THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||September 8, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON NATIONAL SCHOOL MODERNIZATION DAY
Pine Crest Elementary
2:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I want to thankCarla for her introduction and her devotion to teaching. And Ithought she did quite a good job of introducing her student. He'snow sort of her boss, I guess, indirectly. (Laughter.) And, youngman, you did a terrific job. You look great and you stood up twice,and I think you ought to run for office some day. (Laughter.) Youreally did a good job. I was very proud of you, I thought you weregreat.
I'd like to thank the State Superintendent NancyGrasmick, and Superintendent Vance, and the other officials of thisschool district. And, Board Chair Nancy King, thank you for beingwith me again. She said if I came to this school district one moretime I would be charged my appropriate tax assessment -- (laughter)-- to help alleviate the overcrowding problem I came to talk abouttoday.
I'd like to thank the members of the MarylandLegislature who are here -- Senator Rubin and others -- and CountyCouncil Chair Leggett and the other local officials who are here.I'd like to also thank the representatives of the educationassociations that are with us, including the NEA and the AFT. AndI'd like to say a special word of appreciation to our wonderfulSecretary of Education, Dick Riley; to Congressman Wynn, who has beena heroic champion of education; and to my good friend, KathleenKennedy Townsend, for everything she has done -- especially formaking Maryland the first state in the country to require communityservice as a condition of public education. It is a very importantthing. And I hope state after state, community after community willemulate it.
We are about to have our 100,000th young person in theAmeriCorps national service program. Creating an ethic of communityservice I think is one of the most important things we can do asAmerica grows ever more diverse and still has a series of commonchallenges, common problems and common opportunities. And no one inAmerica has done more to promote it than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Ithank her for that. (Applause.)
I also want to tell you that Congressman Wynn committedthe truth up here when he said that the first time we talked, he washitting on me for more federal funds for education. And I told himif we could just complete the recovery of the economy, balance thebudget, we'd have some money, and that I, for one, would be in favorof investing that money disproportionately in the education of ourchildren and the future of our country. And together we're trying toachieve that.
I think you should know today that this event in whichyou are participating is one of 84 going on today in communities in37 states. This is National School Modernization Day for us. TheFirst Lady, the Vice President, governors, about 40 members ofCongress, and the Cabinet -- not just Secretary Riley, but a lot ofour other Cabinet members -- are out all across the country atgatherings like this. We are here to say that there is no moreimportant long-term objective for America than world-class educationfor all our children, and that the children deserve schools that areas modern as the world in which they will live.
All of you know this is a time of great change andtransition, and meeting the challenges of this time is daunting work.You have to follow any week, any month, the headlines about what isgoing on in the world and here at home, with the economy, ininternational political events, and you can imagine that, even on itsworst day, this is a very interesting job the American people havegiven me. But it is daunting work dealing with the complex anddynamic world we're living in.
I have just seen it in Northern Ireland, where I visitedwith families, including those who were victims of the horriblebombing in Ormagh, who are determined to abandon the hatreds of thepast and claim a different future for the children of Ireland. Ihave seen it in Russia, where people are working to lift theircountry out of economic crisis, even as they stay on a road todemocracy and open economy.
And as Kathleen said, I had a good talk this morningwith Senator Mikulski about Russia, and the Secretary of the Treasuryis now, as we're here, in the Senate meeting with our Senate caucusto talk about the situation in Russia and generally what's going onin the global economy and how we can continue to push it forward.
At this moment I think all of us would admit thatAmerica, always a blessed nation, has particular blessings. We havethe strongest economy in a generation. We have a dropping crimerate. We have the lowest welfare rolls in 29 years. We have thehighest home ownership in history. Our country has had a remarkablerun of economic and social progress, and we have been able to promotepeace and security and freedom and human rights around the world.
But people with this many blessings also havesignificant responsibilities. We have significant responsibilitiesaround the world not to continue to be, in the words of our FederalReserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, the other day, an island ofprosperity in a sea of difficulty in the rest of the world. We oweit to the world to exercise our responsibilities to try to advancethe cause of prosperity and peace. And it's also in our interest,since our destiny is so inextricably bound up with the rest of theworld.
And we have unique responsibilities here at home. I'vetalked about this a lot, but I would like to reemphasize it.Sometimes when things are going really, really well for people, theyget a little self-indulgent, easily distracted, and basically justwant to kick back and relax. It's a natural tendency forindividuals. You go through a tough time, and you work and you workand work, and things get really good -- you say, thank goodness,things are not so bad as they used to be, I'm going to relax. Thereare people that have this whole theory that since we the lowestunemployment in nearly 30 years and the lowest inflation in over 30years, and the economy is as strong as it's been, we're about to havethe first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years, we can all justsort of pat ourselves on the back.
I believe that would be a serious error -- a seriouserror -- because I think, again, at times when you have manyblessings, you're responsibilities are greater. And ourresponsibility is to say, what should we do? What should we do withthe money that the American people have produced through their hardwork and industry and through bringing this deficit down? Whatshould we do with our prosperity? What should we do with ourconfidence?
