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Bush signs landmark education bill in display of bipartisanship

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HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) _ President Bush sat at school desk Tuesday and signed the most far-reaching federal education bill in nearly four decades, a $26 billion plan to broaden academic testing, triple spending for literacy programs and help children escape America's worst public schools.

``We've spent billions of dollars with lousy results,'' the president said. ``Now it's time to spend billions of dollars and get good results.''

With his signature, Bush fulfilled a campaign promise to increase federal education spending and offer the money as incentive to make states and educators accountable for failures in teaching the nation's 48 million public school students.

``We do not want children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach,'' Bush told several hundred foot-stomping students, teachers and parents in a packed high school gym.

Though some of his initial ideas did not survive in Congress, Bush claimed success on his top domestic priority. He meets Wednesday with educators and will urge them to implement the changes. He may propose an education tax credit later in the year, aides said.

Bush signed the foot-thick bill behind a worn, wooden school desk and a sign that read, ``No child left behind.'' The shrieks and squeals of students were an ear-rattling reminder of Bush's high approval ratings since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Drawing from his popularity as commander in chief, Bush pledged to win a war against illiteracy as well as the war in Afghanistan.

``As of this hour, American schools will be on a new path of reform,'' the president said.

The most immediate changes will appear next school year when children in some 3,000 poorly run schools will be eligible for taxpayer-financed tutoring or other educational services. The money can go to private companies and religious institutions.

Children in an additional 6,700 failing schools will be eligible for transfers to more successful public schools, and federal money could pay for their transportation.

A new regime of student tests in math, reading and science will begin to take effect in the fall of 2005, identifying more failing schools that could lose federal money as students take advantage of the new options.

After a year of debate, a strong majority of Democrats and Republicans approved the bill _ a rare point of bipartisanship that Bush hopes will impress voters weary of political bickering. He celebrated its passage during a 12-hour, 1,600-mile swing through the states of lawmakers who sponsored the bill.

He signed it in Ohio, in the home district of GOP Rep. John Boehner.

Later, in New Hampshire, home of GOP Sen. Judd Gregg, he said, ``The hope of the future for this country is not only to make sure that we're secure and we're safe, but the true hope for the country is to make sure everybody gets a good education.''

He also was touring the nation's oldest public school, the 365-year-old Boston Latin in Massachusetts, home state of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. The fourth sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., also made the trip.

Though Kennedy's liberal policies rankle conservatives, Bush called him a fabulous senator.

Partisan politics had its moments. Bush met privately with GOP donors in New Hampshire, the site of the leadoff presidential primary in 2004. His political team is readying him for a re-election bid.

The education bill authorizes the federal government to spend $26.5 billion, though the actual amount spent will be slightly less. The current budget is $18.5 billion.

The increase form current spending, combined with the strings attached to the money, makes the legislation the most significant federal school measure since the 1960s, many analysts say.

By any measure, it greatly expands the federal government's role in an education system that traditionally protects the autonomy of states, local school boards, teachers and parents. Changes won't come easy, even with the bill's passage.

The Bush administration promises to strictly uphold the standards, though aides privately acknowledge there will always be a reluctance to strip money or power from local schools.

The bill requires annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in the fall of 2005. Fifteen states already comply.

Science tests will be added in three grades that same year.

Under current law, states are required to test students in reading and math _ once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school.

Schools whose scores fail to improve two years in a row could receive more federal money to help improve skills. If scores still don't improve, low-income students can receive tutoring or transportation to other public schools.

Schools that fail to improve for six years could have staff changes forced upon them.

The bill also triples money for literacy programs to $1 billion per year. It sets a 12-year goal to improve academic proficiency of students who are poor, who speak limited English or have various disabilities.

States must develop annual report cards comparing each school's tests scores.
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