Remarks by the President to the St. Paul Community


City Academy
St. Paul, Minnesota

9:45 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Well, after Tom and Milo talked,I don't know that I need to say much of anything. I thank you for what yousaid and for the example you have set. And I want to say a little moreabout Milo and this school in a moment. I'd like to thank my friend, BruceVento, for not only doing a superb job in representing the people of hiscommunity and, indeed, the people of Minnesota in the United States Houseof Representatives, but also being a wonderful friend and advisor to methese last seven years and a few months. You should be very proud of BruceVento. He's a very, very good man. (Applause.) Thank you.

When Lt. Governor Schunk told me that she was going to visit everyschool district in Minnesota, I was wishing I were the Lt. Governor ofMinnesota. That sounds like a good job to me. I thank you. And, Mr.Mayor, thank you for being here today. It's good to see you again and it'sgood to be back in your community.

There are a number of other people I would like to acknowledge anddoubtless I will miss some, but I'd like to thank Education CommissionerJax for being here; and Superintendent Harvey; Majority Leader of theSenate Roger More. The Mayor of Minneaopolis I think is here, SharonSayles Belton; former Attorney General Skip Humphrey. I'd like to thankState Senate Ember Reichgott Junge, a longtime friend of mine and formerstate representative Becky Kelso, who were the original co-sponsors of thecharter school legislation. The Charter Friends National Network directorJon Schroeder, who drafted the original federal charter law, which weadopted. The Center for School Change director Joe Nathan, a longtimepersonal friend of mine with whom I worked for many years.

And I'd like to acknowledge some people who came on this tour with me,some of whom who have been very active in the charter school movement for along time -- the President of the Progressive Policy Institute inWashington, Will Marshall; the President of the New Schools Venture Fund,Kim Smith; the policy director of the National Urban League, Bill Spriggs,and a longtime friend and City Council member from New York City, GuillermoLinares. And they're over here to my right. They've come a long way to bewith you to see this first charter school in the United States. So I hopeyou'll make them -- (applause.)

When I was listening to Milo Cutter and Tom Gonzalez talk first aboutthis school, how it got started, what its mission is, and then hearing Tomtalk about his life and how his then-girlfriend and present wife got himinto this school, it reminded me of all the struggles that I have seen thecharter school movement go through throughout the United States, andreaffirm my conviction that every effort has been worth it.

There are a lot of people here in this room who have devoted a lot oftheir lives to trying to help young people in trouble. I was delighted tohear Milo mention Hazel O'Leary's support for this school -- she was myfirst Energy Secretary. And I want to thank, in particular, one personwho's made an extraordinary commitment to helping young people lead thelives of their dreams and avoid the lives of their nightmares, my goodfriend, Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, who's out here. Thank you, Alan,for everything you have done. (Applause.)

The idea behind charter schools is that not all kids are the same.They have different needs, they have different environments. But there isa certain common level of education that all kids need, no matter howdifferent they are. And that it would be a good thing to allow schools tobe developed which had a clear mission, which could reach out to kids whowanted to be a part of that mission and who could achieve educationalexcellence for children who otherwise might be left behind -- or, to useTom's phrase, might fall through the cracks.

It is true that when I ran for President in 1992, Minnesota had theonly public charter school in the country -- this one. And so when I wentaround the country talking about charter schools, most people thought I hadlanded from another planet, because most people hadn't been here. Mostpeople still haven't been here, to this school. But I knew it was an ideathat had enormous promise. And some of the people involved in thisenterprise have been working with me for years on educational matters whenI was the governor of Arkansas.

I also knew that if Minnesota was doing it, there was a pretty goodchance it was a good idea, since the state already had some of thebest-performing schools in the United States. And I think the state andthis community deserve a lot of credit for the general direction ofeducation reform and rising test scores. Minnesota really is about tobecome Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. And that'sgood for you. Good for you. (Laughter and applause.)

