THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
______For Immediate Release January 9,
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN EDUCATION EVENT
James Ward Elementary School
5:35 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very, very much. I want to say, first of
all, I realize now that I'm in an elementary school, that I should get a
tardy slip today. (Laughter.) But even in these closing days of my
presidency, I can't stop doing my job. And I was unavoidably detained.
One thing I have learned in over 20 years of visiting schools is that
you almost never have a good school without a great principal. (Applause.)
And I want to thank Sharon Wilcher for her introduction and for her
I want to thank Secretary Riley, who has been my friend since the
1970s, and we go back a long way; our families have been friends. We've
shared the joys of our children and the stories of our respected
governorships. And I knew he would be a good Secretary of Education, but I
think after eight years, the record will reflect that he is clearly the
finest Secretary of Education this country ever had. And I'm very grateful
to him. (Applause.)
I want to thank Secretary Alexis Herman, our Secretary of Labor, for
joining us today. (Applause.) I brought the Deputy Attorney General, Eric
Holder, all the way from Washington. He had never been on one of these
trips for me, and he's been working like a dog for years, so I asked him to
come. (Applause.) To continue our school analogy, this is recess for him
I want to thank Senator Dick Durbin for his friendship and his
leadership over all these years. Congressman Bobby Rush, who worked in my
campaign for president in 1992, I'm proud of what you have done, sir.
Thank you. (Applause.)
Treasurer Dan Hynes; the President of the Chicago Teachers' Union Tom
Reese, Gery Chico; Paul Vallas. And let me say a special word of thanks to
your Mayor for the partnership that we have enjoyed for education, for
economic development, and housing and so many other areas.
I have constantly looked to Chicago for leadership. I tell people all
the time, it's probably one of the best organized big cities in the entire
world. And the work that has been done by all of you in education, in
reviving the system here over the last six years, is exhibit A. Thank you,
Mayor Daley. (Applause.)
I came to Chicago today in the closing days of my presidency for two
reasons. First of all, as I'll say more about in a few moments in another
setting, it's doubtful that I could have become president without the
support I received from the people of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
(Applause.) It began over nine years ago, way back in 1991, when only my
mother thought I could be elected President. (Laughter.) And through the
elections of 1992 and 1996, starting with the Democratic primary and then
the election of 2000, you've been very good to Hillary and Bill Clinton and
to Al and Tipper Gore. And I thank you very much for that. (Applause.)
I also wanted to come because one of the primary reasons I ran for
President is to do what I could in the White House to make a positive
difference in the schools of America. I wanted to come to James Ward
Elementary because I want people all across this country to know that there
are schools like this, where teachers and parents and administrators and
community leaders are succeeding, sometimes against great odds, in bringing
educational excellence to our children. It is important that people know
it can be done.
I came because I have so often told anyone who would listen about
Chicago and the accomplishments of your school reform effort. Indeed, you
have been very, very good to me today. I asked Paul Vallas when I came in,
I said, how many times since you've been in office have I been in your
school system, in your school? He said, six. Six. So the way I figure
it, I'm either entitled to a diploma or to a property tax bill. I can't
figure out which. (Laughter.)
You have raised standards and accountability and ended social
promotion in the right way, by giving students in schools the tools they
need to meet high standards and succeed -- higher pay and better training
for teachers and principals, after-school and summer school programs,
better quality facilities.
The results are clear. In this entire, huge, increasingly diverse
school district, the test scores of third through eighth graders have risen
in every single year since 1994. And you heard the results about James
Ward. What I want the members of the traveling press corps to know, who
are here with me, is every year this school gets students coming from
China, Croatia, Central America. This school has a large Asian American
population and a very substantial African American population, a very
substantial Hispanic population and a very substantial white ethnic
population. It is a picture of America's future. We have to make
education work here, if we want America's future to work.
Using almost every proven educational strategy, this school is
demonstrating dramatically what we could accomplish in every school in
America if every school would work together the way your people work
together, based on a common conviction that all children can learn and a
common devotion to the proven best practices in education.
Now, for the past eight years, our administration has worked hard to
make education our number one domestic priority. We started out early,
doing more to help early childhood education, doing a lot to expand and
improve the quality of Head Start. And I'm very proud that in our very
last education budget, achieved after the election this year, we had the
largest increase in Head Start in the entire history of the program. I
think that's a very good sign. (Applause.)
But we have then focused on a proven strategy in schools -- higher
standards, more accountability, greater investment, equal opportunity.
