Beliefnet
Cleveland-(AP) President Bush, who last year lost a fight for school vouchers, was touting the idea again Monday following a new Supreme Court ruling upholding such a program here. Opening a week of travel to states critical to his re-election, Bush brought school choice and an array of domestic initiatives to Cleveland on Monday under his catchall "compassionate agenda" banner. Also on the table: initiatives on home ownership, welfare and a major role for religious charities in the delivery of social services.

Bush's budget includes new school choice options, including a voucher program of sorts. It would offer a $2,500-per-child education tax credit for families whose children attend private schools instead of failing neighborhood public schools. The five-year, $3.5 billion proposal would also cover books, computers, transportation and supplies.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision 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. The court held that the program "is neutral in all respects toward religion."

Bush's trip to Ohio followed a weekend in which he had a colon screening and turned power over briefly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Tuesday, Bush visits Wisconsin, and Thursday it's West Virginia. Monday's trip was also meant as an outreach effort to minority voters who have viewed Bush with suspicion. Black voters supported Bush's Democratic opponent, Al Gore, by a 9-1 margin in the last presidential election. Bush was addressing what the White House called an "inner-city compassion rally."

Appearing with Bush was Gov. Bob Taft, who is facing re-election this year and, if successful, will be able to boost Bush in 2004 in Ohio - the seventh-largest prize in presidential elections.

Monday was Bush's seventh visit to the state. Tuesday will be his sixth to Wisconsin, which he lost narrowly to Gore. He will again discuss welfare there. Thursday's July Fourth trip will be his fourth to West Virginia, a traditionally Democratic state Bush won in 2000.

Bush was stepping back into the voucher battle after losing a round last year with Congress. He proposed during his campaign to strip federal funds from the worst-performing schools and to make them available to parents for private education vouchers.

Congress wouldn't go along, and Bush instead signed an education overhaul bill without them. In the new law, public schools where scores failed to improve two years in a row can receive more federal aid, but if scores still failed to improve, low-income students could receive tutoring or transportation to another public school.

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, more than 95 percent of the participating schools are church-affiliated.

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