- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

HAMILTON, Ohio President Bush yesterday signed into law a sweeping education bill requiring new student testing as he resumed a tour of America's schools that had been interrupted by the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Greeted by thunderous applause during visits to Ohio, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Mr. Bush reveled in securing his top domestic priority raising teacher standards and closing the gap between rich and poor students. He was accompanied by several liberal Democrats, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who co-sponsored the bill.
"Today begins a new era, a new time in public education in our country," the president told a packed gymnasium at Hamilton High School. "As of this hour, America's schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results."
Surrounded by students and teachers, Mr. Bush sat at a desk on the stage and signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires public school students in grades three through eight to be tested annually in math and reading. The results will be posted on statewide report cards, and parents will be allowed to transfer their students out of schools that don't improve.
"Parents will have more information about the schools and more say in how their children are educated," the president said. "From this day forward, all students will have a better chance to learn, to excel and to live out their dreams."
But the new law carries a hefty price tag, raising federal spending on education from $19.5 billion to $26.5 billion in the first year alone. Mr. Bush long ago bargained away the creation of vouchers, which he had promoted during the campaign.
More than two decades after President Reagan vowed to abolish the Department of Education, some conservatives were galled that Mr. Bush instead was dramatically expanding Washington's role in the regulation of local schools. But the president insisted there was no cause for alarm.
"The federal government will not micromanage how schools are run," he said. "We believe strongly the best path to education reform is to trust the local people."
Mr. Bush signed the bill in Hamilton because it was in the district of Rep. John A. Boehner, the primary Republican sponsor in the House. Last week, the president visited the district of the chief Democratic sponsor in the House, Rep. George Miller of California, who accompanied the president on yesterday's road trip.
"Big George Miller is out of California he might be considered left of Massachusetts," Mr. Bush joked at Boston Latin School, drawing laughter from students, parents and teachers in the liberal state. "What do you think, congressman? That's saying something."
Mr. Bush also lavished praise on Mr. Kennedy, the bill's top Democratic advocate in the Senate.
"You know, I told the folks at the coffee shop in Crawford, Texas, that Ted Kennedy was all right," the president said as Mr. Kennedy grinned before his hometown crowd. "They nearly fell out.
"But he is," Mr. Bush said. "I've come to admire him. He's a smart, capable senator."
Recalling Mr. Kennedy's comforting words to first lady Laura Bush when she appeared before a Senate committee just as the terrorists struck on September 11, the president turned to the man reviled by many conservatives and declared: "Not only are you a good senator, you're a good man."
Mr. Kennedy reciprocated by pointing out that education reform had languished in Congress for years, only to take on new urgency when Mr. Bush was inaugurated.
"What a difference it has made this year, with your leadership," Mr. Kennedy said. He praised the president for declaring that "good quality education for the children of this country is going to be a first priority for America."
White House officials hope this mutual display of affection translates into other bipartisan agreements, most notably on the president's stalled nominations and economic-stimulus bill.
Mr. Bush was greeted like a rock star in Hamilton, where 2,500 people stood, cheered, stomped their feet and chanted, "USA, USA." The ovations were sustained and deafening.
The president also received warm receptions in the other two states, although he was heckled briefly in New Hampshire, the home of Sen. Judd Gregg, the bill's Republican sponsor in the Senate.
"What about the dead Afghani children, Mr. Bush?" shouted a heckler at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "What about the dead Afghani children?"
As the president paused and shot the heckler a stern look, another member of the audience called out: "We love you, President Bush." The crowd applauded, and Mr. Bush resumed his discussion of the bill's requirement for student testing.
"I'm sure there's somebody out there saying, 'I don't like to take tests,'" the president said. "Tough."
He added: "We need to know whether or not people are learning. And if they are, there will be hallelujahs all over the place. But if not, we intend to do something about it."
The president went on to explain that if parents find their child trapped in a failing school with substandard teachers, they can transfer the child into another public school or charter school, or obtain private tutoring.
Yesterday was the first time Mr. Bush spent the day touring schools to promote his education plan since September 11, when a visit to a school in Sarasota, Fla., was cut short by news of the terrorist attacks. Although Mr. Bush mentioned the war in all three appearances yesterday, he seemed to make a conscious decision to focus more on his domestic agenda.
Although the president's top aides praised the enactment of his education package, not all of them were initially so supportive. When Mr. Bush first announced the package on the campaign trail in September 1999, rival candidate Elizabeth Dole's spokesman said it didn't go far enough.
"I thought it was more notable for what was not in it than for what was in it," the spokesman, Ari Fleischer, told the Associated Press.
Mr. Fleischer, who is now the White House press secretary, was beside his boss during yesterday's bill signing.

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