COLUMBUS, Ohio -- President Bush, showing a new interest in domestic problems, vowed Monday to help build a new coalition, 'community by community,' to improve America's troubled schools.
With his own approval ratings falling and concern about the economy rising, Bush made a spirited plug for his sputtering education reform strategy, and stepped up his attacks on the Democratic-controlled Congress.
'Some of the powers that be in Congress are fighting tooth and nail against our most important reforms,' said Bush. 'We need to throw off past failures and fight for a future that works.'
Bush joined Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and Ohio Gov. George Voinovich in formally announcing 'Ohio 2000,' a state version of the president's still unfunded federal education strategy, America 2000.
Ohio is the 25th state to implement its own plan at the urging of Bush, who is seeking to make schools more accountable, teachers and parents more involved and students more attentive.
Congressional critics have charge that Bush's America 2000, like much of the rest of his embattled domestic agenda, is inadequate and lacks substance and direction.
Polls show most Americans believe the president's lofty education goals, like making schools drug free and U.S. students No. 1 in the world in math and science by the year 2000, are simply unobtainable.
A key of Bush's reform strategy is giving parents greater choice in selecting a public school for their children. Although this may help some schools, critics say it would undermine others.
Last April, Bush introduced legislation to finance his education strategy, such as $100 million for merit schools, $25 million for alternative teacher certification and $200 million for parental choice.
But Congress has shelved the packageas unsound.
In addressing 3,500 parents, teachers, students and state and local officials at Veterans Mememorial Auditorium, Bush said, 'The beltway types may be afraid of reform, but I believe that they are out of touch. '
'We need to empower teachers not to punch time clocks ... but to teach,' he said.
'We need to give parents real choice, and we need to give young people the all the knowledge, skill and discipline that you'll need for your exciting and demanding future.'
Speaking to the gathering following a tour of Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, a reform minded public school, Bush said: 'I want you to know that I won't rest -- we must not rest -- until we have thousands of Fort Hayes all across the country.'
He said, 'Community by community, we must create new American schools, and a whole new public attitude about education.'
'It's the communities, not legislature, not bureaucratic agencies, not interest groups, but communities that drive the engine of America 2000,' he said.
In recent weeks, Bush has accused Congress of short-circuiting his domestic agenda by blocking key measures, including ones to improve education and stimulate economic growth.
Upon his return to White House Monday, Bush, dogged in recents day by reports his administration was in disarray, told reporters: 'It was a great trip on education out there. I was out there I met with teachers, I met with students, I met with governors ... they didn't ask about the White House.'
He said some did ask about the economy, though, and 'I told them I am very concerned about parts of it, and wished like heck that we could get some more things out of Congress.'