I'm here today because I want all of America to know about you -- andthrough you, to understand what might be done in other communities with thecharter school movement to give all of our children the education theyneed, and the education our country needs for them to have in a 21stcentury information economy.

This is a good time for us to be doing this. Our economy is in thebest shape it's ever been. We have been working for 20 years on schoolreform; no one can claim anymore they don't know what works. We now haveenough evidence that the charter school movement works if it's done right,as it has been done here. And we have the largest and most diverse studentbody in our history, which means there are more different kinds of peoplethat may in learn in different ways and have different personal needs, butthey all need -- I will say again -- a certain high level of educationalattainment.

The strategy that clearly works is accountability for high standards,with a lot of personal attention and clear support for the educationmission of every school. We've tried to support that now for seven years.The Vice President and I have supported everything from increasing HeadStart to smaller classes in the early grades to funds to help all of ourstates and school districts set high standards and systems for implementingaccountability for those standards; to opening up the doors of college tomore Americans.

Here in St. Paul, our movement to put 100,000 teachers on the streets-- in our schools, I mean -- has led, I think, to 23 more teachers beinghired. And here in this city the average class size in the early grades is18. If that were true in every place in America, the children would belearning and all of our 3rd graders would be able to read, more of themwould stay in school, fewer of them would drop out, more of them would dowell. So I want to congratulate you on making good use of that, as well.(Applause.)

We've also tried to make sure all of our schools were wired to theInternet. We're going to do a little work on the Internet later thismorning. When the Vice President and I started and we got the so-callede-rate passed in Congress, which allows lower-income schools to getsubsidies to be wired and to use the Internet, to access it, there wereonly 16 percent of the schools and 3 percent of the classrooms connected.Today, 95 percent of the schools and almost 75 percent of the classroomsare connected. And I think by the end of this year, certainly some timenext year, we will have every classroom in America, certainly every school,connected, except those that are literally too old and decrepit to bewired. And unfortunately, there are some, and I've been out on anothercrusade to try to build new school facilities and have the federalgovernment help in that regard, too.

But we've come a long way. And yet, we know that there are stillschools which aren't performing as they should. Even though test scoresare up, even though college-going is up, we know that there are schoolswhich aren't performing. And I wanted to come here today because of whatyou've done, because you've proved that charter schools were a good idea.

As I said, when I started running for President, there was a grandtotal of one charter school -- you. You were it. Now there are over 1,700in America. And we have invested almost half a billion dollars since 1994to help communities start charter schools. That's why there are over1,700, and I'm proud of that. (Applause.)

And this is actually National Charter School Week, which is nice forme to be here by accident in this week. And I can say that -- you know, mygoal was to at least fund 3,000 or more by the time I left office. And Ibelieve we are going to meet that goal, and one of the reasons is that youhave set such a good example.

Now, what I want to talk about today is how the charter schools work alittle, I want to say a little about that. And then I want to answer -- ifyou'll forgive me for doing it, since you don't have this problem -- I wantto answer some of the critics of the charter school movements who say thatnot all the schools have worked.

Schools like City Academy, as I said, have the flexibility to reachout to students who may have had trouble in ordinary school experiences.At the same time, very often we see charter schools provide an even greateratmosphere of competition that induces kids to work harder and harder tolearn. Studies show that charter schools are at least as racially andeconomically diverse as the public schools, generally; and here inMinnesota, they're more diverse than average schools.

Surveys show the vast majority of parents with children in our 1,700charter schools think their children are doing better academically in thoseschools than they were in their previous schools. There are long waitinglists to get in most charter schools all across the United States.

Now, does that mean every charter school is a stunning success? No.But I don't think that anyone can cite any endeavor of life where everybodyis doing a great job. The idea behind the charter schools was never thatthey would all be perfect, but that because they were unlike traditionalschools they had to be created with a charter and a mission that had to befulfilled. If they were not successful in that mission, they could be shutdown or changed or the children could go somewhere else.

