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President Speaks at School Safety Event

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 19, 1998


The Grand Foyer

2:09 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, SuperintendentBerg; Madam Attorney General; Senator Robb, thank you so much foryour efforts. Congressman Castle, thank you. Mayor Donnelly,welcome and I want to say a special word of welcome to all of thestudents. I'm glad you're here today and I thank you for the exampleyou're setting for students throughout our country.

I also want to commend the students who were the winnersof the state math and science award earlier this month. This schoolis proving that by taking the right kind of action -- working withlaw enforcement, enforcing zero tolerance for guns and drugs,involving parents, establishing discipline and order as primarygoals. We can keep our schools safe and give our children the chanceto reach their highest potential.

Now, in less than 650 days, all of us will enter a newcentury and a new millennium. At a time when we're doing everythingwe can to prepare our children for the opportunities of that newcentury, at a time when we know that the body of knowledge that humanbeings have is doubling every five years and, therefore, educationwill be more important than ever before, we cannot let violence,guns, drugs stand between our children and the education they need.

For more than five years, we've worked now to make ourschools places of learning, not fear. We have worked to strengthenand expand the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, to enforce zerotolerance for guns in schools, to encourage communities to crack downon truancies, to support those who wish to adopt school uniformpolicies. Wearing uniforms instead of gang colors in many places ishelping to keep our children safe.

It was just a little over two years ago that I went toLong Beach, California, the first large school district to adopt aschool uniform policy. Since then, Secretary Riley and theDepartment of Education have worked to help those schools that wantedto do that. Yesterday, the New York City School Board announced thatit would adopt a school uniform policy in all its elementary schools.I applaud them for taking this important step, and I predict it willhave very beneficial consequences.

Our budget makes an unprecedented commitment as we aremoving into balance for the first time in 30 years to invest for ourfuture, by raising standards and improving education for all ourchildren, and to make our schools safer. We know schools with thebiggest discipline problems also have the highest rates of violence.Very often, there are simply too many students and too few classroomswith not enough teachers. Our budget, as Senator Robb said, willhelp that, will help to reduce class sizes to an average of 18students per class in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades, with 100,000 moreteachers and funds to build or rehabilitate 5,000 schools.

Perhaps even more important in the short run on theviolence issue -- and I was glad to hear Mr. Berg talk about this--it will quadruple federal support for after-school programs to keepchildren in school in wholesome, positive environments. We know thatmost children who get in trouble do so between the time school letsout and their folks get home from work. So I applaud you for whatyou're doing and I hope now if this budget passes there will be many,many more schools, until every school in America will offer this kindof community support to our young people and their families.(Applause.)

The fundamental issue here is that we do not need to andwe must not ever have to make a choice between safety and highstandards, between crime-free schools and modern classrooms. We mustdo both. I regret that the present budget, reported out by theMajority in Congress, does not embody that kind of commitment toeducation in our future, does not embody the recommendations I madein the State of the Union Address.

Today, I ask the Republican leadership to join with theleaders of the other party to get with the Democrats and to work withthe White House so that we can once again, as we have in the past,pass a bipartisan budget that puts education beyond politics and saysyes to safer schools, yes to new teachers and smaller classes, yes tomodernizing our schools, yes to investing in high standards. We needto have a budget that says yes to our children's future.

The Nationwide Report on School Safety that is beingreleased today by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Educationshows clearly that the majority of our schools are safe, free ofviolent crime. That is good news. It also shows, however, that toomany of our children face a far more frightening reality every timethey walk through the schoolhouse door. In 1996 alone there weremore than 10,000 physical attacks or fights with weapons in schools;7,000 robberies; 4,000 rapes and sexual assaults. The threat of suchviolence hangs over children's heads and closes their minds tolearning. When children have to worry more about guns and drugs thanmath and science, when teachers are more concerned with maintainingdiscipline than achieving excellence, when parents would rather keeptheir children at home than risk their safety at school, then we knowwe must do more; and if there is even one school in America wherethat is the case, we must all be committed to change it. We alreadyknow the difference community policing makes.

Since we began to help our local communities to put100,000 more community policy officers on our streets, crime hasdropped to record lows all over our country. Indeed, in the nationoverall, crime is at a 24-year low. I thank Senator Robb for hissponsorship for the $17.5 million in the balanced budget bill whichis now being awarded today in grants to communities, parents and lawenforcement groups to put these community policing strategies to workin our schools, to stop violence before it starts.

The more we know about school violence, we more we cando to ensure our children's safety. Last December, I asked theAttorney General and Secretary Riley to develop an annual report onschool safety. Today, I'm pleased to accept their framework forthese reports. From now on at the beginning of every school year,parents and principals, lawmakers and law enforcement will have avaluable tool that tracks school violence, gives examples of schoolprograms that are working, and suggests actions parents can take tomake their children's lives safer at school.

We know one of the best ways to reduce violence is toinvolve the young people themselves. In the last several years,AmeriCorps volunteers particularly have helped hundreds of studentsto resolve their conflicts peacefully. This adds to AmeriCorps'remarkable record of helping improve our schools and communitiesthrough volunteer service.

Parenthetically, I want to say that today we had anannouncement up on the Hill with the First Lady participating that weare sending legislation to Congress to extend our national serviceprogram into the 21st Century; I hope Congress will supportAmeriCorps as it has in the past. (Applause.)

Let me say, finally, as Mr. Berg said so eloquently, weknow that all of our schools need parents to play the primary role intheir children's safety, both in the school and in the home, and whennecessary, in the neighborhood.

Today, I ask all our parents who are concerned aboutthis to become involved in your communities and your children'sschools; to join a community policing partnership. Senator Robb gotthe budget, we're releasing the funds, we can talk about what works;but in the end, real live American citizens are going to have to showup in every school in this country to make this work.

You know, if you look at these young people here today,if you think about the remarkable achievements of this fine school wehonor, if you imagine the interesting, fascinating lives they canhave, and you remember that, as they have good lives it will make allthe rest of our lives better, it is clear that we all have aresponsibility to ensure that their educations will be safe. We cando this and America's future in the 21st Century depends upon it.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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