Bush in Cleveland: Schools and welfare

Seventh trip to Ohio since taking office


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four days after the Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland's school voucher program meets constitutional standards and does not violate the separation of church and state, President Bush headed to the Ohio city to address the issue.

The court's 5-4 decision on Thursday upheld a program in inner-city Cleveland that gives mostly poor parents a tuition subsidy of up to $2,250 per child at parochial and other nonpublic schools. It held that the program "is neutral in all respects toward religion."

Bush, a strong supporter of the taxpayer-subsidized voucher system, was speaking Monday in support of his "compassionate conservative" agenda at Cleveland's Playhouse Square Center.

Aides said he would focus the talk on giving parents educational options, reforming welfare, expanding home ownership for minorities and promoting the welfare work of religious institutions.

In what President Bush hailed as a "landmark ruling," the Supreme Court Thursday ruled that a school voucher program in Cleveland  does not infringe upon the constitutional separation of church and state.
 

The trip is Bush's seventh to politically influential Ohio since taking office. He was last in the state on June 14 to deliver the commencement speech at Ohio State University.

Under the Cleveland voucher program, parents may spend the money they receive at private academies, church-run schools or at suburban public schools with better academic credentials. In practice, however, more than 95 percent of the participating schools are church-affiliated.

After returning to Washington later Monday, Bush is to fly to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday to discuss overhauling the welfare system. He will be accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who won a reputation as a welfare reform pioneer while governor of Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, Bush plans to promote the involvement of religious groups in welfare programs, welfare-to-work programs and programs encouraging greater home ownership, especially among minorities.

The trip will be Bush's sixth in 18 months to Wisconsin, which he lost narrowly in the 2000 election to Democrat Al Gore.

The president will celebrate the Fourth of July in the courthouse square of Ripley, West Virginia, at a ceremony honoring America's veterans. Ripley, 35 miles north of Charleston, has a population of about 3,200.

Some 15,000 to 20,000 people usually attend Ripley's Independence Day festivities. The visit is Bush's fourth to West Virginia since his election, in which he won the traditionally Democratic state.

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