Good morning. In the next few days, as it completes its work on the budget, Congress has the opportunity and the obligation to make enormous progress to renew and strengthen our schools. There is no more critical task before it.
Ten days ago we closed the books on our fiscal year, yet Congress still has not opened the books for the new fiscal year at hand. Last night, for the second time in 2 weeks, I signed stopgap legislation to keep our Government running. But I can't keep granting extensions indefinitely.
This week, unfortunately, we saw partisanship defeat progress, as 51 Republican Senators joined together to kill the HMO Patients' Bill of Rights. Rest assured, I will ask the next Congress to guarantee your right to see a specialist, to receive the nearest emergency care, to keep your doctor throughout your course of treatment, to keep your medical records private, and have other basic health care rights. I hope next year we'll have a Congress that agrees.
But I do not want to see this Congress walk away from America's schoolchildren as it has walked away from America's patients. We should be able to make real, bipartisan progress on education. After all, we've got the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years; our economy continues to create jobs and broaden prosperity, despite the economic turmoil abroad. We must use this moment of good fortune to make an historic investment in the quality of our public schools, and we've still got a few days to do it.
Our Nation needs 100,000 new, highly qualified teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. All the studies confirm what every parent already knows: smaller classes and better trained teachers make a big difference—better academic performance, fewer discipline problems, more individualized attention. Of course, basic math tells us that smaller classes plus more teachers demand more classrooms, especially since we already have a record number of children in our schools. All across America, children are being forced to learn in school buildings that are overcrowded or even crumbling, or in temporary housing trailers.
So again today, I call on Congress to help communities build or modernize 5,000 schools with targeted tax credits. I can't think of a better tax cut for our country's future than one that gives our children a modern, safe, adequately equipped place to learn. And these tax credits are fully paid for in the balanced budget.
The budget should also bring cutting-edge technology to the classroom, continuing our efforts to connect all classrooms and libraries to the Internet by 2000, and make sure that the teachers are trained to use such technology. It should fund innovative charter schools so that parents and teachers can bring the benefits of choice and competition to our public schools. It should fully fund after-school programs, so young people learn their lessons in the classroom, not the streets. It should expand Head Start for the early years and insist on high standards in the basics, providing for voluntary national testing with a nonpartisan system to measure progress. It should fund our child literacy programs so that every child will be able to read well and independently by the end of the third grade. It should help bring out-of-school youth back into a learning environment. And it should support our new mentoring initiative to reach out to young people and encourage them early to stay in school, learn their lessons, and go on to college.
Small classes, trained teachers, modern schools, high standards, public school choice, and more—this is a plan that can revolutionize education in America. But the Republican majority in Congress hasn't even passed the annual education investment bill yet. When it comes to education, Congress simply must not settle for an incomplete. I ask the Republicans in Congress to join the Democrats to put progress over partisanship, and send me a full education investment bill.
Remember, the budget Congress must now finalize will be the last complete budget of the 20th century. We cannot pass up this golden opportunity to invest wisely now to help all our children seize the promise of the century to come.
Thanks for listening.