Simple ideas -- higher standards, more accountability, greater investment,
In 1992, believe it or not, only 14 states in this entire country had
academic standards for core subjects. And not surprisingly, test scores
were dropping as a result. As more and more kids came into the school, the
student bodies were more and more diverse. More and more schools had
children whose first language was not English; more and more kids whose
parents could not speak English.
And as more and more kids came into the schools, ironically, a smaller
percentage of the kids had parents who, themselves, were property
taxpayers, who were property owners, so that the tax base of many of our
districts were severely stressed.
And so, we came in with a commitment to higher standards, and we
passed legislation to encourage and support states in setting those
standards. In 1992, there were 14 states with core academic standards;
today there are 49 states with statewide core academic standards.
We also wanted to increase accountability. We asked the states --
indeed, we required the states -- to identify schools that were failing,
and then develop strategies to turn them around. We then gave them funds
to help turn around or shut down failing schools -- this year, $225 million
in this year's budget alone to help schools identify, try to turn around,
or shut down and put under new management schools that are not giving our
children the education they deserve.
We also said, like Chicago, that we should end social promotion. But
like Chicago, we said it's not fair to hold the kids accountable if the
system is failing them. So for the very first time, we put the federal
government on the side of the after-school programs and the summer school
programs. I was so glad you mentioned that.
Four years ago, we had a $1-million demonstration project. This year,
in this education budget, we have $850 million for after-school programs.
They will serve $1.3 million kids like the children in this school, and I
am very proud of that. (Applause.) More than half the students here
participate in federal and state-funded after-school programs. And I
understand there would be even more of them if you had the transportation
to get them home, which is something that I would like to see addressed in
the next administration. (Applause.)
I might also say something that won't surprise you. In every
community where there are comprehensive after-school programs with real,
meaningful substance, like the ones described by your principal, every
community in the country where this is the case, the juvenile crime rate
goes down, the juvenile delinquency rate goes down, the school attendance
rate goes up, the on-time graduation rate goes up. This is a big deal.
I'm glad we've got 1.3 million kids in these programs. But there are
basically 6 million kids in America who don't have anyplace to go under
supervision when they get out of school. So we're barely meeting -- we're
right at a quarter of the national need being funded by the federal
government. And of course, some places like Chicago are using their own
funds. But we need -- if I were going to be around four more years, one of
the things I'd do is figure out how many people -- (applause) -- wait a
minute, you are going to be around, so you can participate in this -- one
of the things we need to do is to figure out how many kids are being served
-- with all the federal and the state and local funds, how many still need
to be served. And we need to fill the gap. We've got the money, we need
to fill the gap. This is a huge, huge opportunity and responsibility.
To further support young students, another thing we did was to start
the America Reads program, which now has involved 1,000 universities and
colleges in sending out student mentors to help make sure kids can read by
the time they get out of the 3rd grade. And there are also countless other
religious and other community organizations presenting -- doing it and
Eight years ago, only 35 percent of our schools -- and listen to this
-- 3 percent of our classrooms were connected to the Internet. I said 8;
the truth is, it was 1994, six years ago. Today, with the help of new
federal dollars to support Internet hook-ups, and the e-rate program, which
was pioneered and supported by the Vice President -- the e-rate basically
guarantees that every school can afford to log on to the Internet and hook
up to access it, no matter how limited their resources are -- we have gone
from 3 percent of our classrooms to 65 percent of our classrooms connected;
from 35 percent of our schools to 95 percent of our schools connected to
the Internet, including this one.
And you just heard your principal say, before you had this last
remodeling, even if you had the money, you couldn't do it, because the
wiring wouldn't support it. You'd be amazed how many schools I've been in
that can't be connected to the Internet because the wiring in the school
won't support it. I was at an old school in Virginia about a year ago, and
they kept laughing about how the whole place shorted out every time the
classrooms tried to log on. I was in Philadelphia, where the average
school building is 65 years old -- the average school building -- and I
couldn't -- I can't tell you how many school buildings I've been in just in
that one city that couldn't be wired.
On the other hand, as you see in this facility, there's another thing
we have in common. This building was built when Grant was President.
Every night, in my private office, I work on Grant's cabinet table. It was
built in 1869, and it served me quite well, but I don't have to wire it.
(Laughter.) I don't have to air-condition it, I don't have to put heating
in it. All it has to do is stand up.
But as you see from this building, a lot of these old school buildings
are fantastic in their construction. And things were done then that you
couldn't afford to do now. But they have to be modernized. Now, in 1995,
the city of Chicago found the resources to make this school safe, warm,
beautiful and useable. That makes a big difference. But across this
country, there are 3.5 million students who attend schools that need
extensive repairs or should be replaced. There are millions of other
students going to schools in house trailers.
