Bush marked the occasion in the gymnasium of Springfield High School in Holland, Ohio in an event intended to symbolize his commitment to giving school systems more control and holding them accountable for poor student performance. The Texas governor also highlighted what he said were opportunities for education reform missed by the Clinton-Gore administration.
He told a crowd of about 3,300 at the school, "We must not allow children to be trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change."
Campaigning in southern Florida, Bush's running mate Dick Cheney said the GOP campaign is proposing a $2.8 billion dollar program to foster public-private partnerships for raising
money to build new schools and repair those that are crumbling.
School construction should be a national priority, Cheney said.
At the school in Ohio, Bush said, "Kids in America look at politics and say, 'Why bother getting involved. After all it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric.'"
"I don't blame them. After seven and a half years of empty rhetoric, I can understand why the young of America become disillusioned," he said. "It's time to put somebody in office who's going to do in office what he said he was going to do on the campaign trail."
Gore's campaign accused Bush of avoiding questions about his overall plan with his typically short speeches.
"In 15 minutes, you get a nice picture to go on the evening news, but you don't give real people at these events the opportunity to express concern or have a real dialogue with the candidates," Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell said.
With public opinion polls placing education at the top of voters' concerns, both Bush and Gore are breaking a bit from their parties' traditional stances on the subject. Gore supports teacher testing, which is opposed by teachers' unions that have been a reliable Democratic constituency. And Bush's private school voucher plan is not as broad as conservatives would like.
Bush's plan would penalize states that don't test kids for reading in math in the third through eighth grades. It would allow children in failing schools to go to private institutions with federal money that had been going to their old schools. It also includes money for teacher training, higher Pell grants to first-year college students and more generous tax-protected education savings accounts for school expenses from kindergarten through college. The Bush campaign estimates the plan would cost $47 billion over 10 years.
Gore's 10-year plan would increase federal spending on education by 50 percent - $115 billion - plus offer another $55 billion in tax incentives to raise teachers' salaries, hire more tachers, build and repair schools, and ensure full access to preschool.
Thursday capped Bush's three-day tour of battleground states that included New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. During the trip, he raised more than $3.4 million for Republicans in the run-up to Labor Day weekend, the traditional start of the campaign season.
Bush is slated to kick off the home stretch campaign drive by addressing Gore's pet issue, health care, next week.
Education reform is the cornerstone of Bush's campaign, but he has struggled to stick to that message the past two weeks as Gore has taken shots at him on a Medicare prescription drug plan and the proposed presidential debates.
Bush's aides tried to turn the tables, urging Gore to reveal the details of his $115 billion plan to improve schools as the Texas governor chided the vice president for being part of an administration that has failed to close an "achievement gap" between rich and poor schools.
The Gore campaign released details of its education plan within hours.