend to read it all. It's not exactly light reading." But, he said, it contained some very important principles, chief among them accountability safeguards for students, teachers and schools.
Above him hung a sign bearing his campaign slogan on education, "No child left behind." Eager to showcase the bipartisan achievement on a campaign promise, the bill signing opened a three-state victory tour. A brass band played Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate" -- twice -- as Bush was arriving.
Bush waited three weeks to sign the bill and, seeking maximum exposure on an issue of rare agreement between Republicans and Democrats, was taking his roadshow to the states of lawmakers who led the yearlong negotiations on the bill.
"Most bills are signed at the White House. I decided to sign this bill in one of the most important places in America -- a public school," Bush said.
In a 12-hour, 1,600-mile swing, the president signed the bill in Ohio, home of GOP Rep. John Boehner; was giving an education speech in New Hampshire, the home state of GOP Sen. Judd Gregg; and touring a school in Massachusetts, home to Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. The fourth principal sponsor, Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, was traveling with Bush throughout the day. Bush visited California on Saturday.
The bill "will launch a new era of American education," said Education Secretary Rod Paige.
Boehner, in his home district, said the measure will close a decades-old gap in education between rich and poor students. "We as a society and we as a country cannot continue to exist unless we close that gap," Boehner said.
"The bill we sign today will bring a new purpose and a new focus to the federal government's role in education," he said.
Bush also was politicking, greeting 250 campaign donors and volunteers at a private session in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the first presidential primary. It was his first trip to New Hampshire as president and his third to Ohio, the nation's seventh-largest electoral prize.
White House candidate Bush unveiled core education principles in September 1999 at a Los Angeles school. The bill he was signing Tuesday sought to keep the spirit of his pledge then that "In my administration, federal money will no longer follow failure." Many of the specifics, however, did not survive the hard negotiations last year.
The bill requires annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in the 2005-06 school year. Schools will also have to test students in science in three grades. Candidate Bush had proposed testing poor students each year.
Public schools where scores failed to improve two years in a row could receive more federal aid, but if scores still failed to improve, low-income students could receive tutoring or transportation to another public school.
Those money-shifting provisions replaced a Bush campaign proposal in which federal funds would have been stripped from the worst-performing schools and made available to parents for private education vouchers.
Under the bill passed last month, a school in which scores failed to improve over six years could be restaffed.
Schools must raise the percentage of students proficient in reading and math and reach 100 percent within 12 years. Schools also must close gaps in scores between wealthy and poor students and white and minority students.
The bill requires states to ensure that within four years all teachers are qualified to teach in their subject areas.
Schools also must develop annual "report cards" that show their standardized test scores compared with both local and state schools.
"This is such a giant leap forward -- it is actually a cultural shift, a different way of doing business," Education Secretary Rod Paige said in an interview.
"It goes further than anything in the past in terms of demanding accountability from states, school districts, individual schools and individual teachers and principals," Paige said. "No longer can they hide, no longer can their results be hidden."
Bush had promised to "change the tone" in Washington, and by signing the bill, he was seeking some credit for doing so.
A bitter partisan dispute resurfaced Monday, however, when Bush pledged to resubmit the economic revival package that Democrats blocked last year.
White House aides said Bush was considering delivering an economic address shortly before or after the State of the Union address, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 29.
------On the Net:
Education Department: http://www.ed.gov/