I've been to one elementary school in Florida, in a little community
in Florida, an elementary school like this one, that had 12 trailers
outside it used for classes.
Now, again I will say, we've got the biggest and most diverse student
body in history, more important to educate them then ever before, but a
smaller percentage of the property taxpayers in most of our school
districts are parents in the school then ever before. More people are
renters. You know all the reasons why this is so.
I have believed for four years that the national government should
give both tax incentives and direct cash investment to the repair, the
modernization and the building of school facilities. I've also been in one
of the Mayor's new school buildings here to highlight this. We've done
this -- did you ever see that movie Groundhog Day, where every day is the
same thing over and over again? Every time I -- Mayor Daley thought I was
casting him in Groundhog Day, I think, for a long time, because every time
I'd come back here, we'd have to talk about the same thing, because we
could never get anything done.
But I'm happy to report that this year, for the first time, we have
finally secured $1.2 billion to help repair schools like this one, across
America where the need is greatest. (Applause.) Now, let me say to you,
one of your former United States senators, Everett Dirksen, once said in
his droll way, that when you mentioned a billion here and a billion there,
pretty soon you're talking about real money. And that sounds like an
enormous amount of money, but the truth is that the aggregate net need for
school construction and school repair in the United States of America is
over $100 billion.
That's why I think it is so important for the Congress to continue to
try to get the tax relief that I have suggested, which would, in effect,
cut the cost of school financing, so that if school districts went out and
floated their own bonds, or cities floated their bonds for school
construction or school repair, the cost would be dramatically reduced to
the taxpayers, making it easier to sell such issues to taxpayers whose kids
are not in the schools. And I think we should continue to invest direct
resources from the federal government.
But this is a big beginning. And I predict that that this program
will be wildly popular throughout America, because I can see how you feel
about this school building today, and I can only imagine how different it
was before it was fixed five years ago.
Eight years ago we knew that children learn best in smaller classes,
but classes were getting larger for the same reason school buildings were
deteriorating: more kids, limited tax base. Today we are in the third
year of hiring 100,000 teachers for smaller classes in the early grades.
If we can get them all hired, we'll be able to bring down average class
size to 18 in grades K through 3 all across America. (Applause.)
Again, I'm really grateful to the Congress. In the last education
budget, concluded after the election, we went from a budget which hired
about 29,000 teachers last year, to one that will hire 37,000 this coming
year. So we'll be more than a third of the way home in a six-year program.
And I hope and pray that the Congress will continue to do this.
We've also funded initiatives to help recruit new teachers, retain the
best teachers, train and certify more board-certified national teachers,
and let every teacher keep learning on the job. And one of the things that
I think Sharon Wilcher should be commended for, I understand, is giving her
staff every chance to continue to learn and grow. Staff development is a
big, important part of keeping the school going in the right direction.
Eight years ago, there was one charter school in America, a public
school which has the freedom to chart its own mission. If every school
were like James Ward, we might not need them. But the truth is, it both
gives more choices to parents, and provides more competition when the
school system is not working, without draining resources away from the
public schools. There was one eight years ago, there are 2,000 today in
this budget. We're going to be well on our way to 3,000 by the end of the
Eight years ago, we said we wanted our kids to be safe in school and
we wanted them to have an orderly, disciplined environment. Secretary
Riley has used federal funds to help build partnerships between school
districts and local police departments, to support things like character
education and voluntary uniform policies and zero tolerance for guns in
schools. And violent crime in the schools, notwithstanding the tragic and
heartbreaking incidents which have been widely reported, violent crime in
our schools has fallen steadily since 1993. It is much lower today than it
was eight years ago.
Eight years ago, college was priced out of reach for a lot of
students. I'll never forget one night when I was governor in the early
'90s, I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of
Arkansas, and I went to a cafe to have a cup of coffee with a friend of
mine. And I was doing what I always do, I went out and shook hands with
everybody there, and there were four students there, and two of them told
me they were dropping out of schools. And I said, why? And they said,
well, we'll never be able to pay our student loans off -- never. So we've
got to drop out of school, make some money, hope we can save enough to come
back and somehow get out someday.
I also met a lot of students who thought they were going to not be
able to find very good jobs if they got out. One of the things that I
committed myself to do when I ran for president is to open the doors of
college to all Americans. So, what have we done? With the Hope
Scholarship tax credit, $1,500 a year off the tax bill directly in the
first two years of college, the Lifetime Learning Credit for junior and
senior year and graduate school and for adults to go back and get training,
which can be worth even more, we are now helping 13 million Americans to go
on to higher education.