I think there is no more important thing to do than toget in our minds what the big, long-term challenges facing thiscountry are and to say, we'll never have a better chance to make abig down payment on meeting the huge challenges of the country thanwe do right now -- because we're in good shape, because we don't haveto worry about where our next dollar is coming from, because mostAmericans don't have to worry about where their next meal is comingfrom, because we have confidence that we're doing well. Now is thetime -- if we can't do that now, if we can't look at the bigchallenges facing the country now, when can we ever do it?
Therefore, I think we ought to be asking ourselves, whatdo we have to do to keep this economic recovery going? What do wehave to do to meet our responsibilities in the world? What do wehave to do to save the Social Security and Medicare systems and makethem work for the baby boomers when they retire without bankruptingour kids? One thing we ought not to do is go out and spend thissurplus 60 days before an election on a tax cut when we haven't evenmanifested the surplus and won't have it until October 1st. Wewaited 30 years for a surplus; we ought to at least look at the inkturn from red to black for a year before we start throwing it away.(Applause.)
I've been waiting -- I've been counting the days untilOctober 1st so I can say, whew, we actually have the surplus. Andnow nobody even wants us to get there before they start spending itagain. And more importantly, spending it on a tax cut estimates whatthe surplus will be in years ahead. Now, we've been very good onestimating. I've been on the right side of that. Every year I'vebeen President I've said, well, here's what I think the deficit isgoing to be, and it's always been lower. And we've always beenfortunate because we haven't made a lot of false claims here. But weneed to save the Social Security system before we start giving awaythe surplus that, in fact, has not even materialized yet. That's abig challenge.
The second thing we need to do is prove that we can notjust preserve, but improve the environment as we grow the economy.We know we can do that, but you'd be amazed how many people don'tbelieve we can do that still. You'd be utterly amazed -- not just inAmerica, but all around the world -- who still believe there's thissort of iron law of environmental degradation and economic growth,and that no scientific discovery, no technological advance, nothingwill ever enable us to do it. I think it's a big challenge we needto face.
We've got over 160 million Americans in managed careplans. I think it's a big challenge to protect the rights of peoplein managed care so you can control costs as much as possible withoutsacrificing quality, or peace of mind for families. I think peopleought to be able to go to an emergency room when they need to, or seea specialist when they need to, and shouldn't have the doctor takenaway in the middle of treatment. I think these are big issues, notlittle issues -- big things for the country.
But there is no bigger issue -- and there are lots ofothers -- the Senate is going to get another chance to dothe right thing on campaign finance reform. I wish they would. I'dlike to see all my successors be able to spend less time raisingmoney and more time helping you raise your kids. I hope that canhappen. (Applause.) But let's not kid ourselves. Nothing we dowill have a greater effect on the future of this country thanguaranteeing every child, without regard to race or station in lifeor region in this country, a world-class education. Nothing.(Applause.)
But first things first. You are all -- I mean, this issort of what's called preaching to the saved because you all agreewith all this on education. (Laughter.) But even before theeducation issue, you must first decide what should our attitude beabout our present moment of good fortune. I think our attitudeshould be it is not just a time to enjoy it, to indulge ourselves, tobe diverted, it is a time to recognize the very serious questionsbefore us and realize the unique opportunity we have to fulfill ourresponsibility to the future. And it always begins with ourchildren.
As Secretary Riley said many times this month, we had arecord number of school children start school -- 52.7 million -- halfa million more than last year, more than at the height of the babyboom, more than at any time. And all the indications are that thiswill continue, this so-called baby boom echo, will continue toreverberate for years and years to come.
Now, there are a lot of things that we should be doingin education. I came to emphasize one today, but I think it's worthrepeating that we have advocated high standards, high expectations,high levels of accountability, and high levels of support to achievethose objectives. We've got a program to expand charter schools; toend social promotion, but to provide after-school and summer schoolprograms to people who need it; to reward our most committedteachers; to train more and certify more master teachers; to do moreto help our children master the basics, and to pass voluntarynational tests for 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. We'vecalled for more efforts to make our schools safe and disciplined anddrug free. But it's important to point out that with the biggestgroup of school children in history enrolled, one of the biggestproblems is the adequacy and the quality of the physical spaceitself, and its capacity to hook into the information revolution.
The Vice President and I, for nearly four years now,have been working to hook all of our classrooms and libraries up tothe Internet by the year 2000. There are lot of these classroomsthat aren't hookable. (Laughter.) And basically we have twodifferent kinds of problems. First of all, too many schools areovercrowded: classes in hallways, gyms, portables on campuses -- likehere, outside. (Laughter.)
I was in a little town in Florida where one school had,as I remember, 12 different trailers out there behind it, maybe more.Then not very long after that I went to Philadelphia, where theaverage school building is 65 years old. And they're magnificentbuildings. You couldn't afford to build buildings like that today.But they haven't been maintained.
And I always ask people, what kind of signal do you sendto an inner-city child whose one chance to make it in life is adecent education if every day the child has to walk up the stairs andgo into a school where the windows are broken, the paint is peeling,there's graffiti on the walls, maybe a whole floor is shut downbecause it is simply physically incapable of being occupied? Andthen the child will turn on the television and hear every politicianlike me saying, children are the most important things to our future,education is the most important issue. The actions that the childsees walking up the steps to school every day are louder than all thewords to the contrary of the politicians. This is a big issue.(Applause.)
