President Clinton Calls On Congress To Pass His Education Agenda

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 1, 1998


The South Lawn

3:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, there really isnothing for me to say. I want to thank the previous speakers, eachin their own way, for what they have given and what they will give tothe children of our country. I believe that Secretary Riley is notonly the longest serving, but the most intensely committed andeffective Secretary of Education this country has ever had.(Applause.)

I thank the Vice President for the vivid picture hepainted for us of what is going on in these school buildings. Wehave been out there. We have been in these buildings. We have seenthem. I believe the largest number of trailers or temporaryclassrooms, or whatever the politically correct term is, that I haveseen at one school is a dozen -- in Florida. But they're everywhere.And there are a lot of magnificent old buildings in our cities thatany person would be proud to go to school in if only they were fixed.

I'd like to thank Senator Daschle and Congressman Boniorand all the members of Congress who are here whom they haverepresented today, for a genuine, consistent, passionate commitmentto education that I have seen over my six years as President. It hasnever failed. (Applause.)

Thank you, Kathryn Scruggs, for giving your life to theeducation of our children, and from the look in your face and thelilt in your voice, I'd say it's been a good gift both ways. Thankyou so much. Thank you. (Applause.)

I want to thank all the educators who are here, ArleneAckerman, our friends from the AFT and the NEA and the othereducation associations. And I thank the young children for comingtoday for reminding us what this all about, welcome. (Applause.)We're glad you're all here from Stevens Elementary.

Let me begin where I meant to end: we can do this. Wecan do this. This is not an insurmountable problem. We have theresources; what we need is the will and the consensus. We need openminds and open hearts.

Yesterday I was privileged to announce to the Americanpeople that our nation has triumphed over an enormous challenge. Thered ink of the federal budget deficit has been replaced by a surplus.We have brought order to our fiscal house; now it is time to bringmore learning to the schoolhouse. (Applause.)

In the end we needed a bipartisan consensus to pass aBalanced Budget Act that also had the biggest investment in thehealth care of our children in a generation and opened the doors ofcollege wider than any act since the passage of the G.I. Bill.That's what we need now.

Think of the challenges we have overcome as a people inthe last six years. The crime rate has gone down to a 25-year low.The welfare rolls are at a 29-year low. It's the first time in 29years we've had a balanced budget. The unemployment rate is at a28-year low. The home ownership rate in this country is at anall-time high.

We are capable of overcoming challenges that people usedto wring their hands about just a few years ago. But we have to putthe progress of our people over partisanship and politics. So we allcame here -- let me join the chorus and say we came here not to askfor much from the majority in Congress, just one day -- one day forour children and their future; one day between now and the end ofthis congressional session to strengthen our public schools, toprovide those 100,000 teachers for the smaller classes, to build orrepair those 5,000 schools, to provide those after-school and summerschool programs to help our students meet higher academic standards.

In recent days Congress has given us a glimmer of hopeby passing a higher education bill that includes our initiatives onhigher education, that will help millions of Americans receive thecollege education they need to compete in the global economy the VicePresident so vividly described. It reduces the cost of student loansand provides for mentors for middle school students who can get aguarantee that they will be able to finance their college educationif they stay out of trouble, stay in school, and keep learning.

I applaud the Congress, members of both parties who didthis, including many who are here today. Congressmen Goodling andKildee and Clay; Senator Kennedy and his Republican colleague,Senator Jeffords.

But though we have the finest system of higher educationin the world and this is a good bill because it opened the doors toit even wider, we all know we have to have the finest K through 12system of education in the world and it has to be there for all ofour kids as we grow increasingly more diverse. We know that nothingelse we can do will more profoundly expand the circle of opportunity,more directly enhance our economic competitiveness, more clearlybridge the divisions of our society and bind us together as onenation.

And yet no issue has suffered more from misplacedpriorities and partisan pursuits than America's public schools.Eight months ago I sent Congress the education agenda that has beendescribed today. It demands accountability from everyone. It saysto students: we expect you to meet high standards of learning anddiscipline, but we want to give you the help you need to meet thosestandards. It should be bipartisan in its appeal.

There was a time when education was completelybipartisan because no one asked you to register by party when yousign up for school, because every American, even Americans that haveno children in our schools, have a direct, immediate, and profoundinterest in the success of our children's education.

Now, it is not to late. There is still time before theend of this session of Congress to spend that one day so we can castthat one vote to transform public education, to reduce the classsizes by adding 100,000 teachers -- goals Senator Patty Murray andCongressman Bill Clay have been fighting for; to build or modernizethose 5,000 schools across those countries -- goals CongressmanCharlie Rangel and Senator Carol Moseley-Braun have worked for hardfor, for a long time now.

The plan also would connect all of our classrooms inthese new or renovated buildings to the Internet by the year 2000 andtrain teachers to use the Internet properly and to train our childrento do the same. Every school in this country should be as modern asthe world our children will live in. One day, one vote, could makeit happen.

The third thing we want to do on that one day is to helpour students meet higher standards; and if they're in troubledneighborhoods or come from difficult families or have school systemsthat haven't been performing well, we know they could be helpedimmensely with summer school and after-school programs -- programsthat Senator Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Nita Lowey have beenspearheading our fight for.

I have seen the benefits of these programs all acrossAmerica. Last week I visited a school in Chicago where all thestudents came from the, I think now famous, housing project ofCabrini Green. Students in Chicago no longer advance to the nextgrade unless they can pass tests to demonstrate that they know whatthey were supposed to learn. But if they have trouble passing thetests, they are not branded failures, because the system has failedthem. Instead, they are offered academically enriched summer schooland after-school programs. Over 40,000 children now get three hotmeals a day there. The summer school is now the sixth biggest schooldistrict in the United States. And guess what? In that school Ivisited in Cabrini Green, the reading scores have doubled and themath scores have tripled in three years. (Applause.)

We only ask for one day for these initiatives -- and,oh, by the way, one day for a decent appropriations bill. That's thejob that Congress is supposed to do every year. (Applause.) And weare depending upon the leadership of Senator Tom Harkin andCongressman David Obey to see that we get that kind of appropriationsbill. The one the House has passed does not meet that test.

Let me tell you a little about it. It shortchanges ouryoungest children in Head Start, our new initiatives in highereducation for mentoring children, and preparing quality teachers. Itshortchanges these after-school care programs. It shortchanges ourmajor education program to help children learn the basics. Itshortchanges my Hispanic education action plan. It shortchanges ourefforts for school reform and high standards and our commitment tohook all those classrooms up to the Internet by 2000. It evenshortchanges our efforts for safe, disciplined, drug-free schools.It shortchanges our young people in school-to-work efforts. Itshortchanges workers who need retraining between jobs. Itshortchanges our efforts to help disadvantaged youth get jobs. Andin the House, unbelievably, it completely eliminates the summer jobprogram for half a million young people.

That is wrong. As your President, I will not stand forit. (Applause.)

The men and women who are up here with me stand ready towork with people in the other party and they only ask them to do itfor just one day -- to strengthen our public schools for an entirenew century; to affirm the bedrock American value that every child,regardless of race or neighborhood or income, deserves the chance tolive up to his or her God-given abilities. Just one day to put inplace a plan that will not only help those children, but in so doingwill make sure that America's greatest days lie ahead. I think it'sworth one day, don't you?

Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)

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Unemployment Numbers

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Middle East Peace Signing

Discussion on Social Security

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1998 IMF/World Bank Annual Meeting

Higher Education Act

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The John F. Kennedy Space Center

Conference on School Safety

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