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President Clinton Calls On Congress To Pass His Education Agenda

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 13, 1998


Forest Knolls Elementary School
Silver Spring, Maryland

1:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very, very much. Well, firstof all, I'd like to thank Carolyne Starek for that marvelousstatement. Didn't she do a good job? (Applause.) And she talkedabout teachers using visual aids, and then pointed the press,helpfully, to the visual aid back here. (Laughter.) I'm glad you'rehere, but if you'd ever like a job in communications at the WhiteHouse, I think we might be able to arrange that. (Laughter.)

Let me say to all of you how delighted I am to be here.I want to thank Nancy King for her devotion to education and herremarks; and Dr. Paul Vance, the other local officials who are here-- Mr. Leggett and the delegates and the school board members. If Icome out here to this school district one more time I think you oughtto devise a special assessment for me so I can contribute to thebuilding fund of the schools -- I have been here so much.(Applause.)

My great partner in our efforts to improve education isthe Secretary of Education, Dick Riley. I believe he's the bestSecretary of Education America ever had, and I'd like to thank himfor being here. (Applause.)

I want to thank Governor Paris Glendening and Lt.Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for their extraordinary work andleadership. This is one of the most innovative state governments inAmerica. Maryland is always at the forefront of whatever ishappening in education and the environment and economic incentives.And as a person who served as governor for 12 years, I believe I knowa little something about that, and one of the things that I alwayslove to do is to steal ideas from other governors. You know, that'snot a very delicate way of saying what the framers of ourConstitution had in mind when they called the states the laboratoriesof democracy. That's what a laboratory is -- you find a discovery,then no one else has to discover it, they can just borrow it. If Iwere a governor today, I would be paying a lot of attention to whatgoes on in Maryland. And I thank them for what they have done.(Applause.)

I would also like to thank Senator Daschle andCongressman Gephardt. I think you could see the intensity, thepassion they feel for our determination after nearly a year of tryingto get education on the agenda of this Congress before it goes home.We cannot allow a budget to pass without a serious consideration ofthese issues. And their leadership and their passion and theircommitment have made it possible.

A President, if the Congress is in the hands of theother party -- and they passionately and genuinely, I think, disagreewith us on whether we should put 100,000 teachers out there, or helpbuild or repair thousands of schools -- none of this would bepossible if it weren't for their leadership. And I want you tounderstand that. I can give speeches until the cows come home, butuntil the majority party wanted to go home for the election, and ourguys said no, my "no" was not enough. And so I thank them and all oftheir colleagues who are here today. (Applause.)

I want to introduce them just to show you the depth andthe national sweep of our feeling about this. Senator Daschle isfrom South Dakota. He is joined by our leader in the Senate oneducation issues, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts -- (applause)-- and Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota. (Applause.) You knowMr. Gephardt is from St. Louis; he said that. He's joined by DavidBonior, from Michigan; Charles Rangel, from New York; Ted Strickland,from Ohio; Nita Lowey, from New York; Ruben Hinojosa, from SouthTexas; and two Congress members from Maryland, Steny Hoyer and AlbertWynn. (Applause.)

I'd also like to acknowledge a longtime friend of minewho is a candidate for Congress and, as Ted Kennedy reminded mebefore I came up here, back in the great days when America wasfighting for equal rights for all of these children, without regardto their race, Ralph Neas was known as the 101st United StatesSenator for civil rights. And we're glad to have him here. Thankyou. (Applause.)

When I ran for President six years ago I had an absoluteconviction -- and a lot of people thought I was dead wrong -- but Ihad an absolute conviction that we could reduce the deficit andeventually balance the budget and still invest more in our childrenand in our future. And we have been working to do that. Thestrategy has worked. We've got the strongest economy in ageneration, the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years, thelowest crime rate in 25 years and the doors of college are more openthan ever before.

I think it is literally possible to say now that becauseof the Pell Grants, and the deductibility of student loan interest,and the fact that young people can pay back their college loans as apercentage of their incomes, and because of the widespread taxcredits for $1,500 a year for the two years of college, and then taxcredits for other years of college -- that it is literally possibleto say now that any young person that works for it will find thedoors of college open to them and not barred by money. And I am veryproud of that. I think we have done the right thing. (Applause.)

But we now have to decide as a people -- not justbecause it's three weeks from an election, but because it's a verymomentous time in our country's history -- what we are going to dowith this moment of prosperity, and whether we're going to fritter itaway or build on it. Whether we're going to be divided anddistracted, or focused on our children and our future.