So what we have done within the balanced budget -- Iwant to emphasize this. It's true. Congressman Wynn will tell youI've disappointed some of my friends because I don't think we canvary from what got us to the dance of prosperity. And what got us tothe dance of prosperity is being ruthless about balancing thisbudget, keeping the interest rates down, getting the investment upand giving Americans a job so they can pay taxes to the local schooldistrict, so you can do the lion's share of the work.
Consistent with that and within that framework, we haveproposed the first ever initiative at the national level to helpcommunities build and repair and modernize more than 5,000 schools,so that we can meet this huge need out there. It's a schoolconstruction tax cut that is completely and fully paid for in thebalanced budget. It doesn't touch a penny of the surplus and it isthe right way to cut taxes. It respects discipline, it targetsinvestments to the future where they're needed most.
And what I would like to ask all of you to do is to helpCongressman Wynn reach the other members of Congress and say thisought not to be a Republican or a Democratic issue. It ought not tobe an issue that pits the rapidly growing suburbs againstinner-cities with old buildings that anybody would love to have ifthey were just properly modernized and wired. This ought to be anissue where we can all say that it's a national priority. And youcan talk all you want to about education, but we don't need a crowdedor a crumbling classroom, or permanent reliance on house trailers asthe symbol of America's commitment to education. Now, that'simportant.
I also want to point out that we have paid for, withinthe balanced budget, in addition to the school construction, enoughfunds to help school districts hire another 100,000 teachers to lowerthe class size, average class size, to 18 in the early grades. And Ithink that's important. (Applause.)
All the research shows it makes a permanent differenceif early in the educational experience teachers have the chance togive personal attention to students, and they have a chance to relateto each other in a class that is small enough to embed permanentlynot only learning skills, but habits of relating and learning in thefuture. All the research shows that.
Finally, let me say, we have a proposal to providescholarships to 35,000 young people who will agree to go out andteach in educationally underserved areas, based on the old idea ofthe National Health Service Corps. You know, I used to be Governor,as one of my opponents once said, of a small, rural state --(laughter) -- and we had all these places in the country that couldnever get a doctor. And the National Health Service Corps came alongand they gave these young people scholarships to medical schools andcovered the enormous cost of going. And all they had to do was to bewilling to go out either to an inner-city area or out in the ruralarea where they couldn't get a doctor, and serve for a few years andwork off the cost of medical school.
That's what we want to do with education. We want tosay, we will pay your way to school, we'll help you get an education;after a couple of years, you can do whatever you want to with yourlife, but we ask you in return for our investment in your educationto go to an inner-city school or a rural school or a Native Americanschool -- go someplace where they won't have a good teacher if itweren't for you. I think it is a great idea. (Applause.) It isfully funded.
Now, the last thing I want to say -- and this goes backto the school modernization -- we've got to ask Congress to pass thebudget to give us the funds to hook all the classrooms and thelibraries up to the Internet by the year 2000. This is a huge deal,and it is a major, major educational issue.
You may remember that last spring the First Lady and Iand a large delegation of members of Congress and others went toAfrica. And it was the first time a sitting American President hadever taken an extensive trip to several countries in sub-SaharanAfrica. It had never happened before. We visited a school in Ugandathat will soon be linked to Pine Crest by the Internet. (Applause.)We were actually there.
When you see that school, if you have the visual linkthrough the Internet, you want to give those kids some new maps,you'll want to send them some books, you'll want to do a lot ofthings, but you'll also know that they are beautiful, good, highlyintelligent, and immensely, immensely eager to be connected to therest of the world and to share a common future with our children.
So this is very important. Unfortunately, nearly halfof our schools don't have the wiring necessary to support basiccomputer systems. We're doing a great job, and it's not just thegovernment -- private sector, local districts, everybody -- afabulous job of getting these computers out into the classrooms.More and more, there is good educational software. But what are wegoing to do when the actual wiring is not there? We have to do this.
So, again, I ask Congress to pass the funds -- in thebalanced budget -- for the connection for the Internet. It's a hugething. And it has more potential to dramatically revolutionize andequalize education, if the teachers are properly trained, thananything else. And in our plan, we have funds for teacher trainingas well. Otherwise, you'll wind up having the kids know more aboutit. (Laughter.) We can't afford to have that. (Laughter.)
So that's what I'm here to say. Number one, let's getpeople out of the house trailers and get them out of the falling-downbuildings, and give our kids something to be proud of, and send themthe right signal and have the physical facilities we need. We've gota plan to do it, with the right kind of tax cut, it's in the balancedbudget.
Number two, let's fund 100,000 teachers and take averageclass size down to 18 in the early grades. Number three, let's fundthe money necessary to enable all of our classes and all of ourlibraries in all of our schools to be hooked up to the Internet bythe year 2000. If we do that we're going to be very, very proud ofhow our kids turn out in the years ahead.
Thank you and God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)