8/23/00 Remarks By The President To The Crossroads Middle School Community
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                      (Monmouth Junction, New Jersey)
  For Immediate Release                                   August 23, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                         Crossroads Middle School
                              Monmouth Junction, New Jersey

1:35 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Please be seated, everybody.  We all
appreciated the standing ovation, but you're about to get tired.
(Laughter.)  I am so glad to be here.  Let me say, first of all, I thought
Malaika Carpenter gave a terrific talk, didn't you?  (Applause.)  I
understand her parents, Nancy and Lenny, and her brother Jerren are here.
Where are they?  Stand up there.  (Applause.)  You did well.

     I'd like to thank Dr. Stewart for welcoming us here, and Dr. Warfel,
the principal here.  I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation
for this terrific band.  Weren't they great, this jazz band?  (Applause.)
I mean, they played "Hail To The Chief," and "On Broadway," and "Caravan,"
and lots of other things, and they did it very, very well.  There aren't
many middle school bands in America that are that good, I can tell you.
And you should be very proud of them.  They're really good.  (Applause.)

     And I'd like to thank the other students that met with me just a few
moments ago.  And I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to your
Representative in Congress, Rush Holt, who is here with me.  (Applause.)
Since I'm at a school, I can say this -- Rush was a university professor
for about a decade, an educator, a trained physicist.  When he got elected,
we all used to kid him that he knew entirely too much to be a politician.
We thought it would be a terrible burden.  But I can tell you, from my
point of view as someone who has worked for eight years to improve the
quality and the availability of opportunity in education, it has been a
real joy to have someone like him with the depth of commitment to education
that he has demonstrated these last two years.  It's been wonderful.

     Well, we're about to go back to school.  And I've always thought of
back to school time as sort of a new beginning.  It certainly is for the
students and the teachers -- new students, new books, new school supplies,
new faces in the classroom, a time when a lot of parents stop and think
again about the role of education in their own children's lives and what
they hope will be their children's future.  I think it's a good time for
our country to do the same.  So today, I'd like to talk a little bit about
what we can do to prepare our schools and our children not just for the new
school year, but for the new economy of the 21st century.

     We are very fortunate in America today to be living in the longest
economic expansion in our history, to have 22 million new jobs and the
lowest unemployment rate in 30 years and the highest homeownership ever, a
25-year low in the crime rate, a 35-year low in the welfare rolls, with
incomes going up and poverty going down.  The great -- (applause) -- thank
you.  The great debate that I hope our country will have not only in this
election year, but in the remaining weeks of this session of Congress is
what are we going to do with this good fortune.

     You know, the parents here in the audience can empathize with this.
One of the things you learn when you live long enough is that sometimes you
make mistakes not because times are so tough, but because they're good, and
you kind of break your concentration and you let moments pass by.  And
anybody that lives over 30 years can think of some time in his or her life
when you made a mistake like that.

     So this is a very important time for our country.  What are we going
to do with this good fortune, unprecedented in our whole history?  I hope
that we will use this time to dream about the future we want for our
children and to literally make a list of what we have to do to achieve it.
I hope we'll use this time to pay down our debt and get this country out of
debt for the first time since 1835, to keep interest rates lower and keep
the economy going.  I think that's a good thing to do.  (Applause.)

     I hope we'll use this opportunity to create incentives for people to
invest in the poor areas that still aren't participating in our recovery.
Here in New Jersey, you might find it hard to believe, but there are
several Indian reservations in America where the unemployment rate is still
over 50 percent, even though the national rate is 4; and inner city areas
and small rural towns.  So I hope we'll do that.

     I hope we will take this opportunity when we have some money to
lengthen the life of Social Security and Medicare -- take it out beyond the
baby boom generation so that when those of us who are baby boomers retire,
we don't bankrupt our kids and their ability to raise our grandchildren,
because they shouldn't be prejudiced by the fact that time has taken us
into our later years.  I hope we'll use this time to provide some needed
health care advances, including prescription drug benefits for seniors on
Medicare.  (Applause.)

     But there is nothing more important for us to do if we want to use
this moment to build a future of our dreams for our kids than to make sure
all of our children get a 21st century education.  And that requires both
investment and standards in accountability.