This country still has a lot of challenges. If you'vebeen following the news you know there's a lot of turmoil in theinternational economy. And the United States has to take the lead insettling that down, because a lot of our growth comes from sellingwhat we make here overseas. And eventually, if everybody else is introuble, we'll be in trouble, too.

If you've been following the debates you know that whenthe baby boomers retire, Social Security will be in trouble unless wemove now to save it -- which is why I don't want to spend thissurplus until we save Social Security. If you've been following thenational news you know we still have big debates in Washington and inCongress over the environment. And I passionately believe that wecan grow the economy and improve the environment. You know we've hadbig debates over whether the 160 million Americans in HMOs should beprotected by a patients' bill of rights.

But there is no bigger issue affecting our long-termsecurity than education. And we cannot stop until this record numberof children -- whether or not they live in Maryland, or Utah, orsomeplace in between; whether they're rich or poor; whether they'reAfrican Americans, Hispanic, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, or youhave it; whether they are physically challenged or completelyable-bodied; whether they're rich or poor; whether they live in aninner city or a rural area or a nice suburban community like this one-- until all of our children have access to a world-class elementaryand secondary education. We owe that to them. And that is what thisis all about. (Applause.)

Eight months ago in my State of the Union address, Iasked Congress to use this moment of confidence and prosperity andthe money -- the fact you've paid into the Treasury because more ofyou are working than ever before -- to make a critical down paymenton American excellence in education. I asked them to do a number ofthings, but I want to emphasize two. First, I asked them to helplocal communities reduce class size in the early grades by hiring100,000 new teachers.

Study after study after study confirms what every parentand teachers know -- smaller classes and better trained teachers makea huge, huge difference, especially in the early grades. They leadto permanent benefits from improved test scores to improveddiscipline.

Let me just tell you one story, just one. A few yearsago when I was governor, I used to spend a lot of time in classrooms-- unfortunately, more time than I can now spend. And I enjoyedgoing into the classroom and meeting your students who were overthere a few moments ago, but I can't do what Governor Glendeningstill does -- go in and tutor and actually spend a lot of time andtalk and listen. But there was a very poor, rural school district inmy state that had a visionary leader. And they came to me and said,you know, governor, we don't have much money, but if you could getthe federal government to let us take our Title I money and someother money we're getting, some special education money, and put itall together, we'd like to try for a year or two to put all of ourfirst graders in the same class. And the per capita income of thisschool district was way, way, way below even our state average, notto mention the national average.

Well anyway, to make a long story short, we were able togive permission to do that. We pooled all the money. We createdfour elementary schools, first grade classes of 15 kids each. Here'swhat happened. The overall performance of the children on themeasured test increased by 60 percent. The performance in one year-- the performance of the Title I kids doubled. Four children hadbeen held back because they hadn't learned anything the first year.Their performance quadrupled.

And when Hillary and I were promoting education reformin Arkansas, one of the things we worked the hardest for was to bringaverage class size down to 20. If this 100,000 teachers proposalgoes through, we can bring it down to an average of 18 in the earlygrades. It will make a huge difference -- a huge difference.(Applause.)

In the wake of all the terrible school violence ourcountry sustained in the last years -- particularly in the last yearor so -- I asked Secretary Riley and Attorney General Reno to preparea booklet that could be sent to every school in the country about howto identify kids that might be in trouble, how to stop bad thingsfrom happening in the first place. And so they went out across thecountry to listen to educators, and they came back and said, in placeafter place after place they were told, give us smaller classes inthe early grades; we'll find the kids that are troubled and we'llhave a chance to help them lead good, productive lives.

I just want to echo what Mr. Gephardt said. Every timeyou see a state legislature having to build another prison -- becausethe court will order you to build prisons that aren't overcrowded,but not schools that aren't overcrowded -- every time you see that,you can bet your bottom dollar that 90 percent of the people goinginto that prison, if they had a little different childhood, couldhave been somewhere else. And we should never forget that.(Applause.)

The second thing I asked Congress to do was to give usthe tools to help local communities modernize crowded and crumblingschools. We had a record number of school children start school thisyear -- 52.7 million, a half-million more than last year, more thanat the height of the baby boom generation. In a recent study fromthe General Accounting Office, it concluded that as many as a thirdof our classrooms -- a third -- are in need of serious modernizationor repair; one-third of our kids in substandard classrooms. I haveseen old school buildings that are fine and strong -- buildings,frankly, we couldn't afford to build today with the materials and thedimensions they have. But they have peeling paint and broken windowsand bad wiring. They can't be hooked up to the Internet and thelights are too dim. And I have seen today, and in many other places,trailers that we call "temporary," but unless we do something aboutit they are anything but temporary.

