Remarks by President Clinton at School Construction Event (10/24/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release               October 24, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                              The South Lawn

3:00 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first, let me thank Glenda Parsons.  I thought
that she was eloquent, insistent, comprehensive and enlightening, for
anybody that hasn't heard about this issue and why it matters.  And let me
thank Secretary Riley for pointing out that the federal government helps
states and localities build roads and highways and prisons, and schools are
the most important network to the 21st century of all.

     Let me thank you, sir, in a larger sense, for nearly eight years of
service now, during which you have reduced the paperwork burden on local
school districts and states, but mightily increased the level of assistance
we are giving them to do the things that work.

     That's one reason, along with the outstanding work being done at the
state level by people like Governor Patton from Kentucky who is here with
us today and local educators, that the test scores are up, the dropout rate
is down, the college-going rate is up.  We're moving in the right
direction, and Dick Riley deserves his fair share of credit for that, and I
thank him very much.  (Applause.)

     I would like to thank the extraordinary array of members of Congress
who are here, including the Democratic Leaders of the Senate and the House,
Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt.  I would like to thank the people
from the administration who are here who have worked with us to help to
develop this very important proposal, including Secretary Larry Summers and
Jack Lew and Sylvia Mathews from the Office of Management and Budget.  I
want to thank the people who are here from the D.C. City Council and the
Coalition to Rebuild America's Schools, teachers, administrators,
architects, members of the construction trades and many others.

     And I also want to thank the people who came out here all morning,
building our new schoolhouse.  We wanted people to have a little red
schoolhouse here to emphasize what this is about.  (Applause.)  And our
special guests from Brent Elementary School.  Let's welcome them here.

     The little red schoolhouse behind me was erected as evidence of the
commitment of all of us here to give our children the safest and best
schools in the world.  In its unfinished state, it's also a symbol of the
unfinished work still before the Congress.  Nearly two months into the new
school year, the Majority Leadership still hasn't given a single dime for
school construction and modernization -- not even enough to build a
one-room schoolhouse.

     Week after week now, I've been signing continuing resolutions to give
Congress more time to work on this year's budget.  But the time for tardy
slips is over.  It's time for the leadership to put progress before
partisanship, and address at last the needs of our schools and our

     For nearly eight years now, we've worked hard to turn our economy
around.  We've replaced record deficits with record surpluses.  We now
enjoy the longest economic expansion in history.  Today we received even
more good news about the economy.  According to our Treasury Department and
the Office of Management and Budget, the surplus for the 2000 fiscal year
is the largest in American history, $237 billion.  (Applause.)

     This is the third surplus in a row, the first time our nation has done
that in 51 years, since 1949, when Harry Truman was President.  It's worth
remembering, I think, that when Vice President Gore and I took office in
1993, the deficit was $290 billion.  The debt had quadrupled in 12 years.
Economists predicted that this year, instead of a $237-billion surplus, we
would have a $455-billion deficit.  Working together, we turned that
around; not by chance, but by choice.

     Now to the moment at hand.  What are we going to do with our
prosperity?  What are we going to do with our surplus?  It is not the
government's surplus, it is the people's surplus.  How shall we apply it to
our common goals and needs and challenges?  I feel very strongly that we
ought to first make a commitment to keep the prosperity going, by paying
the debt down over the next 12 years, to keep interest rates down.

     Then I think we ought to take what's left, and have a tax cut we can
afford, that focuses on sending our kids to college, providing our kin
folks with long term care who need it, helping long term families with
child care and helping all Americans save for retirement, because savings
rates are not high enough in our country today.  And I think we ought to
save some money to invest in education and in health care, in science and
technology, in the environment and defense, in the future of America.

     So, in other words, there are big opportunities and big challenges out
there, but I believe we have to first stay with what got us here.  Pay down
the debt, strengthen the Social Security and Medicare systems for the aging
of America when all people like me, the baby boom generation, become too
old to work and we don't want to be a burden on the rest of you.

     And we need to then seize this opportunity to take the money that's
left to invest in our future, especially in education.  You've heard what
has already been said, but I think it's worth reiterating.  We have the
largest, most diverse student body in history.  They are in overcrowded
classrooms, but a lot of things are going right in America.

     Reading and math scores are up.  Hispanic and African-American
students are taking advanced placement courses in record numbers.  Over the
last six years, a 300-percent increase for Hispanic students, a 500 percent
increase for African-American students, the college-going rate at a record
high, because we have provided more college assistance increase than any
time since the GI Bill.

     So a lot of things are going well.  SAT math scores are the highest
since 1969, when we went to the moon.  But we have more to do.  And I want
to focus on this today.

     And let me just say one other thing I would like to say, because I
really want to thank the Vice President for this.  When we started in 1994
with a goal to hook up all of our classrooms and schools to the Internet,
only 14 percent of the schools and three percent of the classrooms in
America were hooked up.  Now, 95 percent of the schools and 65 percent of
the classrooms are hooked up, thanks in no small measure -- (applause) --
thanks in no small measure to an idea Al Gore led our fight for, the
E-rate, which gives discounts of up to 90 percent to low-income schools so
that all of our schools can afford to hook on.  (Applause.)

     Now, what's all that got to do with why we're here?  The average
public school building in America is 42 years old.  Decades of use have
taken their toll.  Leaking roofs, broken boilers, crowded trailers.  It's
hard to educate kids in schools that are falling down.

     Some of our schools are so old, they literally cannot be wired for
Internet access.  I have been in schools where, when one room works -- that
is, they turn on all the lights and they're using a lab, and then somebody
logs onto the net in one room -- it will literally short out everybody else
in the school building.

