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President Clinton Highlights Need For School Construction

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Office of the Press Secretary
(Chicago, Illinois)

For Immediate Release April 8, 1998


Rachel Carson School
Chicago, Illinois

10:58 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you for makingmefeel so welcome at what is at least my third trip to the Chicago schoolssinceI've been President. (Applause.)

I want to begin by thanking Rita Nicky for that wonderfulintroduction and for her obvious devotion to the children of this city. Ithank very, very much Kathleen Mayer, the principal, for making me feelwelcome. I'd also like to thank Catherine Garza (phonetic), whose scienceclass I visited. And I'd like to thank the students in the science classwhoshowed me how to make a weather vane, and the young students who sang to me

today, and all the students, indeed, of Rachel Carson, along with theteachersand the administrators and the staff. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

I thank Aldermen Coleman, O'Connor, and Burke for beinghere.I thank Congressman Gutierrez, but also Congressmen Davis, Rush, andBlagojevich, who are out here in front, for being here, for their support.

Thank you. (Applause.) And Senator Art Berman and Senator Dick Durbin.AndSenator Carol Moseley-Braun I'll have more to say about later.

I want to thank the Mayor and all of those who havecooperatedwith him, the members and the leaders of the teachers union, the parents,theadministrators, everybody, in this remarkable attempt to revolutionize,revitalize, and energize the schools of the city of Chicago. It has beenawesome to watch. But in particular I would like to thank the CEO of theChicago Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools, Paul VallasandGery Chico. They have done a wonderful job and I thank them so much.Thankyou, gentlemen. (Applause.)

But, Mayor, none of it would have happened without you.Andyou believed that the kids of Chicago could learn and deserved a chance tolearn, and could have a future and deserved the chance to have that future.

And when you said -- you got up here and you said you got tired of makingexcuses for failure and you decided to start making reasons for success,thewhole crowd clapped. I wish that every public official in America had that

simple creed. We'd be a lot better off as a country, and I thank you.(Applause.)

I also want to thank the Carson Choir and the RecorderBand,the people that provided music earlier. (Applause.)

Very often when I get up to speak I feel like that old joke atthe banquet -- where the banquet starts at 6:00 and everybody in the wholeroom either gets introduced or gets to talk. And the last speaker gets upat10:00 and he says,

everything that needs to be said has been said -- but noteveryone has said it. (Laughter.) And somehow that's how I feelthis morning, because so much that needs to be said has beensaid.

But I want to try to put this issue of modernizingour schools in a larger context for you -- about what it means toprepare our country for the 21st century. It is just 632 daysaway. I'm gratified that most Americans think we're in goodshape for that new century, because we have the strongest economyin a generation, 15 million new jobs, the lowest unemploymentrate in a quarter century, the lowest inflation in 30 years, thehighest homeownership in history; it's the first time crime hasgone down this many years in a row since President Eisenhower wasPresident. The welfare rolls are the lowest they've been in 27years. That's all good.

But when things are changing as rapidly as they arenow, we should use good times to think about the problems thatremain today and the challenges that loom ahead tomorrow. It isa responsibility of good citizens in a democracy to bear down anddo more in the good times, not to relax and pat ourselves on theback. (Applause.)

This meeting I had today, along with 23 communityforums the Vice President and the Secretary of Education, DickRiley, are having across the nation, are all designed to discussthe importance first of modernizing the schools. Like SenatorDurbin said, we all owe a debt of gratitude to CarolMoseley-Braun for sounding the alarm on this issue. She is thefirst person who ever talked to me about the possibility that thefederal government should play a role. And so I said, well,look, I was a governor for 12 years and I spent more money oneducation than any of my predecessors. I raised more funds. Iput more money into the schools. But the building decisions werealways made at the district level.

And she gave me the same speech to me years ago shegave to you today. She said, but having good schools is anational priority. We spend money at the federal level on roadsthat are the responsibility of the state and local government.We invest in that kind of infrastructure. But the most importantinfrastructure for tomorrow is the infrastructure of education.If we can be spending federal money, as we are, to try to makesure we connect every classroom and library in the entire countryto the Internet by the year 2000, don't we want the classroom tobe fit to go to school in, and don't we want there to be enoughto have small class sizes where we need it. (Applause.)

So she sold me, and ever since I've been try to sellthe country, which as usual is ahead of the politicians, and theCongress, which sometimes is a little behind the President.(Laughter.) So we're working on this in Washington.

And I came back to Chicago because of all theexhilarating things that Chicago is doing -- leading a revolutionin public schools of high standards, accountability, risingexpectations. Last year I came here to highlight the practice ofending the destructive policy of social promotion but not lettingthe kids drift off and instead bringing them closer by givingthem summer school opportunities.

Today, the Mayor told me there are now 240 schoolsplus in Chicago open after school every day for tutoring andacademic work and to provide a decent dinner to poor students whoneed it so the kids can actually get three meals a day in 240schools. He said there had already been an evaluation of thefirst 40 schools where this three-meals-a-day policy had been ineffect, and the tutoring, and that 39 of them had shown dramaticgains in learning. This is not rocket science, this is takingcare of our children. If Chicago can do it, everybody can do it.(Applause.)

The Mayor and I were talking yesterday about theROTC program in the schools and what it does for young people, tobe able to put on that uniform and feel the pride and find

constructive things to do, and how they're being given a littleextra consideration in being hired for other work that needs tobe done in Chicago.

So Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, sitting here whilewe're talking, she said, you know, I'm not sure we put enoughmoney in the defense budget to take care of all the kids in thecountry that would like to be in ROTC. And there are a lot ofkids in this country that that may be the only opportunity theyever get to learn the lessons they'll learn and become the kindof people they can become to do the kinds of things they can do.So I now have a new assignment from Senator Carol Moseley-Braun-- (laughter) -- and I am about to fulfill it when I go back toWashington. (Applause.)

I say this to you because this is big stuff here.This is exciting. All over the country people, all kinds ofpeople have just sort of given up on public schools and the kidsthat are in them and the children whose first language is notEnglish. And I'm telling you, that's crazy. I just got backfrom the poorest continent on earth -- Africa. I saw over half amillion people in one sitting in Ghana. I went to ruralvillages. I talked to all kinds of people. I can tell you Ibelieve more strongly than I ever have in my life that there isan even distribution of intelligence, energy, and potential amongall human beings everywhere. The question is, are we doingwhat's necessary to bring it out and to give kids the chance thatthey need. (Applause.)

So that's what this is about. I really like thefact that in her introduction Rita said, well, even in the oldbuilding teachers work hard to do a good job. A lot of thoseclassrooms are still open and they're appealing -- I was kiddingher, I went to a high school that was built in 1914. It's beenclosed for years. We're trying to renovate it and open it up asan arts center. But if you really want to make the old buildingswork, it requires a lot of money, too. And our proposal wouldpermit not only the building of new buildings, but also therehabilitation of old buildings -- I mean the rehabilitation --opening the window, solving the problems that she mentioned,recovering them for positive purposes. (Applause.)

What does all this mean? At this school you've gotreading and math scores up, attendance at almost 100 percent, allparents turning out for report card pick-up day. This is aschool of choice, a school of champions. And congratulations, bythe way, to the 5th and 6th grade soccer team for winning thecity title. (Applause.) But you're winning an even moreimportant title in my mind by proving that our city publicschools can work. (Applause.)

Now, if I were listening to this and I were in thesame state of mind I was in before I became a convert, I wouldsay, well, if the city of Chicago can put all this money intobuilding new schools, why can't everybody? I'll tell you why.Ask the Mayor. There's a limit, even in these good economictimes with these very low interest rates, in how much money thatthe markets will let any city borrow to build school buildings.There is also a limit to how much the taxpayers can pay, asSenator Carol Moseley-Braun said.

This is a national priority. I went to a school inFlorida in a fairly modest-size community, where the kids in theschool building were also going to school in 17 house trailersout back. Since last year we've got the largest number ofchildren in our schools in the history of America. This is aproblem not just in big cities, it's a problem in a lot ofsmaller towns and communities across this country.

One-third of all of our schools need major repairs.More than half have major building problems. Nearly half don't

have the wiring systems necessary to support my goal of hookingup every classroom to the Internet. Think of that. How bizarreis that? You have all these high-tech companies wanting to giveyou computers, hook you up to the Internet -- I'm sorry, thewiring in the schools won't let us take our kids into the 21stcentury. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave ourschools an F in its infrastructure report card this year -- worstthan in roads, bridges, mass transit, and every other category ofinvestment.

Last week Congress passed billions of dollars fornew roads, new bridges, and other public works. I believe thatwe should have a good road program. I believe that unsafebridges should be repaired. I believe that the city streetsought to be in good shape. I believe that mass transit should beadequately funded. But I believe none of that will matter verymuch if we let the education system come crumbling down aroundour children. (Applause.)

I want these kids to be able to get on the subway inNew York or the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago, and be able toafford the ticket or afford a car, and be going to a job wherethey can earn a good living because they've got a good education.You can't just have one kind of investment. (Applause.)

Now, the proposal in our balanced budget plan tohelp the schools do construction provides tax incentives to helpcommunities modernize and build more than 5,000 schools. Ourchildren deserve schools they can be proud of.

I want to help promote programs like after-schoolprograms. We have funds for that. I have a program to reduceclass size in the early grades all over the country and helpschools hire teachers to do that. (Applause.) But if we passthe funds to provide help for the schools to stay open late, totutor the kids, to feed the kids, do whatever needs to be done,and if we provide funds for more teachers to help get the classsize down, you still have to have good classes in good buildingsthat are safe and clean, where there are good learningenvironments, and they are at least adequately organized so theycan be part of the Information Superhighway. This is animportant thing.

The work that is being done by your school leadershere, we can't do. Eighty percent of the schools in Chicago now,according to the Mayor, are following the school uniform policy,which you know I love. I thought those kids looked great intheir uniforms today. (Applause.) And I know -- and thechildren that can't afford it, you have to find help to give themthat. If you're going to have uniform policy, it's got toembrace all children.

But that's a decision that a local district has tomake. The President can tell you how to do it legally and helpsupport it morally, but that's a decision you have to make. Youknow, which schools should be open how many hours a day, whatkind of tutoring programs you have, what you do with the ROTCprogram -- that's a decision you've got to make here. How thesechildren learn to speak English, if English is not their firstlanguage -- I want to thank one of the students, Rosalia Delgado,who took me around this morning -- how she learned to speakEnglish -- that's a decision you have to make.

But it is in the national interest to know that wehave decent infrastructure for our schools, just as much as ournational future depends upon a decent network of highways and adecent investment in mass transit. That is the idea that we haveto convince the Congress on.

And when I can show people that, look what they'redoing in Chicago, all they want us to do is to help, to create a

framework in which they can have more success, and a framework inwhich every other school in America can have the kind of success

I saw here at Rachel Carson, I think we will have gone a longway.

So I came here to send that message out and I askyou to help me send that message out and give your members ofCongress and the United States Senate a pat on the back forleading the way.

Thank you and God bless you.

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