THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||February 24, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN
Hyatt Regency Hotel
11:28 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Nan did such agood job I could resort to that old parliamentary device -- I can sayI associate myself with the previous speaker's remarks, and sit down.(Laughter.)
I thank all of you for making me feel welcome. I'mdelighted to be here with a number of members of our administrationtoday, including my Director of Communications Ann Lewis --(applause) -- my Director of Public Liaison Maria Echaveste and heraide, Debbie Mohile, and Lynn Cutler, who is known to many of you Iknow; and our HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families,Olivia Golden. I thank all of them for coming with me. (Applause.)
This has been a very busy week in Washington. And Ithink that there are a couple of issues I ought to make a remark ortwo about before I begin what I came here to visit with you about.First, let me say a few words about Iraq. As you know, yesterday thegovernment of Iraq agreed to give the United Nations inspectorsimmediate, unrestricted and unconditional access to any site theysuspect may be hiding weapons of mass destruction or the means tomake or deliver them. If fully implemented this means that, finally,and for the first time in seven years, all of Iraq will be open toU.N. inspections, including many sites previously declared offlimits. This would be an important step forward.
I'm proud of all of our men and women in uniform in theGulf. Once again we have seen that diplomacy backed by resolve andstrength can have positive results for humanity. We have to bewatching very closely now to see not just what Iraq says, but what itdoes; not just stated commitments, but the actual compliance. Letthere be no doubt, we remain committed to see that Saddam Husseindoes not menace the world with weapons of mass destruction.(Applause.)
I think that there has been a lot of talk, pro and con,about this issue in the last several days. I would just tell youthat I think that many of you are in a position to launch an effortto educate all the people of our country about the potential futuredangers of chemical and biological warfare -- how such weapons can bemade, how they can be delivered, how easy it is to disseminate themto irresponsible groups in small quantities that do large amounts ofdamage. And because you are in a position to know that, and becauseall of you have friends, many family members in Israel that feelvulnerable to such things, and because you understand that everycivilized community in the world could be exposed to them in the 21stcentury, I ask you as citizens just to share what you know with yourfriends and neighbors back home so that we can continue as a nationto remain vigilant on this issue wherever we have to stand againstit. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
I'd also like to say a word about campaign financereform, an issue of concern to many of you. We've been working onthis for years now, and finally we may have a chance to actually havea vote in the Senate. During my first term, every single year, avote on campaign finance reform was put off in the House to see whatwould happen in the Senate. And then the leaders of the other partyalways killed it with a filibuster in the Senate. Now, this year,the McCain-Feingold bill, which has -- obviously, it's supported bySenator McCain and Republican Senator Feingold, the Democrat -- everymember of the Democratic Caucus has endorsed the McCain-Feingold billwhich ends soft money and imposes other limits on the present systemof campaign finance.
There was a difficulty with the bill which was keepingus from generating any more Republican support. Senator Snowe ofMaine and Senator Jeffords of Vermont have brokered a compromise.Just before I left to come over here, I was told that all theDemocrats are going to vote for that. So we're doing our best to doour part to get campaign finance reform. If a majority will back theSnowe-Jeffords compromise, then once again you will see that it is aminority keeping the country from getting it. So when you go up tothe Hill today, if you can put in a plug for a meaningful campaignfinance reform bill, I would appreciate it. And we need it.(Laughter and applause.)
I have a lot to be grateful to the National Council ofJewish Women for. Many of you have participated in White Houseconferences on hate crimes, on early childhood learning and thebrain, on child care. You've been involved in our nationalinitiative on race. And I'm grateful for all of that.
I was talking to Hillary late last night about myimpending visit here, and she reminded me that the thing that Ishould be most grateful for is that in 1986 -- I can hardly rememberit, it was so long ago --- (laughter) -- Nan Rich came to Arkansas totalk to Hillary and me about the HIPPY program. And we embraced it.We were the first state in the country -- there were a lot ofcommunities that had embraced it, but we were the first state thatever tried to go statewide with the program. It was a resoundingsuccess there, and now I believe there are 28 states which havestatewide efforts for the home instruction program for pre-schoolyoungsters. It has been a wonderful thing.
And I might say I don't think I ever did anything asgovernor that was more moving to me than to go to those HIPPYgraduation programs and talk to the mothers and see the kids. And soI want to say on behalf of the First Lady and myself again, thankyou, Nan, and thanks to all of you for supporting that. If everychild could be in that kind of program it would do as much tostrengthen families and later success of children who are otherwiseat risk as anything we could do. And I want to urge you to stickwith it and keep going. (Applause.)