Now, we see stories of teachers holding classes intrailers and hallways and gyms. I don't believe a country that saysit's okay for a huge number of its children to stay in trailersindefinitely is serious about preparing them all for the 21stcentury. And I believe we can do better. I believe you believe wecan do better. (Applause.)

Now, this proposal, which has been championed in theSenate, especially by Senator Carol Moseley-Braun from Illinois, andby Congressman Charles Rangel from New York, and others in the House-- Nita Lowey -- I want to say to you, we want to come clean here,this has never been done before. And the members of the Republicanmajority are philosophically opposed to it. They say somehow it's anintrusion into local control. I, frankly, don't see if we help thestate provide more classrooms for this school, from what I just sawof her I think your principal would still be in control. I do notbelieve that we would be running this school. (Laughter andapplause.)

We want these classrooms to be more accessible to peoplewith disabilities. We want these classrooms to be more accessible sothey're all be able to be hooked up to the Internet. We want them tobe physically connected. You know, Senator Daschle and I weretalking on the way out here -- if you live in the Dakotas in thewintertime and you've got to walk just this far, you may be walkingin 30 degree below zero temperatures.

And we believe that this proposal is good. It targetsthe investments where they're needed the most. It maintains ourbalanced budget. And it works in this way: There are targetedschool construction tax cuts that are fully paid for, we don't takeany money from the surplus. Yesterday, since Congress has not actedon this in eight months, my budget team brought to Capitol Hill adetailed proposal to pay for these badly needed cuts, dollar fordollar, by closing various corporate loopholes.

Right here in Maryland, our plan would mean tax creditson more than $300 million of the bonds to build or modernize schools.That would save a ton of money for Maryland in building ormodernizing schools. (Applause.) In Florida, where in the smallcommunity of Jupiter, I visited a school like this one and saw 12facilities like this outside one small building -- 12 -- the VicePresident is visiting today. There our proposal would help to buildor modernize more than 300 schools.

As I said, there are a lot of other important elementsin our plan -- funds for after-school programs, before-schoolprograms, summer school programs; money to connect all our classroomsto the Internet; money to promote the development of voluntarynational standards into basics and a nonpartisan, supervised examto measure 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. But if you thinkabout the most pressing big issues, the numbers of teachers and theconditions in crowded classrooms demand immediate national attention.

I wish I had time to win the philosophical debate withour friends on the other side, who somehow see helping more teachersteach and providing more school buildings as an intrusion into localaffairs. It is not. Secretary Riley has dramatically reduced theregulations on local school districts in states' Departments ofEducation that were in place when we arrived here. What we aretrying to do is to make sure people like you can give children likethis the future they deserve.

I think it's worth fighting for and I don't think weshould go home and pass a budget that doesn't take account of theeducational needs of our children and the future of our country.(Applause.)

Let me remind you that in 1993 and '94, when I said weought to put 100,000 more police officers on the street, I was toldthe same thing by the same people. They said, oh, this won't work,it won't help anything, it's an unwarranted intrusion into localgovernment. It was weird -- I had police departments begging me forthe police, and I had congressmen on the other side telling me, oh,these police chiefs don't know what they're talking about, you'rereally trying to run their business.

And anyway, we prevailed. And today we've paid for88,000 of those 100,000 police and we have the lowest crime rate in25 years. (Applause.) Would it be nice if we had 100,000 moreteachers and we had the highest educational attainment in 25 years,or the highest educational attainment in history? (Applause.)

Now, school is almost out of session on Capitol Hill.The members are eager to return home for the election holiday. Butwe haven't finished our coursework yet, and the final exam has notbeen passed. And so I say to you -- and let me say once again, Idon't really relish education as a partisan debate because over thelong run, that's not good for America. I don't have a clue whetherthese kids parents are Democrats or Republicans or independents, and,frankly, I could care less. I want them to have the best. I wantAmerica's future to be the best.

We are here fighting this fight because we have no otherway, no other recourse to prevail on this important issue. We haveworked quietly and earnestly for eight months with no result. Sonow, for a few days, we are shouting loudly to the heavens, we have amoment of prosperity and a heavy responsibility to build thesechildren the brightest, possible future we can.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

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