Published Online: February 12, 1997

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'A New Nonpartisan Commitment to Education'

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Following are highlights of President Clintons Feb. 4 address to a joint session of Congress:

[L]ooking ahead, the greatest step of all--the high threshold of the future we now must cross--and my number-one priority for the next four years is to ensure that all Americans have the best education in the world.

Let's work together to meet these three goals: Every 8-year-old must be able to read; every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet; every 18-year-old must be able to go to college; and every adult American must be able to keep on learning for a lifetime.

My balanced budget makes an unprecedented commitment to these goals--$51 billion next year. But far more than money is required. I have a plan, a Call to Action for American Education, based on these 10 principles.

First, a national crusade for education standards--not federal government standards, but national standards, representing what all our students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Every state and school must shape the curriculum to reflect these standards, and train teachers to lift students up to them. To help schools meet the standards and measure their progress, we will lead an effort over the next two years to develop national tests of student achievement in reading and math.

Tonight, I issue a challenge to the nation: Every state should adopt high national standards, and by 1999, every state should test every 4th grader in reading and every 8th grader in math to make sure these standards are met.

Raising standards will not be easy, and some of our children will not be able to meet them at first. The point is not to put our children down, but to lift them up. Good tests will show us who needs help, what changes in teaching to make, and which schools need to improve.

They can help us to end social promotion. For no child should move from grade school to junior high, or junior high to high school, until he or she is ready.

Last month, our Secretary of Education Dick Riley and I visited Northern Illinois, where 8th grade students from 20 school districts, in a project aptly called "First in the World," took the Third International Math and Science Study. That's a test that reflects the world-class standards our children must meet for the new era. And those students in Illinois tied for first in the world in science and came in second in math. Two of them, Kristin Tanner and Chris Getsla, are here tonight, along with their teacher, Sue Winski; they're up there with the first lady. And they prove that when we aim high and challenge our students, they will be the best in the world. Let's give them a hand. Stand up, please.

Second, to have the best schools, we must have the best teachers. Most of us in this chamber would not be here tonight without the help of those teachers. I know that I wouldn't be here. For years, many of our educators, led by North Carolina's Gov. Jim Hunt and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, have worked very hard to establish nationally accepted credentials for excellence in teaching. Just 500 of these teachers have been certified since 1995. My budget will enable 100,000 more to seek national certification as master teachers. We should reward and recognize our best teachers. And as we reward them, we should quickly and fairly remove those few who don't measure up, and we should challenge more of our finest young people to consider teaching as a career.

Third, we must do more to help all our children read. Forty percent--40 percent--of our 8-year-olds cannot read on their own. That's why we have just launched the America Reads initiative--to build a citizen army of 1 million volunteer tutors to make sure every child can read independently by the end of the 3rd grade. We will use thousands of AmeriCorps volunteers to mobilize this citizen army. We want at least 100,000 college students to help. And tonight I am pleased that 60 college presidents have answered my call, pledging that thousands of their work-study students will serve for one year as reading tutors.

This is also a challenge to every teacher and every principal. You must use these tutors to help students read. And it is especially a challenge to our parents. You must read with your children every night.

This leads to the fourth principle: Learning begins in the first days of life. Scientists are now discovering how young children develop emotionally and intellectually from their very first days, and how important it is for parents to begin immediately talking, singing, even reading to their infants. The first lady has spent years writing about this issue, studying it. And she and I are going to convene a White House Conference on Early Learning and the Brain this spring, to explore how parents and educators can best use these startling new findings.

We already know we should start teaching children before they start school. That's why this balanced budget expands Head Start to 1 million children by 2002. And that is why the Vice President and Mrs. Gore will host their annual family conference this June on what we can do to make sure that parents are an active part of their children's learning all the way through school.

They've done a great deal to highlight the importance of family in our life, and now they're turning their attention to getting more parents involved in their children's learning all the way through school. And I thank you, Mr. Vice President, and I thank you especially, Tipper, for what you do.

Fifth, every state should give parents the power to choose the right public school for their children. Their right to choose will foster competition and innovation that can make public schools better. We should also make it possible for more parents and teachers to start charter schools, schools that set and meet the highest standards, and exist only as long as they do. Our plan will help America to create 3,000 of these charter schools by the next century--nearly seven times as there are in the country today--so that parents will have even more choices in sending their children to the best schools.

Sixth: Character education must be taught in our schools. We must teach our children to be good citizens. And we must continue to promote order and discipline, supporting communities that introduce school uniforms, impose curfews, enforce truancy laws, remove disruptive students from the classroom, and have zero tolerance for guns and drugs in school.

Seventh: We cannot expect our children to raise themselves up in schools that are literally falling down. With the student population at an all-time high, and record numbers of school buildings falling into disrepair, this has now become a serious national concern. Therefore, my budget includes a new initiative--$5 billion to help communities finance $20 billion in school construction over the next four years.

Eighth: We must make the 13th and 14th years of education--at least two years of college--just as universal in America by the 21st century as a high school education is today, and we must open the doors of college to Americans.

To do that, I propose America's HOPE Scholarship, based on Georgia's pioneering program: two years of a $1,500 tax credit for college tuition, enough to pay for the typical community college. I also propose a tax deduction of up to $10,000 a year for all tuition after high school; an expanded IRA you can withdraw from tax free for education; and the largest increase in Pell Grant scholarships in 20 years. Now, this plan will give most families the ability to pay no taxes on money they save for college tuition. I ask you to pass it--and give every American who works hard the chance to go to college.

Ninth: In the 21st century, we must expand the frontiers of learning across a lifetime. All our people, of whatever age, must have a chance to learn new skills. Most Americans live near a community college. The roads that take them there can be paths to a better future. My GI Bill for America's Workers will transform the confusing tangle of federal training programs into a simple skill grant to go directly into eligible workers' hands. For too long, this bill has been sitting on that desk there without action--I ask you to pass it now. Let's give more of our workers the ability to learn and to earn for a lifetime.

Tenth: We must bring the power of the Information Age into all our schools. Last year, I challenged America to connect every classroom and library to the Internet by the year 2000, so that, for the first time in our history, children in the most isolated rural towns, the most comfortable suburbs, the poorest inner city schools, will have the same access to the same universe of knowledge.

That is my plan--a Call to Action for American Education. Some may say that it is unusual for a president to pay this kind of attention to education. Some may say it is simply because the president and his wonderful wife have been obsessed with this subject for more years than they can recall. That is not what is driving these proposals. ...

Now I ask you--and I ask all our nation's governors; I ask parents, teachers, and citizens all across America--for a new nonpartisan commitment to education--because education is a critical national security issue for our future, and politics must stop at the schoolhouse door.

On Family and Health Issues

To prepare America for the 21st century, we must build stronger families. Over the past four years, the Family and Medical Leave law has helped millions of Americans to take time off to be with their families. With new pressures on people in the way they work and live, I believe we must expand family leave so that workers can take time off for teacher conferences and a child's medical checkup. ...

[W]e must also protect our children by standing firm in our determination to ban the advertising and marketing of cigarettes that endanger their lives.

On Youth Crime and Drugs

... I ask you to mount a full-scale assault on juvenile crime, with legislation that declares war on gangs, with new prosecutors and tougher penalties; extends the Brady Bill so violent teen criminals will not be able to buy handguns; requires child safety locks on handguns to prevent unauthorized use; and helps to keep our schools open after hours, on weekends, and in the summer, so our young people will have someplace to go and something to say yes to.

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