These are good times for America. We have almost 15million new jobs in the last five years, the lowest unemployment ratein 24 years, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the lowest crime ratein 24 years, the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years, the highesthomeownership in history. Today we learned some more good news --first, that in spite of the growth of the last year, the inflationrate and Consumer Price Index remained absolutely stable and verylow.
So we are doing something that I was told after I gotelected President we could not do. They said we could not growconsistently at three percent or more a year without inflation, andthat is not so. We are doing that. And I'm very grateful foreverybody who is involved in that. (Applause.)
We also learned just today that the American people areupbeat about their prospects not only in the moment, but in thefuture. There are two major measurements of consumer confidence inAmerica -- one put out by something called -- a group called theConference Board; the other put out by the University of Michigan.In the figures that will be released today, the Conference BoardIndex is the highest it's been in 30 years, and the University ofMichigan measurement, the highest ever recorded in the confidence ofthe consumers in the United States of America in our prospects. Andthat's good, too. (Applause.)
But I'd like to reiterate something I said in the Stateof the Union. Good times are a blessing and they should be enjoyed.But we all know in the nature of humankind and the rhythm of humanaffairs no condition endures forever without interruption. And,therefore, the good times impose upon us an opportunity and anobligation to prepare for the future, to create a framework withinwhich long-term prosperity and health and well-being will besupported.
That's why I said in the State of the Union that beforewe spend a penny -- a penny -- of the surplus that we estimate willmaterialize over the next five years, we should make sure we havesecured Social Security in the 21st century so that the baby boomgeneration does not bankrupt the system. (Applause.)
And that is why we have to tend to the health care ofour people. We have to continue the work and actually finish the jobof insuring 5 million more children. I hope that Congress will passmy proposal to allow people over 55 who, for one reason or other,have lost all their health insurance to buy into the Medicare system.We can do that without imposing any financial burdens on Medicare,and even though the premiums are fairly high, a lot of these folkshave children who will help them pay the premiums and they're much,much cheaper than just one trip to the hospital. So I hope we can dothat.
I hope that we will pass the Patient's Bill of Rightsthis year because we have 160 million people now in managed careprograms, and even others in non-managed care situations who don'thave the elemental rights and protections that I think everyone inthe health care system should have. I hope that we will continue tomove forward with environmental protection with the new clean waterinitiative and with the anti-global warming initiatives that I haverecommended to help us deal with the problem of climate change, whicha lot of you, depending on where you live, may have been experiencingover the last decade and even in this winter, if we can call it awinter.
I hope that we will continue to make this a safer world.I have asked the Congress to vote for the expansion of NATO, toratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, to strengthen theBiological Weapons Convention to give us some teeth to deal with thekind of problems we've been discussing in Iraq throughout the world.And I hope that the idea that was inspired by the First Lady of agift to the millennium that honors our past and imagines the futurewill find favor in Congress where we save our precious historicaldocuments and the Star-Spangled Banner, and also devote the largestamount of money in history to medical and other research, scientificresearch to the future.
But if you think about what the leading indicator -- youknow, economists, if you ever listen to any of these talk shows wherethese economists are talking and they always are talking about whatthe leading indicators are, which means they're always trying tofigure out what happened. And they're kind of like me, half the timethey're guessing and they don't want you to know it.(Laughter.) So they talk gravely about leading indicators as if thatwill pave the way. But there are some leading indicators I thinkthat will tell us something about our future. For me, perhaps themost important leading indicator of where we'll be 10, 20 or 30 yearsfrom now is where our children are right now in terms of educationalattainment.Now, that I think is clearly a leading indicator. (Applause.)
And I believe if we are being honest we would have tosay the leading indicators are mixed. That's what an honestassessment would be. Now, we can do one of two things when we lookat the bad news as well as the good news. We can say, well, what doyou expect? America is a big, diverse country; we're the mostethnically, racially diverse democracy in the world, and besidesthat, there's so much difference in the incomes in America and somuch difference in the neighborhoods, and what do you expect?
