THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||September 9, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT HILLCREST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
1:10 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. When PresidentWaldrip-- (laughter) -- was up here speaking, I had two overwhelming thoughts.Oneis that even though I had been made a member of the PTA, she was oneincumbentpresident I could never defeat in an election. (Applause.) My secondthoughtwas I wish I could take her to Washington for about a month -- it mightchangethe entire atmosphere up there. She was unbelievable. (Applause.)
Let me say how delighted I am to be here at Hillcrest. Iwantto thank Principal Scharr for making me feel so welcome. And, Claire Hoey,thank you for what you said about the education of our children. And thankyou both for the comments you made about the First Lady and the work wehavedone over the years for children and for education.
I'd like to thank Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rosello,mylongtime friend, for being here. It's quite fitting that you would be here atthis school, which is committed to bilingualism and to a multiculturalfuturefor America.
I'd like to thank three members of the United StatesCongresswho came with me today -- Representatives Corrine Brown, Robert Wexler, andPeter Deutsch. They're all here in the front row, and thank you forcoming.Thank you, Anne MacKay, for being here. And I'd like to thank the staterepresentatives who are here -- Shirley Brown, Lars Hafner, and OrangeCountyChair Linda Chapin, and the Superintendent of the Schools Dennis Smith.
Let me say to all of you, I was so excited when I heardaboutthis school because it really does embody what I think we should be doingineducation, and in a larger sense, what I think we should be trying to dowithour country. And I'd like to begin by just saying a few words about it.
First of all, the principal has already outlined itbetter than I could, along with what your teacher and your PTApresident said, but this is a school that has a lot of differentkids in it -- not only different ethnic groups, they havedifferent religions, they have different cultural heritages.Their parents have different financial circumstances -- I wouldimagine breathtakingly different. And yet, if you look at themall together, they're all a part of our future.
And we say in our Constitution, we say in our lawsthat every one of them is equal not only in the eyes of God, butin the eyes of their fellow Americans. This school is trying tomake that promise real for all of them. And in creating acommunity in which they all count and all have a chance to liveup to the fullest of their God-given abilities, they're doingwhat we in America ought to be doing.
I also think some of the strategies are very good.I think the school uniform policy is a good one. I've tried topromote it because I think it promotes learning and disciplineand order, and gives kids a sense of solidarity, and takes a lotof heat off parents without regard to their income, and sort ofreinforces the major mission of the school. I think that's agood thing. I think having a school-based academic strategy isimportant. I think the literacy programs are profoundlyimportant. And I'm very glad you are involved in readingrecovery.
So there are so many things that I think are quitegood about this school, and I thank you for giving me and Lt.Governor MacKay the chance to come by here today.
I want to talk about what we're trying to do inWashington for education and to support not only this school, butthe truly extraordinary effort that Governor Chiles andLieutenant Governor MacKay have made here over the last few yearsto support Florida's schools. And let me begin by backing up astep.
I'm very grateful as an American to have had thechance to serve and to be a part of what our people haveaccomplished in the last six years -- to have the lowestunemployment rate in a generation; to have in just a few moredays the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years; to havethe lowest crime rate in 25 years; and the smallest percentage ofour people on welfare in 29 years; and the lowest inflation ratein 32 years; and the highest home ownership in American history.And we did it while downsizing the national government to itssmallest size in 35 years and investing more in states andlocalities and schools. I'm grateful for what all of theAmerican people have done together.
But my focus today is on what we should do withthat. What should we do with that? Because normally if peoplehave been through some very trying times and very challengingtimes and they reach a kind of a plateau, the easiest thing to dois to sort of say, whew, now let's just sort of sit back, relaxand enjoy it. I think that would be a mistake, because the worldis changing very fast. You see that, don't you, if you pick upand see what's happened in the stock market -- you know? We hada great big day, yesterday; we had not such a good week or sobefore that. And when you read and you say, well, why is allthis happening? Are a bunch of companies going broke or are abunch of new companies making a lot of money? And you readbetween the lines and see, no, no, it's a lot of things that arehappening around the world. What does that mean?
