May 20, 1998
America is facing a critical choice -- whether to honor and strengthen our
commitment to our public schools or to retreat.
A truly free public education is a cornerstone of our democracy.
percent of the 52.2 million students in this country are enrolled in public
Expanding the commitment to public schools is one of my husband's highest
priorities. He has proposed legislation that would reduce class size in the
early grades, modernize and build new schools, implement high standards of
achievement and help every child read independently by the end of third
It would also link every school to the Internet, end the practice of
automatically promoting every student and give communities the
decide what their schools need.
Some members of Congress, however, have chosen to reject these meaningful
improvements in favor of political expediency. They want to take dollars away
from the public schools and use them to pay for private-school vouchers.
One proposal that has passed both houses of Congress would
of up to $3,200 for private- or parochial-school tuition to approximately
2,000 families in the District of Columbia.
Many of you have read news reports about the dismal state of the
schools, sadly referred to as among the worst in the nation. We must fix
but vouchers are not the solution.
Vouchers divert attention and taxpayer dollars away from the
serve the vast majority of our students just when they need these
make fundamental changes. That's why my husband has promised to veto the
Recently, a new superintendent took over the reins of D.C.'s
and has already begun to bring much-needed reform to the system. Now is not
the time to siphon off desperately needed money for a program that will
at most 3 percent of the system's 70,000 students at a cost of more than $6
Vouchers will not bring one more math teacher into the classroom
one broken window. Vouchers will not restore art, music or after-school
activities. And vouchers will not rekindle a sense of pride in our public
Vouchers raise fundamental questions about whether the federal
use taxpayer dollars to send children to religious schools. And vouchers
provide funds to schools that are not accountable for what their students
learn or how the schools manage their money.
The evidence is mixed on whether children who participate in
actually do better in school. The most recent study of Cleveland's voucher
program concludes that students who use vouchers do no better than their
counterparts in public school.
At a time in our nation's history when it is critical for every
have better teachers, higher standards and more modern facilities, vouchers
drain our public schools. Giving a few students a ticket out of the public
schools is the wrong approach. The right approach is to fix the schools that
are failing and to offer choices within the public school system.
We know how to fix our schools.
More than 10 years ago, Chicago's schools were singled out as the nation's
worst. That's when the Mayor, the business community and parents got serious
about fixing their schools. This week, Mayor Daley announced that test scores
in the city have risen for the third straight year -- proof, he says, of the
success of tough reform initiatives. The Mayor singled out DuSable High
School, which has created a "culture of reading," including a special summer
reading program and security guards who quiz kids on vocabulary words in the
We also know how to provide meaningful choices for parents within
schools -- such as charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that
give parents and teachers the opportunity to design their own programs
open to all students and strictly accountable for the education of their
students. When my husband was elected, there was one charter school in the
country. Today, under his leadership, there are almost 800.
Bill and I have visited charter schools all over the country that
the way in offering important choices to public-school students and their
parents. Many of these schools are meeting the needs of students who had
trouble succeeding in more traditional public schools.
As we prepare to enter the new millennium, we can choose to walk
our public schools or we can choose to roll up our sleeves and make them work
again. Let's not opt to give just a few students a way out at the expense of
giving every student a way up.
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