Bush Turns From Mideast To Midwest

President Bush took a break from Mideast peace discussions Wednesday to plug a new education law that Democrats charged could not be paid for in his budget.

Though he is immersed in trying to broker peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Bush never mentioned the issue in two speeches or in a classroom tour during a brief trip to Wisconsin. However, he spoke at length in both speeches about America's war against terrorism.

With his eye on this year's midterm elections, the president was trying to remind Americans of the bill he signed in January to improve the nation's public schools, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

He emphasized that the new law will allow students in schools that have failed to meet state education standards for two years in a row to transfer to better public schools. According to the White House, the new law will allow nearly 70,000 students in 116 Wisconsin public schools to transfer.

"It's unacceptable, it's just unacceptable to have children trapped in schools that are mediocre, that won't change, that won't teach," Mr. Bush said at a school in Milwaukee.

He also touted teacher quality provisions in the law, including one that requires states to ensure that within four years all teachers will be qualified to teach in their subject areas.

"Teaching is such a noble profession," Mr. Bush said at Rufus King High School. "It's such an important part of making sure that no child is left behind."

Later, he flew to La Crosse, in the southwestern part of the state, to visit a third school.

He underlined the importance of testing as a means of gauging whether schools and students are succeeding. "I know you don't like to take tests. Too bad. It is important," Mr. Bush told hundreds of students at La Crosse Logan High School.

On the eve of the president's Wisconsin visit, Democrats intensified their charges that his budget will not pay for his education plan.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, released a report Wednesday identifying what he said were shortfalls in Mr. Bush's proposed education budget

"I am happy to see the president talking about education and reading to schoolchildren, but the fact is that his rhetoric is not matched by resources in his education budget proposal," Obey said.

He said Mr. Bush's proposed budget will fall short by $4.7 billion in Title I, the federal program aimed at helping low-income students improve academically. It also falls short in teacher training and class-reduction initiatives by $400 million, Obey said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate education committee, said the president's proposed budget provides for no growth in teacher training money. Kennedy proposed a $750 million increase for teachers last year, and an additional $2.5 billion over five years.

"The No Child Left Behind Act was intended as a down payment on that commitment, but the administration's budget denies that down payment for teachers, and places schools in bankruptcy," Kennedy said.

The president's trips to Milwaukee and La Crosse, Wis., marked his fifth visit to the critical electoral state, which he narrowly lost to Al Gore in 2000.

With six months left until the November elections, Mr. Bush is making a point of traveling the country to emphasize domestic issues, particularly the voter-friendly education law. He traveled to Michigan on Monday to discuss education.