We can do that or we can do what we ought to do and justsay, most of this is not rocket science. Way over 90 percent of thepeople are capable of learning 100 percent of what they need to knowto function well in a modern society. And if our children don't doit, it's our fault, and we're going to do something about it. Thisis not -- and we can do better. (Applause.) Let's just look atwhere we are. For the last five years -- and I'll speak more aboutthe specifics later -- but for the last five years, I have tried tobring to bear what I learned in 12 years as a governor to the work ofhaving the United States government do what we could to help improvethe educational enterprise in America -- to raise standards, topromote reforms, to increase accountability, to improve teaching, toimprove quality of education.
Now, let's start with a certain premise here. I thinkeverybody in America believes and rightly, that we are blessed withthe finest system of higher education in the world. I don't thinkanyone in America believes that for all of our children we have thebest system of education, kindergarten through 12th grade, in theworld.
Therefore, it has been easier, in my judgment, to do thebest things in higher education because you don't have to do so manyhard things. All I tried to do in college when it came to collegeeducation was to open the doors of college to all, because collegecosts were the only thing that went up more than health care costs inthe 1980s in percentage terms. So what have we done? We passed theHOPE Scholarship, the $1,500 tax credit, for the first two years ofcollege, a lifetime learning tax credit for the junior and senioryears in graduate schools and for adults going back for job training.
Education IRAs, interest on students loans astax-deductible, direct college loans that cost less money and areeasier to repay; 300,000 more work-study positions; a lot more PellGrant scholarships; the biggest increase in aid to college since theG.I. Bill. We can actually say we have opened the doors of collegeto any American who is willing to work for a college education. Thatis a very important achievement of which we can be proud.(Applause.)
That child obviously doesn't understand that yet.(Laughter.) But in time.
Now, when you back up from there, the going gets harder.And let me just give you one example. And I want you to askyourselves as I go through this list what do you think caused this.Today, our administration is announcing the results of the ThirdInternational Math and Science Study. And I talked about it lastyear and the year before. This is -- the TIMSS test, it's called--the Third International Math and Science Study, are tests given inmath and science to 4th, 8th, and 12th graders to a relatively largeand representative sample -- we believe representative sample -- ofstudents not only in our country, but throughout the world.
Now, the past TIMSS test showed that the 4th graders inAmerica do very well; that in the 8th grade we begin to fall back tothe middle. And we believe it's in no small measure it's because askids go through school children in other parts of the world begin totake harder courses than our kids do and undergo a more rigorouslearning pattern. And a lot of the problems associated with thesocioeconomic difficulties begin to manifest themselves.
Today we learn that by the 12th grade our children trailfar behind in math and science. Of the 21 countries measured, our12th graders out-performed only two. So we start near the top, wefall to the middle, and we come out at the end.
Now, let me say, first of all, there's some good news inthis. The 4th graders represent the same socioeconomic diversity andindeed they are more diverse because of the changing patterns thanthe 12th graders. Therefore, there is something wrong with thesystem that we are using to teach them. I do not believe these kidscannot learn. I am tired of seeing children patronized because theyhappen to be poor or from different cultural backgrounds than themajority. That is not true. That is not true. (Applause.)
And let me tell you, just a couple of days ago -- Ican't remember exactly what day, the days slide by up here -- but acouple of days ago I went to Baltimore and I visited something calledLiving Classroom. And I walked along the waterway there in downtownand I watched some kids rebuilding wetlands. And literally on theinland harbor they've got egrets now coming back to a wetland site.And I watched inner-city kids, many of whom had never focused on aharbor before, seen a waterway, measuring water quality, having verysophisticated conversations with me about the acidic content of thewater and what caused it, and what the various sources of pollutionin seawater are and what could be -- what that might do to variouskinds of fish and other life in the water.
I watched inner-city kids working a fairly sophisticatedcomputer program, monitoring a sailboat race, the Whitbred Race, andmonitoring the American boat they were watching as it went aroundCape Horn. So I don't believe all this business about how some kidsare just so burdened down with their background they just can't learnall this modern stuff; that's just not true. But it is true that toomany people are not learning. And so, I recommend that we takeanother look at this. Now, in '97 in the State of the Union address,I outlined a 10-point plan to help education and ask that politicsstop at the schoolhouse door, and then in 1998 just a few weeks ago,I talked again about what I thought we ought to do about education.And I would like to briefly review the list of things that I thinkare important.
First of all, I still believe we have to start with thebasics. We need smaller classes, better teaching, harder courses,higher standards. (Applause.) We have smaller classes, betterteaching, harder courses, higher standards, greater accountability,more reform. That's basically what I think we should be focused on.Even though we do pretty well in the 4th grade international tests, Ithink you know as well as I do there are still too many kids thatdon't get off to the start they need. And I appreciate what Nan saidabout the child care initiative; I ask for your support.
