There is a vast difference between the two leading presidential candidates when it comes to education, President Clinton told teachers gathered here for the Democratic National Convention on Monday.
Mr. Clinton urged about 250 members of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association who are serving as convention delegates this week to support Democratic candidates, including, of course, Vice President Al Gore, the party’s presumptive nominee for president.
“I know he will be a ferocious advocate for children, teachers, and schools,” Mr. Clinton said of his vice president. The challenge is “making sure people know what is at stake,” he added.
Mr. Clinton made his remarks during a special event hosted by the two teachers’ unions on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention. Later in the day, the president gave a rousing address in which he sized up his presidency as a successful one and praised Mr. Gore.
During the teachers’ union event at a Los Angeles hotel on Monday afternoon, the president told the crowd that he is proud of the new programs created during his time in office, including the Goals 2000 education reform initiative, and in increases in some student test scores.
But he warned that there is still plenty of work to be completed after he leaves office. Educators, he said, will have to lead the fight for continued funding of initiatives like his plan to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce class sizes. And, Mr. Clinton added, they must continue to press for a school construction measure that has been languishing in Congress for more than three years.
The Republicans, Mr. Clinton said, oppose federal school construction funding and the 100,000 new teachers initiative. He charged that the GOP wants to create a federal voucher program, which would allow students to use federal dollars to attend the public or private schools of their choice. The teachers’ unions adamantly oppose such plans.
A Fond Farewell
In addition to giving Mr. Clinton an opportunity to rally the crowd for Mr. Gore, the event also served as a farewell of sorts for Mr. Clinton from the two major teachers’ unions, which have been among his greatest supporters for the past eight years. In high spirits, the audience gave him several standing ovations, and several delegates yelled out, “We love you Bill,” and “Four more years.”
“Mr. President, you did not disappoint,” said Sandra Feldman, the president of the 1-million-member AFT. “You truly have been the education president.”
Afterward, some of the delegates said they would sorely miss Mr. Clinton’s charisma and style, although they expressed confidence that Mr. Gore would continue Mr. Clinton’s initiatives in education.
“He’s so sincere,” Lorretta Johnson, a delegate from Baltimore, said of the president. “But I think Al Gore is going to be a wonderful candidate.”
Diane Shust, the NEA’s manager of federal relations, said, “It makes us very sad that he’s leaving—I wish we could keep [Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley] another eight years.”
In addition to his support for Vice President Gore, Mr. Clinton named several congressional candidates he is backing, reminding the delegation that “every House and Senate seat counts.” And naturally, he could not resist throwing in a pitch for one very well-known Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate—his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“I hope you’ll forgive me if I put in a little extra plug for the Democratic Senate candidate from New York,” he quipped. Later, he added, “Her whole life has been an obsession with the welfare and education of children.”