THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||February 23, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION
The East Room
10:04 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Governor Voinovich,Governor Carper, Mr. Scheppach, and to the members of theadministration that are here and all the governors, let me welcomeyou back to the White House. Before I begin let me say what I knowis on all of our minds -- our thoughts and prayers are with thepeople in Central Florida where tornadoes have now killed 28 people.Governor Chiles is going to visit with our FEMA Director James LeeWitt the area today, and they will have our concerns with them.
I'd also like to say I'm sorry we're starting a littlelate, but I've been working on the situation in Iraq. The VicePresident and I met with National Security Advisor Berger thismorning. Last night just before our dinner I spoke with theSecretary General Kofi Annan, and I have called Prime Minister Blairthis morning -- we had a long talk about the situation. I still haveto talk to President Yeltsin and President Chirac, and I may have toleave the meeting and then come back. But that's all I have to saynow, but I'm sorry we're starting a little late.
I'd like to confine my opening remarks -- and I'll tryto truncate them since were starting late -- to education. For 20years now, governors have been in the forefront of education reformin the United States. In the late '70s I was working with GovernorRiley and now Senator Bob Graham and Governor Hunt and others in thesouth who were trying to raise the standard of living in the southernstates to the national average, in part through an improvement ineducation.
In '83, when President Reagan was here, Secretary Bellissued the Nation at Risk report. In '89 we had the Education Summit-- some of you were there then -- which produced the nationaleducation goals. In '93, we passed Goals 2000 here and the School ToWork program -- I might say both of which have been implementedwithout a single new federal regulation, something I'm very proud of.
Last year in my State of the Union, I outlined a10-point program in education and asked that we leave politics at theschoolhouse door. And most of that program has now been implemented.I won't go over all of it, but I would just mention three or fourissues that I think are important because they relate to manyconcerns that the governors have.
First of all, with the increases in Pell Grants and300,000 work-study positions, with the education IRAs finally givinginterest deductions for payments on college loans, the direct loanprogram, the HOPE Scholarship, named after Governor Miller's programin Georgia, and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which also appliesto the second, the third, and fourth years of college and graduateschool, I think we can finally say for the first time in the historyof the country, we've opened the doors of college to all Americans.
And that's an astonishing achievement for America. And I'm veryproud of that.
Secondly, we are well on our way to hooking up all theclassrooms and libraries in the country to the Internet by the year2000. And many of you have been very active in that. Thirdly --I'll say a little more about this in a minute -- the nationalstandards movement is alive and well. Fourth, we had the AmericaReads program, which has several thousand college students in allyour states going into elementary school classrooms to teach kids toread.
And finally, we funded a huge expansion in the MasterTeacher program, which Governor Hunt has been so active in, and whichI think is critically important to the future of education. If wecan get a master teacher, a certified master teacher in every schoolbuilding in America, it will change the culture and content andresults of American education.
Now, in '98, in the State of the Union address, I askedthe American people to focus on the fact that we could be happy thatwe'd opened the doors of college to everybody because everyoneaccepts the fact that we have the best system of higher education inthe world -- everyone accepts that. No one believes America has thebest system of elementary and secondary education in the world. Andit seems incongruous. We know that we can have, and I think thatshould be our goal.
So with a view towards standards accountability andexpectations all being lifted, our budget in this year makes thelargest commitment to K through 12 education in the history of thecountry -- focused largely on reducing class size in the early gradesto an average of 18 -- there are still a lot of classes with 30 kidsor more in them -- on, therefore, to do that, achieving -- helpingthe state and helping local school districts to hire 100,000teachers, and helping to build or remodel 5,000 schools.
It focus on more emphasis on teachers, money for teachertraining and more money to develop a master teacher program. Itfocuses on standards and the continuation of the voluntary nationaltest development for 8th grade math and 4th grade reading.
I know that later today -- and all of you may or may notknow this -- but I know later today Secretary Riley is going toappoint Governor Engler to the NASBE, the independent board that issupposed to develop a test and that guarantees that the states'concerns will be taken into account. I thank Governor Engler for hiswillingness to serve. I think it is important that we say whetherwe use national tests that are somehow evaluated by a nationalstandard, or state tests that are evaluated by a national standard,that we do believe that learning the basics is the same in everystate in America, and we want to raise the standards in every statein America. I think that is terribly important and I think we can doit. And I thank you, Governor, for your willingness to serve.
One other thing I'd like to say about standards.There's an interesting effort underway in America in many states andin some cities like Chicago to find a way to end the practice ofsocial promotion in a way that lifts children up instead of puttingthem down. In Chicago they have mandatory summer school, forexample, for children that don't perform at grade level, and it's,among other things, led to a dramatic drop in juvenile crime in thesummer in Chicago, that more and more people are involved inconstructive activities.
Before the next school year starts, Secretary Riley willissue guidelines on how schools can end social promotion and boosttheir efforts to ensure that more students learn what they need to
learn the first time around, and then to help those who don't withextra tutoring and summer school.
I also will send to Congress this year legislation toexpand the Ed-Flex program. That's the program that frees the statesfrom federal regulations so long as they set high academic standards;waive their own regulations for local schools and hold schoolsaccountable for results. There are I think a dozen of you now whoare part of the Ed-Flex program. The legislation that I will sendwould make every state in the country eligible to be a part of it,which would dramatically reduce the regulatory burden of the federalgovernment on the states in the area of education.
One last thing I'd like to mention, as all of you know,we have been involved now for about eight months in a nationalconversation on race. This Race Initiative I think has produced anumber of results both in terms of specific programs and in terms ofelevating the dialogue in the country about how we can deal with ourincreasing diversity as one America in the 21st century. I'mdelighted that this initiative is also working with the YWCA and withgovernors to convene statewide days of dialogue on race on April30th. And I want to thank the YWCA -- the CEO, Dr. PremaMathai-Davis is here today with us this morning -- for helping us tolaunch these dialogues.
Several of the governors have already agreed toparticipate in this, and I hope all the governors will support thedays of dialogue. Judith Winston, who is the Executive Director ofmy initiative on race, is also here today and will be happy to talkwith you or your representatives more about this effort.
Now, there are a lot of other issues that I know thatyou want to talk about, but I'll just end where I tried to begin. Ithink if we get education right, the rest of this will all resolveitself. As I look at where we are with the unemployment rate in thecountry, with the growth rate, and I ask myself how can we continueto grow, how we can lower the unemployment rate, how can we do itwithout inflation, the only answer, it seems to me, is to providehigher skill levels to the people in the places that have not yetfully participated in the good times America is enjoying.
I think it is a democratic obligation on us -- small "d"-- to make our democracy work, and I think it is an economicimperative. So I hope that we can focus on that, but I'm more thaneager to talk about whatever else you'd like to discuss.