We have substantially increased the number of kids inHead Start. We've increased our investment in federal child caresupports by 70 percent in the last five years. We have doubled theEarned Income Tax Credit, and that's lifted more and more childrenout of poverty. But we have to do more.
The budget that I have presented on child care woulddouble the number of low-income children receiving federal assistancesubsidies -- 2 million; it would give 3 million more working familiesan expanded child care credit. It would actually mean that a familyof four with an income of $35,000 a year or less that had high childcare costs would actually not pay any federal income tax.
It would improve the safety and quality of child care.It would also provide scholarships for good providers to help totrain them. And it recognizes that we need to do more on theeducational component of child care. As we learned at the WhiteHouse Conference on Early Learning and the Brain which the First Ladyput together, an enormous amount of the development of theinfrastructure of learning is done in the first three years. So I'mproposing an early learning fund that would help to reducechild-to-staff ratios and also help to educate parents more so thatwe could increase the learning component of the pre-school years.
I guess what I'd like to say is that I want to believethat if this plan passes, the lessons that are taught through theHIPPY program could be taught in homes all across America and allkinds of programs. That's what I want. (Applause.)
One more thing I'd like to say about this, sort of aboutthe out-of-school hours. Another big part of our budget containsfunds through both the educational department and the JusticeDepartment to help schools stay open after hours. An enormouspercentage of the kids who get in trouble, juveniles who commitserious offenses, do so after the school day is over, but beforetheir parents get home. Literally, if there were no juvenileoffenses between like 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 7:00p.m. in the evening, the juvenile crime rate would be cut by way over50 percent. So I think it's important to give these childrensomething to say yes to. And these after-school programs that wepropose would help about a half a million children to say yes tosoccer and computers, and no to drugs and crime. And I think that'sa very important thing. (Applause.)
Now, let's talk about what I hope the Congress will dothis year to help to deal with the K through 12 years and what wehave to continue to build on that has been started already. First ofall, we need a national commitment to reduce class size in the earlygrades. (Applause.) Our budget would enable local school districtsto hire 100,000 more teachers and lower the class size to an averageof 18 in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades and also to modernize or rebuild5,000 schools so there would be classrooms for that to occur in.(Applause.) I think that's important.
Second, we would continue the America Reads program,which now has literally tens of thousands of college students andother volunteers now going into elementary schools every week to makesure that no child gets out of the 3rd grade without being able toread independently. That is very important.
Next, we would continue our movement toward nationalacademic standards and voluntary national exams to measure how ourchildren are doing according to high national standards. Last yearwe took the first steps toward a 4th grade reading and an 8th grademath test, and I hope that eventually we will have every statetesting their children in these basics and measuring them by a commonnational standard, so that we can continue on up the ladderacademically to deal with the courses and the measurement.
Next, I think it is very important that we supportbetter teacher development. One of the problems is in a lot of theselater years -- and you have to pay the teachers well, too -- in a lotof these later years in these senior-level courses is you have a lotof schools who have to offer courses that are taught by people whodid not have sufficient academic background in the math or sciencecourse at issue. And I think that is very, very important.
One of the most important developments potentially overthe long run in American education in the last few years and getsalmost no publicity -- it's called the National Board forProfessional Teacher Certification. And it basically is a nationalboard set up to certify master teachers in a way that specialists inmedicine and other professionals get certified. But the teachers arebasically picked not only because of their substantive knowledge, butbecause of their teaching ability, and they are trained. And theidea is that we will try to have a core -- and there are just a fewhundred of them now -- a core of these teachers all across America.
In my budget there's enough money to identify, train andcertify 100,000 master teachers. If you put one of these people inevery school building in America, I believe it can revolutionize theculture of learning and the quality of teaching has got to be a bigpart of what we're trying to do. (Applause.)
The next thing that I'd like to do -- I want to talkabout two other things that I think would really help performance inthe later grades. I think it's important that we encourage theschool districts to end the process of social promotion, but to --applause) -- but to do it in a way that lifts kids up, not puts themdown. That is, if you look at what Chicago is doing now -- example,which is truly astonishing. I mean Chicago used to be known by theannual teachers' strike. We all saw a picture in the paper of theChicago teachers' strike every year. They have adopted a policy thatbasically -- and it's school by school, supported by grass-rootsparents groups -- if the children do not perform in grade level, theycannot go on. But they have mandatory summer school, which also, bythe way, has done wonderful -- wonders for juvenile problems.
