Following are highlights of President Clinton’s Jan. 27 address to a joint session of Congress:
With barely 700 days left in the 20th century, this is not a time to rest. It is a time to build, to build the America within reach: an America where everybody has a chance to get ahead with hard work; where every citizen can live in a safe community; where families are strong, schools are good and all young people can go to college ... an America where every child can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed. ...
The Information Age is, first and foremost, an education age, in which education must start at birth and continue throughout a lifetime. Last year, from this podium, I said that education has to be our highest priority. I laid out a 10-point plan to move us forward and urged all of us to let politics stop at the schoolhouse door. Since then, this Congress, across party lines, and the American people have responded, in the most important year for education in a generation--expanding public school choice, opening the way to 3,000 new charter schools, working to connect every classroom in the country to the Information Superhighway, committing to expand Head Start to a million children, launching America Reads, sending literally thousands of college students into our elementary schools to make sure all our 8-year-olds can read.
Last year I proposed, and you passed, 220,000 new Pell Grant scholarships for deserving students. Student loans, already less expensive and easier to repay, [sic] now you get to deduct the interest. Families all over America now can put their savings into new tax-free education [individual retirement accounts]. And this year, for the first two years of college, families will get a $1,500 tax credit--a HOPE Scholarship that will cover the cost of most community college tuition. And for junior and senior year, graduate school, and job training, there is a lifetime-learning credit. You did that and you should be very proud of it.
And because of these actions, I have something to say to every family listening to us tonight: Your children can go on to college. If you know a child from a poor family, tell her not to give up--she can go on to college. If you know a young couple struggling with bills, worried they won’t be able to send their children to college, tell them not to give up--their children can go on to college. If you know somebody who’s caught in a dead-end job and afraid he can’t afford the classes necessary to get better jobs for the rest of his life, tell him not to give up--he can go on to college. Because of the things that have been done, we can make college as universal in the 21st century as high school is today. And, my friends, that will change the face and future of America.
We have opened wide the doors of the world’s best system of higher education. Now we must make our public elementary and secondary schools the world’s best as well--by raising standards, raising expectations, and raising accountability.
Thanks to the actions of this Congress last year, we will soon have, for the very first time, a voluntary national test based on national standards in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. Parents have a right to know whether their children are mastering the basics. And every parent already knows the key: good teachers and small classes.
Tonight, I propose the first-ever national effort to reduce class size in the early grades. ...
My balanced budget will help to hire 100,000 new teachers who have passed a state competency test. Now, with these teachers--listen--with these teachers, we will actually be able to reduce class size in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades to an average of 18 students a class, all across America.
If I’ve got the math right, more teachers teaching smaller classes requires more classrooms. So I also propose a school construction tax cut [sic] to help communities modernize or build 5,000 schools.
We must also demand greater accountability. When we promote a child from grade to grade who hasn’t mastered the work, we don’t do that child any favors. It is time to end social promotion in America’s schools.
Last year, in Chicago, they made that decision--not to hold our children back, but to lift them up. Chicago stopped social promotion, and started mandatory summer school, to help students who are behind to catch up. I propose ... to help other communities follow Chicago’s lead. Let’s say to them: Stop promoting children who don’t learn, and we will give you the tools to make sure they do.
I also ask this Congress to support our efforts to enlist colleges and universities to reach out to disadvantaged children, starting in the 6th grade, so that they can get the guidance and hope they need so they can know that they, too, will be able to go on to college.
On Teen Smoking
Next, we must help parents protect their children from the gravest health threat that they face: an epidemic of teen smoking, spread by multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns. I challenge Congress: Let’s pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation that improve [sic] public health, protect our tobacco farmers, and change the way tobacco companies do business forever. Let’s do what it takes to bring teen smoking down. Let’s raise the price of cigarettes by up to $1.50 a pack over the next 10 years, with penalties on the tobacco industry if it keeps marketing to our children.
Tomorrow, like every day, 3,000 children will start smoking, and 1,000 will die early as a result. Let this Congress be remembered as the Congress that saved their lives.
On Child Care
Child care is the next frontier we must face to enable people to succeed at home and at work. Last year, I co-hosted the very first White House Conference on Child Care with one of our foremost experts, America’s first lady. From all corners of America, we heard the same message, without regard to region or income or political affiliation: We’ve got to raise the quality of child care. We’ve got to make it safer. We’ve got to make it more affordable.
So here’s my plan: Help families to pay for child care for a million more children. Scholarships and background checks for child-care workers, and a new emphasis on early learning. Tax credits for businesses that provide child care for their employees. And a larger child-care tax credit for working families. Now, if you pass my plan, what this means is that a family of four with an income of $35,000 and high child-care costs will no longer pay a single penny of federal income tax.
On Juvenile Crime
Again, I ask Congress to pass a juvenile-crime bill that provides more prosecutors and probation officers, to crack down on gangs and guns and drugs, and bar violent juveniles from buying guns for life. And I ask you to dramatically expand our support for after-school programs. I think every American should know that most juvenile crime is committed between the hours of 3:00 in the afternoon and 8:00 at night. We can keep so many of our children out of trouble in the first place if we give them someplace to go other than the streets, and we ought to do it.