And so that they would be under a lot more -- pressure may be thewrong word -- but the environment would be very different -- that if theydidn't work, that kids wouldn't be stuck there forever, that there wouldalways be other options, and that they, themselves, could be dramaticallytransformed.

Now, the one problem we have had is that not every state has had theright kind of accountability for the charter schools. Some states havelaws that are so loose that no matter whether the charter schools are doingtheir jobs or not, they just get to stay open, and they become like anotherbureaucracy. Unfortunately, I think even worse, some states have laws thatare so restrictive it's almost impossible to open a charter school in thefirst place.

So the second point I want to make to the people, especially to thepress folks that are traveling with us who have to report this to thecountry, is that not only has this first charter school in America, CityAcademy, done great, but Minnesota's law is right. You basically havestruck the right balance. You have encouraged the growth of charterschools, but you do hold charter schools responsible for results. That'swhat every state in the country ought to do.

And I think, indeed, we should build the level of accountability youfind here in the charter school system into all the schools in our system.That's what I'm trying to get Congress to do. Bruce and I have beenworking for a couple of years on an Educational Accountability Act, whichbasically would invest more money in what we know works, and stop investingmoney in what we know doesn't work -- the kind of direction taken not onlyby the charter schools, but by this state, in terms of standards,accountability, not having social promotion, but not blaming kids for thefailure of the system, permitting after-school, summer school programs, andreal support for people like you.

Unfortunately, this week the Congress is -- the majority is trying topass legislation that neither puts more money or more accountability intothe system. But I'm still hopeful that we'll be able to pass a good billthat really works before we go home.

Let me finally say that there are some people who criticize charterschools by saying that even though they are public schools, they amount todraining money away from other public schools. That's just not true. Youwould be in school somewhere. And if you were, whether your school wasdoing an effective job or not, the tax money would be going there. Thecharter school movement, if it works, can help to save public education inthis country, by proving that excellence can be provided to all childrenfrom all backgrounds, no matter what experiences they bring to the schoolin the first place. That's what this whole thing is about. (Applause.)

My goal is to get more money and more people involved in the charterschools movement, to break down the walls of resistance among all theeducators to it, and to get community people all over the country moreaware of it. Today, we are going to release about $137 million in grantsto support new and existing charter schools in 31 states, the District ofColumbia and Puerto Rico. I am going to ask the Secretary of Educationtoday to develop guidelines for employers and faith-based groups so thatthey will know how they can be actively involved in supporting the charterschool movement.

While charter schools have to be non-sectarian, there is a role, apositive role, that faith-based groups can play. And employers, we findaround America, increasingly are willing to provide space and otherresources to help charter schools get started. In nearby Rockford,Minnesota, for instance, there is the Skills for Tomorrow School, sponsoredjointly by the Teamsters Union and the Business Partnership. Union,corporate and small business leaders have helped to develop the school.They also provide students with internships and take part in judgingwhether they have met their academic requirements, to ensure that they havethe skills they need to succeed. I think the guidelines I'm calling fortoday will get more businesses and more faith-based groups involved in thecharter school movement.

We have learned now for seven years that charter schools will work ifyou have investment and accountability, and if you make them lessbureaucratic and more mission oriented. I'm very proud of the fact that inour administration the Secretary of Education has reduced the regulatoryburden on local schools and states in administering federal aid by abouttwo-thirds, while we have doubled the investment in education for ourschools.

And I'm very proud of the fact that long ago, even though I wasn'tgiven the privilege of coming to this school, I heard about Milo, I heardabout the City Academy, I heard about the charter schools movement; Italked to Joe Nathan, I talked to Ember about it and a number of otherpeople. And I ran for President in 1992 pledging that if the people votedfor me, we would have more of these schools. And over 1,700 schools later,thanks to your example, my commitment I think has been fulfilled andAmerican education has been advanced. I only hope that my presence heretoday will help to get us to 3,000 and will help to get us to the point inAmerica where every school operates like a charter school.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 10:00 A.M. CDT

St. Paul, Minnesota

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