We also have more affordable student loans, we've saved students $9
billion by directly loaning them the money from the government -- $9
billion. The average student on a $10,000 loan today is saving $1,300 in
repayment costs over what they were eight years ago. And it makes it a lot
They also have the option to pay back the loans as a percentage of
their income, which means if you want to be a schoolteacher and you know
you'll never get rich, you can still borrow whatever you need to go to
college, because you can pay your loan back as a percentage of your income.
And if you strike oil in your backyard, you have the option to go out and
pay it off the next year, anyway. It's a very good deal.
We also have had a big increase in work study slots, a big increase in
Pell grants, another big one this year, up to $3,700 a year now, the
maximum grant. And 150,000 of our young people have earned money for
college while serving in AmeriCorps. I just met one of them outside on the
way in -- 150,000 in six years. It took, the Peace Corps 30 years to amass
150,000 volunteers. And I might just say, to the side, so much for those
who say this generation of young people is self-seeking. It is the most
stunning example of community service in modern American history, and it's
also helping a lot of people that are going to college.
We started a program called Gear-Up, which is now serving 1.2 million
disadvantaged middle school students. We send college students out to help
mentor them and convince them they can go on to college, come up with a
plan for the rest of their academic career until they get out of high
school and tell them right then in middle school what kinds of financial
aid they can get where, so they will know from the time they're in the 6th
or 7th or 8th grade that they can actually go to college and the promise
will be kept.
All told, we have doubled education funding in eight years, more
investment, provided the largest expansion of college opportunity in 50
years, since the G.I. Bill, and gotten the results for more accountability.
Test scores are up, the dropout rate is down, advanced placement courses in
high school are being taken by 50 percent more kids. In the last five
years, 50 percent more. Three hundred percent more Hispanic kids, 500
percent more African American kids are taking advanced placement courses.
Not surprisingly, the SAT scores are at a 30-year high in America, and
the college-going rate has gone up 10 percent. This strategy works.
Higher standards; great accountability; more investment; equal opportunity
-- it works. And we have come a long way toward an America in which every
child enters school ready to learn, graduates ready to succeed, and has the
opportunity to go on to college.
Of course, the lion's share of the credit belongs to people like you
-- to the teachers, the principals, the parents, the community leaders.
But it is up to the rest of us to create a framework in which those four
objectives can be pursued.
We will hear a lot of talk in the future, I'm sure, about education
reform, and I applaud it. I hope that education reform all across America
will become more and more a bipartisan issue. In the last four budgets
that we had, we had a bipartisan budget. We fought about it, we argued
about it, I had to threaten a bunch of vetoes, but in the end we had a
bipartisan majority for every single thing that I talked about here today.
And we ought to give credit where credit is due. This should not be a
When my wife was growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I'll never forget
my father-in-law and my mother-in-law talking about how it was an
overwhelmingly Republican place. Goldwater carried it four to one in '64,
and the other 20 percent thought he was too liberal. It was a big
Republican place. They never voted down a school bond issue, ever. The
difference in the Republicans and the Democrats on education was where the
money ought to come from.
And we ought to go back -- we need to look at the reality here of who
are the children in our schools, who are the leaders of our future, what
strategies have been proven. It's not like there's no evidence here. All
we tried to do was to take what you proved worked. It is not true that we
tried to rewrite every local school's education policy. Dick Riley cut
government regulation in the Department of Education by two-thirds. We
just took what works.
And I hope that in the future there will continue to be a passion
coming out of people in Washington and in every state capital and every
community in this country of both parties. But every proposal should be
measured against what we now know works, what you have proven works here.
And if it works, whoever has got the idea, we ought to put it in.
But it's not like -- I remember when I started this, when Hillary and
I started going into classes in the late '70s and we started trying to
write new standards for our state in the late '80s, we had hunches,
educators thought they knew, there was a little evidence here and a little
evidence there, but we were kind of making it up as we went along. And it
was happening all over America. We've now had 15 years of solid evidence.
You have given us that, in schools like this one.
And so I would just say, I wanted to come here because Chicago has
been good to me, and Chicago has been very good to its children these last
six years. I wanted to come here because, as I leave office, I don't want
America to let its concern for education reform and improvement abate; I
want it to increase. I want more people to believe that every child can
learn, and that in this global economy, every child must learn, not only
for himself or herself, but for the rest of us as well.
Of course, there are big challenges that remain. But your school,
like so many I visited over the past eight years, teaches us all the most
important lesson -- we can do it.
Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 5:59 P.M. CST