The more we become a part of the world in America,with the diversity of our population, the more America becomes apart of the world beyond our borders in our economic and otherpartnerships. And the world is changing so fast that I believewhat we should do with these good times is not to pat ourselveson the back, but to say, hey, thank goodness, we finally have thesecurity and the resources to face the long-term challenges ofthis country. And that is what we intend to do with our goodtimes.
That is what I have asked the American people, inthis season when as citizens we think about voting to thinkabout, what are we going to do to deal with the long-termchallenges of the country. When these children get out of highschool, all the baby boomers will start retiring. I know that;I'm the oldest of the baby boomers. (Laughter.) The baby boomgeneration are roughly Americans between the ages of 52 and 34.And until this group of school children that came into the lasttwo years, we were the biggest group of Americans ever.
Now, if we retire without making some changes in theSocial Security system and reforming the Medicare system so ittakes care of seniors, but does it in a way that doesn't putunconscionable burdens on younger people -- if we don't do that,then by the time we retire, one of two things is going to happen:either the baby boomers are not going to have a very goodretirement, or we're going to have it at the expense of loweringtheir standard of living -- because there will be, for a periodof time, two people working -- only two people working for everyone person retired. No one wants that.
We're in good shape now. That's why I say weshouldn't spend any of this surplus that, hopefully, we will havefor several years, that we'll begin to realize on October 1st--we shouldn't spend it all in a tax cut or a spending programuntil first we know we've taken care of Social Security andMedicare, because I don't know anybody in my generation thatwants to undermine their future to take care of our retirement.That's a big issue. (Applause.)
We have to prove in this global economy with, as youknow in Florida, with a lot of global warming -- you had allthose fires this year, you had the hottest year in history, thehottest month you ever had in June -- you know about that. We'vegot to prove we can deal with environmental challenges and growthe economy. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people thatdon't believe that. There are still a lot of people who thinkthat it is impossible to have an economic growth in any advancedsociety unless you are deteriorating the environment. I don'tbelieve that, I don't think the evidence supports that. We'vegot to prove that. We have to prove that. (Applause.)
We have to prove that we can give both quality andaffordable health care to all our people -- the 160 millionpeople in managed care plans. People still want to know if theyget hurt they can go to an emergency room, if they need aspecialist they can see it, and their medical records are goingto be protected. We have to prove we can have the mostcost-effective health system and still maintain quality.
So we've got these big challenges and we've got todeal with all these challenges in the global economy you've beendealing with, reading about. But let me say to you there is nomore important challenge than giving every one of these children-- especially if they start out in life without all theadvantages that a lot of other children have -- a chance to get aworld-class education. There is no more important long-termchallenge for America.
That is what will make us one America, whole,together, respecting each other's differences, when everybody'sgot a chance to sort of live out their dreams.
You know, we've all got this on our mind -- I don'tknow if you all know this, but when I got off the plane today,the young man that caught Mark McGwire's home run last night wasthere waiting for me because he was flown down to Disney Worldtoday, which I thought was a real hoot -- (laughter) -- with hisfamily. And last night, late last night, I talked to MarkMcGwire and his wonderful young son, who's in uniform and alwaysout there. And I got to thinking about what's Mark McGwire goingto do with the rest of his life? What's he going to do with therest of his season?
And I'll tell you what I think he'll do. I thinkhe'll hit more home runs and play more baseball and do morethings. But that's what you've got to think about America. Howwould you feel if Mark McGwire announced, well, I've been workingreal hard to do this all my life and if it's all the same to you,I think I'll skip the last 18 games. (Laughter.) Right? Or ifit's all the same to you, I think I'll just stand up there andsee how many times I could walk. You would be puzzled, at least,wouldn't you?
Well, that's the kind of decision we have to make asAmericans. What are we going to do with our good economy? Whatare we going to do with our improving social fabric? I'd like tosee our country become modeled on what you're trying to do hereat Hillcrest.