     It requires us to invest more and demand more.  It requires us to do
what Vice President Gore and I have been trying to do for eight years now.
We have doubled our investment in education and training.  We've expanded
college opportunity by more than any time since the G.I. Bill 50 years ago
with the student loan program improvements, and saved $8 billion for our
kids with the HOPE scholarship, which gives every family a $1,500 tax
credit on the cost of college tuition -- just about covers community
college, makes it free in most states in the country.  And we're now trying
to get the Congress to allow taxpayers to deduct the cost of college
tuition up to $10,000 from their tax bill, which will be worth $2,800 a
year in lower taxes for families with kids in college.  (Applause.)

     With the help of the e-rate program, which the Vice President
pioneered through Congress, we have worked with schools to connect 95
percent of our schools to the Internet.  That's up from only 35 percent
five years ago when we started.  (Applause.)  We're also working to help
turn around failing schools with after-school and summer school programs
and mentoring programs.  I was in a school in New York the other day, an
elementary school where, two years ago, 80 percent of the kids were reading
below grade level and doing math below grade level.  Today, two years
later, 74 percent of the kids are at or above grade level in both reading
and math.  These schools can be turned around.  The teachers can do the
job.  We've got to give them the support that they need to succeed, and we
can do it.  (Applause.)

     We're working hard to put 100,000 more teachers in the early grades to
have smaller classes because of all the research that shows how important
that is.  And I know that with all these kids coming into this school
district, filling these trailers -- now you've had to hire a lot of new
teachers.  And I understand that you've got some of your first-time
teachers here, Mr. Superintendent, for their first day of orientation.  So
I'd like to ask all the new teachers, stand and be recognized.  Where are
the new teachers in this district?  Raise your hands back there.  Give them
a hand.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

     I want to thank you for choosing a proud and challenging profession.
When you made a decision to become a teacher, you knew you would ever
become wealthy -- (laughter) -- but you will be in the most important way
of all because of what you're going to do for the children of this country
and this community.  And I thank you for that.  (Applause.)

     Now, that brings me down to what we're here about, what I think is a
very important part of our long-term commitment to our children.  All over
America our faculties are better than our facilities -- nice ring, don't
you think?  (Laughter.)  Why is that?  Because we now have the largest
student population in history, what's called the baby boom echo -- 53
million echoes in our schools -- shattering enrollment records for five
years running.  That's right, for the last five years, it's the first time
since the baby boomers in school that we have a group of kids in our
schools bigger than the baby boom generation.

     Today, I'm releasing a report from the Department of Education showing
that New Jersey has its highest enrollment in 20 years.  If you had a
statewide roll call, 1.3 million students would answer.  That's a
20-percent increase in the last 10 years alone.  I understand in this
school district the increase has been more like 90 percent in the last 10

     Now, what's the problem?  The problem is that you've got all these
kids who are going into schools that were never built for this many kids.
You have them in small towns -- I was in a little town called Jupiter,
Florida, a couple of years ago where there were 12 trailers out behind the
school, a community much smaller than this one.  You have the suburban
areas that are swollen up.  I was in a community in Queens the other day
where the same thing was true -- where there were 400 more children in a
school than the school was built for.

     So you've got the problem of the trailers, and then you've got the
problem in our cities of so many old school buildings that either can't be
or haven't been modernized, so that you've got whole floors in some of
these schools that are shut down, even though the schools are filled to the
gills, because the schools cannot afford the cost of modernizing these old

     Philadelphia, the average school building is 65 years old; New
Orleans, 68 years old.  New York City, schools still being heated in the
winter by coal-burning furnaces.  So you have these two big problems.  And
I believe the federal government has a responsibility to help the states
and the local school districts deal with it.  And I believe that -- this is
the important thing, and you all have to think about this, whether you're
Democrats, Republicans, or independents, because it is a new thing.  This
is virtually unprecedented except for a temporary amount of help the
government gave to school districts after World War II for the baby boom

     So the leaders of the majority party in the Congress in Washington say
that we shouldn't do this because the federal government has never been in
the business of school building.  In some states the states don't help
school building, it's all local.  I think we should do it for the following
reasons -- and I want you talk to your friends and neighbors about it,
because you're living with it here.

     Number one, education is the constitutional responsibility of the
states, and the operational responsibility of the localities, but it is a
national priority, and it must be.  (Applause.)