     You also need to know, there are buildings in New York that are still
being heated with coal in coal-fired furnaces.  The average school building
in Philadelphia is 65 years old, and about the same in New Orleans.

     So those of us that have been around the country looking at this know
that you've got the problem of the old schools, and then all the place
we've been, including the smallest place I've been with a lot of trailers
was the community of Jupiter, Florida, which is not very big, and they had
a dozen trailers outside one school.

     So this is a national challenge.  They're bad for our children's
education.  I might also say that they can be quite bad for our children's
health, especially if they have asthma or if they have other disabilities.

     And this is something I think that has been underestimated.  You know,
just the cost in education days of asthma in our children is staggering
throughout the United States today.  We ought not to be sending the kids
into school buildings that make it worse.  (Applause.)

     Now, I have asked Congress to send me an education bill that does the
following:  First, give us $1.3 billion to fix up thousands of schools in
desperate need of repair right now.  And let's do that over five years.
(Applause.)  We can repair 5,000 schools a year over five years.  It would
be a big thing to do, and it would help a lot.

     Second, I have asked Congress to enact the bipartisan -- and I
emphasize bipartisan -- school construction tax proposal, to provide $25
billion in school construction and modernization bonds.  Now, you just
heard Glenda explain why Loudoun County couldn't bear this burden alone.
Even counties where the average income of the school parents may be above
average, there is a limit to how much you can do.  They've got to build 23
schools in six years.

     Can you imagine how much construction that is?  That's in one school
district.  That's just one.  We estimate the deficit in school repair and
school construction in America, given the condition of the buildings, the
size of the population, and the projected population over the next five
years, is somewhere between $110 billion and $125 billion.

     I don't think it's too much to ask the federal government, at a time
of record surpluses, to provide $25 billion in school construction and
modernization bonds.  (Applause.)  It will help to build or modernize 6,000
schools.  In the process, it will create some good jobs.  It will be
especially helpful in the poorest areas of our country, like Native
American communities, and others with greater needs and the total inability
to raise the money at the local level.

     And third, Congress should follow through on our proposal to help fund
8,000 after-school and summer school programs, to help $2.5 million kids
boost their test scores, stay out of trouble, and get more involved in
their communities.  If you think about how overcrowded these schools are,
it is more important than ever that we allow them to stay open in the
afternoon, and to provide summer programs, so that the kids that may not
get it during the daytime, when they're being crammed in, pushed around and
can't even sit down for lunch, according to Glenda, at least to have the
ability to stay late or come back in the evening or come in on the weekend,
or be involved in the summer program that will make sure they don't fall
behind.  So that's also a very important part of this.  (Applause.)

     Fourth thing I'd like to urge them to do is to provide $1.75 billion
to help pay for almost 50,000 teachers to reduce class sizes in the first
grades; the next big step of our 100,000 teacher program to reduce class
size in the early grades.  We know that new qualified teachers can help
children learn.  (Applause.)

     And finally, I ask Congress to support our initiatives to improve
teacher training, increase accountability, and to turn around failing
schools or shut them down and open them under new management.  We have here
-- I will say again what I said at lunch.  Governor Patton is exhibit A.  I
have been working on this for 22 years now.  I was there when, under the
Reagan Administration, Secretary Bell issued the Nation At Risk Report, a
brilliant report.  I was there when President Bush invited all the
governors to Charlottesville, Virginia, and we had a summit and established
goals for the nation.  And I helped to write that document and it was a
great and moving meeting.

     But I can tell you something.  If somebody asked me what's changed in
the years since, I'll tell you what's changed.  We actually know now that
failing schools can be turned around and we know how to do it and we didn't
before.  And so I want to emphasize this.

     I was in a school in western Kentucky with Paul Patton that was one of
the worst schools in Kentucky four years ago, where only 12 percent of the
kids were reading at or above grade level, 5 percent of the kids were doing
math at or above grade level, no kids were doing science at or above grade

     And under the system he put in place that we want for America, in
three years, the numbers went from 12 to 57 percent in reading, from 5 to
70 percent in math from zero to 63 percent in science.  That's one place,
one of the best elementary schools in his entire state.  We can do that
everywhere, and we should.  (Applause.)

     I mean, I have very strong feelings about this.  These kids deserve a
decent place to go to school because they can all learn.  I was in Harlem
the other day that two years ago -- listen to this -- two years ago had 80
percent of the kids doing reading or math below grade level.

     Two years later, a new principal, new morale, school uniforms --
something I like -- high standards, in two years, they went from 80 percent
doing reading and math below grade level, to 74 percent doing reading and
math at or above grade level.  A total turnaround.  You can do this.  We
can do this all over America.  (Applause.)

     But it is illusory to think that we can tell all these kids and their
parents they're the most important things in the world to us, but here, go
to school in broken windows and leaky roofs and sit in his closet
somewhere, or go out into a busted trailer, and we'll get around to you
when we can.  And meanwhile, we've got all the money in the world to spend
on roads and airports, because they've got a bigger lobby than little kids
do.  (Applause.)

     Now, this is not complicated here.  We have fooled around with this
for two years, and the problems is just getting bigger.  So I say, before
Congress goes home, let's do this for the kids in the future.  At the end
of World War II, when my generation was starting schools, the national
government, under President Truman, with Republican as well as Democratic
support, did not hesitate to help our children find the space to go to

     In a world where education is even more important than it was then,
where the student body is even bigger, and where it is much more diverse,
in a world that is much more interconnected, there can be nothing more
important than actually acting like we say we believe, that our kids are
the most important thing in the world to us.  Let's do it with the school
construction proposal.

     Thank you very much.

                      END        3:17 P.M EDT

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