And in specific terms, I want to say there are somethings before the Congress today, some specific education billsthat I think respond to the needs of the American people. And nomatter how well you're doing, you know there are still some needsout there. I was especially impressed by what you said you weredoing with new mothers and newborn children and trying to getkids off to a good start. Hillary and I had aconference on early childhood and the brain not very long ago,and I think we have all underestimated how much good can be donein those first couple of years of life. And that's very good.
Let me tell you -- sort of set the scene here. TheDepartment of Education today is releasing a report that showsthat while we're making progress, students that live inhigh-poverty areas continue to lag behind other students in 4thgrade reading and math scores. Fewer than half of all the 4thgraders in the high poverty areas are scoring at basic levels ofperformance in math.
Now, I will say again, you rebuke that whole ideathat there has to be a difference in people based on the incomeof their parents or the nature of their neighborhood. That'swhat you're trying to prove does not have to be. And I believethat as well.
So let me just briefly review the agenda that thesemembers of Congress -- these three here -- are supporting, thatwe're going to try to pass in what is just a very few weeks leftin this legislative session. I want smaller classes in the earlygrades all across America. You've got that here. We have aprogram that would hire 100,000 teachers in the early grades.(Applause.) If we hired the 100,000 teachers -- it's in ourbalanced budget -- we could lower class size to an average of 18in the early grades all across America.
I want Congress to help me create safer schools, tocontinue to build partnerships with local law enforcement andschools. Just this morning, the Justice Department has releasedover $16 million to 155 law enforcement agencies across thecountry to make sure we have community-based organizations toprevent crime in the first place. (Applause.)
This school -- I understand you do a lot of work andloan out some computers so families can learn about computers. Ithink it's important that we hook up every classroom and everylibrary and every school in America by the year 2000. We have abill to do that in Congress and we want to pass that bill.
We also have responses specifically to thateducation report I mentioned -- a bill in Congress to create whatwe call Education Opportunity Zones, as well as expanding fundingfor Title I. It would give extra help to the classrooms, theschools, that are prepared to end social promotion, but not tagkids as failures -- that want to have after-school programs, thatwant to have summer school programs, that want to have extra helpfor kids who need it -- that need more resources to do the kindof intensive effort that this reading recovery program here, forexample, requires.
Everybody knows it's one of the best programs in theworld. Unfortunately, too many schools don't do it because itcosts money to do it -- because you really have to give intensivehelp to these children at an early age.
So I think that's important. A part of that wouldbe paying the college expenses of 35,000 young people who agreewhen they get out of college to go out and teach off theircollege loans by going into under-served areas and urban andrural areas in America. I think that's worth doing. (Applause.)
And finally, we're trying to fully fund our AmericaReads program, which will make sure that we give enough readingtutors and trained volunteers to enough schools to make sureevery 8-year-old in this country -- every one -- can read a bookindependently by the time they're in the 3rd grade. (Applause.)
Now, this is very important stuff. And so far Ican't tell you how it's going to come out in Washington. Butremember, I'm not increasing the deficit, this is in the balancedbudget that I presented to Congress. The money is there, so theissue is not whether the money is there; the issue is what areour priorities and what are we going to do with the money.
Now, not withstanding what Representatives Wexler,Deutsch, and Brown want to do, the House of Representatives votedto actually cut $2 billion off these programs. The Senate hasnot done so yet. They've been a little more encouraging. Idon't want this to be a partisan issue; education should be anAmerican issue. (Applause.) When I go to a school and walk upand down and shake hands with kids, I don't look for a politicallabel on their uniforms. This is an American issue. But it is abig issue.
So I would just ask all of you to make it as clearas you can that you'd like for us in Washington to put the samepriority on education that the parents and the teachers and thekids do at Hillcrest; that you would like for us to try to createan American community like the one that you are trying to createwith your children here at this school; and that there are veryspecific opportunities Congress is going to have in the nextthree weeks where a "yes" vote or a "no" vote is required, andyou'd like to see us vote yes for our children and our future.
Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)