Good morning. This week Hillary and I have been visiting our neighbors in South America. Along with the distinguished American delegation of Congressmen, several Cabinet members, and other members of the administration, we've savored the hospitality and the uniqueness of each country. But as we've traveled from Venezuela to Brazil to Argentina, we've also had the chance to see that much more unites the people of the Americas than separates us.
We cherish the same values: freedom and equality, family and community, peace and democracy. We aspire to prosperity through free enterprise, open markets, a commitment to give everyone who will work for it a chance to succeed, and a dedication to preserving the environment while growing the economy. And we all believe in providing all our children with a world-class education so that they can fulfill their God-given promise in the 21st century.
Last summer's balanced budget agreement, with the largest new investment in education since 1965, will take us a long way toward our sweeping but straightforward agenda. By the year 2000, we want to ensure that every 8-yearold can read, every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old can go on to college, and every adult can keep on learning.
On this trip, we worked to establish education partnerships with other countries, especially in bringing the benefits of technology and the Internet to even the very poorest neighborhoods and village schools.
Back home, as the new school year gets really underway, we're hooking up more of our own classrooms to the Internet, kicking off the America Reads program to mobilize a huge number of volunteers, especially college students and young AmeriCorps team leaders, to make sure that all of our children can read independently by the third grade. And we're finally opening the doors of college to anyone who is willing to work for it, with more Pell grants and workstudy slots, the $1,500-a-year HOPE scholarship tax credit for the first 2 years of college, and tax cuts and education IRA's to help students pay for the cost of the junior and senior years, graduate school, and other training.
Still, we can't rest. A vital and vigorous debate over how best to improve public education will be waiting for me when I get back to Washington. Everyone knows we need to do more to boost the quality of public schools; the question is, how? Some people think we should give students vouchers to help pay for private schools if they don't think public schools are good enough. They say the competition will even make the public schools better. It may sound like a good argument, but I think it's wrong. Too many of our public schools are underfunded already, and besides, there are better ways to improve the public schools in a way that doesn't siphon off precious tax dollars to help a few students at the expense of the other 90 percent.
My strategy is to set high standards, measure student performance against them, inject more competition and choice into the public school system, and support local initiatives like school uniforms, after-school and summer-school programs that increase order, safety, and learning.
First, we must set national standards of academic achievement and then have voluntary tests, starting with fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, to measure them. Second, we must recruit more volunteers to America Reads so that we can have an army of volunteer reading tutors in our schools, helping every child read independently by the end of the third grade. Third, we must also bring more choice and competition into public education. The right way to do this is by empowering more parents and students to choose the public schools they attend and by bringing more charter schools to more communities.
Since I became President, the number of public charter schools in America has grown from one to 700. Parents, educators, and community leaders are creating and operating these new schools within the public school system that are freed from bureaucratic redtape but accountable to parents, students, and communities that support them. And they stay open only if they meet the high standards of performance.
I endorse bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to help communities open 3,000 more charter schools in the coming years by giving States incentives to issue more charters, more flexibility to try new reforms and strengthen accountability, and funds to help them get started, funds guaranteed in our balanced budget agreement. Now, that's a good example of what I mean when I say politics should stop at the schoolhouse door.
We also have to strengthen existing schools. I support another bipartisan proposal that will help low-achieving, low-income schools transform themselves through proven reforms, everything from intensive reading instruction to school uniforms to after-school tutoring to mandatory summer school for students who fall behind.
Virtually every problem facing our schools today has been solved by a community somewhere in America. We have to bring these solutions to the schools that need them the most. The good news is we can do it, as the rising performance of our students compared to students in other nations shows.
Our schools are improving, and they can get better, much better. No single magic bullet will improve our schools, but high standards, the voluntary tests to measure them, good teaching, well-run schools with the latest technology, and old-fashioned, safe, orderly environments will make education better. Working together, we can do it. Our children deserve no less, and our Nation's future depends upon it.
Thanks for listening.