     Number two, we've got some money now and a lot of states and
localities don't, and there's no better way to spend it than by investing
in our children's future.  (Applause.)

     Number three, there are real practical problems with saying that this
school district here should solve this whole problem.  And you know what
they are.  Even though we've got the largest number of school children in
our history, the actual percentage of property owners who have kids in the
schools is slightly smaller than it has been at its largest time -- first.
A lot of you nodding your head, you know this.  Secondly, there are a lot
of states like New Jersey, New York, and many others which already rely
very heavily on the property tax to finance their schools and there's just
a limit to how big it can be.

     And I don't think we ought to let, in this sense,  philosophy get in
the way of practicality here.  I'm not proposing to take over the schools.
I'm not proposing to do anything except to have legislation that will give
tax credits to communities to help them build or drastically modernize
6,000 schools, by lowering the property tax burden on you to do what you're
going to do anyway.  That's what I want to do.  (Applause.)

     And, by the way, our bill would also provide grants and loans to
repair another 5,000 schools a year, every year, for five years, to help
with a lot of these problems with the old school buildings that need to be

     Now, I hope that you will talk to your friends and neighbors about
this.  Now, Congressman Holt is already a cosponsor of the legislation by
Representative Rangle of New York and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, a
Democrat and a Republican.  As I said, we have a bipartisan majority in the
House for this, thanks in no small measure to the work of the teachers and
the members of the Building and Construction Trades Union who are here
today.  And I thank them, the teachers and the Building and Construction
people for what they've done.  (Applause.)  I think if we can get the bill
up in the Senate we'd have a bipartisan majority there.

     But, again, there is this debate, should the federal government be
involved in this.  Now, the Congress is coming back.  We've got almost all
the major budget work still to be done.  We'll be there a month, maybe five
weeks, six weeks.  We debated this for two years now.  Nobody's in the dark
about how it works.  It's just a question of whether we can get over this
philosophical objection that the federal government's never done it before.

     And all I can tell you is, I was there looking at these wonderful
children behind me, talking to me in their school, and these two young
teachers, full of enthusiasm, thinking that all the good they're doing and
all the practical arguments for not putting them in a decent classroom just
evaporated.  There just are none.  So, if people ask you why this is a big
deal, first, you can cite what's going on in your school district.

     And then they say, but the federal government's not doing this anymore
-- is this setting a dangerous example.  Remember, all we're proposing to
do is spend some of the surplus to provide tax credits to lower the cost to
local school districts and to states where they do this, of building these
facilities, so that it eases the property tax burden and makes it easier to
do that.

     And we're proposing to give direct loans and grants to repair another
5,000 schools a year for five years where there's a building that's not
fully usable.  And the need is enormous.  It is national.  And these
children's education is a national priority.

     Look -- all over America today, the schools are working better.
Reading scores are up, math scores are up.  I was in a school in Kentucky
the other day that four years ago was one of the worst schools in the
state, where -- listen to this, this is what they did in three years --
over half the kids were on student lunches.  Three years ago, 12 percent of
the kids were reading at or above grade level.  Today, almost 60 percent.
Three years ago, five percent of the kids were doing math at or above grade
level -- today, 70 percent.

     Three years ago, not a single kid in that elementary school was doing
science at or above grade level.  Today, nearly two-thirds.  This is
happening all over America.  The schools are working better.  We actually
have learned a lot in the last 15 years about how to increase student
performance -- the teachers, the principals -- it's breathtaking what's
going on.

     College enrollment's at an all-time high.  But sooner or later, we're
going to pay price after price after price, just like Malaika said, in
describing this in very human terms -- we say, our children are the most
important things in the world to us, but we don't really care if they've
got a decent place to go to school.  We really want all these young people,
like those enthusiastic young teachers that waved their hands back there,
to go into teaching, but we don't care if they have a lousy place to go to

     Now, sooner or later, we have to deal with this.  This is not
consistent.  If we care about it, we need to put it beyond politics and put
our children first and get this done.  So I'd like to ask you for your
help.  I need your help.  (Applause.)  Talk to your friends and neighbors
who don't live here, who don't live in this congressional district.  Tell
them it is not a political issue, it's about the children.

     Thank you and God bless you.  (Applause.)

     END  1:51 P.M. EDT

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