They have mandatory summer school. So nobody just getsheld back for spite or because of carelessness or callousness.There's a serious discipline, comprehensive effort to give all thekids a chance to learn at grade level. I think that's veryimportant. The Secretary of Education got a directive from me thisweek to come up with, basically, a plan and a program to help everyschool district in the country adopt a similar approach, particularlythose that have a significant problem.
Now, in addition to that, we are trying to pass inCongress this year some funds that will help universitiescomprehensively adopt schools where there are large numbers ofdisadvantaged children, starting in the 6th grade. So we can go to6th and 7th graders and not only give them college students as modelsand mentors, but say to them in the 6th or 7th grade, look, here'sthe deal: If you make your grades and you take these courses and youlearn these things, we'll be able to tell them now, here is theamount of college aid you can get. You will be able to go tocollege, this is the aid you will get, and this is what the collegethat is working with you is prepared to do.
Now, this has the chance, I think, to dramatically liftlearning levels in inner-city schools and other isolated schools withlarge numbers of poor children. And it's based on a number ofdifferent programs that have been bandied around in America over thelast 20 years, and especially the work of a Congressman fromPhiladelphia named Chaka Fattah. So I'm very excited about it. Ihope you will support it.
You just think, if every troubled school in America orevery school with a lot of kids who are poor in America had a collegeadopting it, with kids in that school from the 6th grade on from thecollege, and at the same time actually contracting with the childrenand their parents, saying, this is the amount of college aid you'regoing to get if you do what you're supposed to do for the next sixyears, I believe you would see these scores begin to go updramatically. And I hope that we can get a lot of support for that.
Finally, let me say, we have to continue to support thereforms that are already underway. More school choice, more charterschools, and we have to finish the job of connecting every classroomand library to the Internet by the year 2000. That will enable morestories like the one I told you about Baltimore, because once you geteverybody on the Internet, we can use technology to dramaticallyincrease the quality and quantity and sophistication of materialpouring into every school in America without regard to its resourcesand wealth. Federal Communications Commission is helping us with ane-rate which will save the schools a couple of billion dollars a yearin hook-up costs and payment for time used. So that's very, veryimportant.
I say all these things to you again to point out that itis not inevitable that we have low scores on comparative exams, butit is a leading indicator. There's a coalition of schools innorthern Illinois called the First in the World Coalition, and theytake these 10 steps, they prepare for them, they work on them andthey do well with them. Now, most of the schools are in upper-incomeneighborhoods. That's not why the kids do well. They do wellbecause they prepare. They take hard courses, they work hard at itand they believe they're going to do well. And if we do that forevery school in America, if we can give them the hard courses taughtby well-qualified teachers in an environment that's supportive, andconvince them that they can do well, they will do very well.
Our present levels of performance are unacceptable.They are not a good leading indicator. But we have lots ofindicators that we can do what we need to do.
So I want -- I ask you again, you have toreally think. You clapped when I said this before -- you have tothink about whether you believe this. Do you believe all childrencan learn? The HIPPY program shows that's right. (Applause.) TheIsraeli experience of the HIPPY program shows that's right. If youbelieve that and if it's not happening, then there is something wrongwith the systems. And it is our generation's responsibility to fixit. You cannot blame the schoolchildren. And if their parents don'thave a lot of education and don't know what to do, you sure can'tblame them. We have to -- this is -- this cannot be rocket science.There is no excuse for this. So again, I say, I am hoping andpraying that we can continue to put aside partisan politics when itcomes to education and continue to move forward on these things,because it's so important for our future. (Applause.)
If you think about it, a lot of the challenges we'refacing today are not so different than they were back in 1893 whenthis organization was founded. Think about it, right? (Laughter.)We've got a new economy. And there was a new economy in 1893. Andwe've got to figure out how to make it work for everybody instead ofjust a few people.
We are overwhelmed by a big influence of immigrants fromdifferent kinds of countries, and so were we in 1893, and we have tobring everybody into the American mainstream. We are about to entera new century with a lot of confidence, but a lot of challenges. Wehave to do what we've always had to do at such times as Americans.We have to make sure we deepen the meaning of our freedom, we widenthe circle of opportunity, we strengthen the union of our people.
The Talmud says every blade of grass has its angel thatbends over and whispers, "grow, grow." Our children are blades ofgrass. You must be the angels.