Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Secretary of Education Richard Riley

April 08, 1995

Aboard The Press Plane

En Route Sacramento, California

4:50 P.M. CDT

SECRETARY RILEY: First of all, the -- of course, I've been working with President Clinton since we were both elected governor back in '78, and he's always been a very strong leader in support of education. And that's been a real connection that we've had over the years. So I'm really enjoying working with him very much in that regard now.

He has really gotten through his first budget fight and a couple of his other fights, and he really is where I think he really enjoys being, and that is paying more and more and more attention to education.

The economic conference that we had in Atlanta -- I don't know how many of you were there -- but it was really very much like an education conference. Every one of the business people -- and I'm sure most of them were Republicans -- but the tone of the whole conference was education. That was the answer to the economic future of the country and in just any other subject that came up. So I think that's getting to be more apparent to everybody, and it certainly pleases me to see that.

We, tomorrow, then, will be talking a lot about -- the President will -- on safe and drug-free schools. With all this attention to the importance of education and the fact that the President is centering in on it so much, it kind of stunned me, really, to see the Republicans in the House take out, for example, the Safe and Drug Free Schools money altogether. They took the whole program out. That is the federal government's part of this issue -- safe and drug free schools.

Q: What did they do with the money?

SECRETARY RILEY: They used the money, of course, to pay for a benefit -- tax benefit which, of course, a great portion of which goes to very wealthy people.

Q: This is in the rescission bill or --

SECRETARY RILEY: That was in the rescission bill. Mike Kastle and some other Republicans got in $10 million out of $482 million on the floor. So it came out of the House with a $482 million program that the President, in his budget, asked to increase, taking out the whole thing by $10 million.

So it goes to the Senate Committee and the Senate Committee puts in all but $100 million, as I recall, back in. And then on the floor yesterday, the Daschle amendment and the compromise put in the rest of it. So the whole $482 million is back in -- Q: Pending what they do in conference, right? SECRETARY RILEY: And then what happens in conference is

you go from almost zero to 100 percent. But I think it's a very clear distinction between where the President falls in terms of support in those issues and where the Republicans in the House fell. That was a very important, clear distinction.

Why don't we let you all, then, tell me what you want me to talk on, and I'd be glad to --

Q: Is he going to announce anything new tomorrow education-wise or --

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, how he says it might be somewhat different, but I think it will be the same message and that is that we're into increasing standards for all American children in education and all students, really. And you cannot increase standards, you can't reach high standards in academics or in skills standards in terms of school to work if you're in an unsafe, drug-infested situation.

He will -- and I think this is embargoed -- I think there's been something about it, though, the CDC report which is a pretty interesting study that showed 105 violent school- associated deaths in the last two years.

Q: 105?

SECRETARY RILEY: 105 -- 28 percent of those on the school property; 36 percent -- no, 28 percent inside the school; 36 percent in school property; and 35 percent was school-related off the campus. So it's 81 of them are homicides; 19, suicides; and 5, unintentional firearm-related deaths.

Q: What were those numbers again, sir?

SECRETARY RILEY: 81 homicides, 19 suicides and 5 unintentional firearm-related deaths.

Q: You consider a suicide a violent act if somebody does it to themselves?

SECRETARY RILEY: It certainly is. It's, of course, with a weapon or whatever. It's another violent act that occurs with a violent weapon.

So he will discuss this and then what it means in education and associates it with trying, then, to reach high standards, to reach the goals that Goals 2000 have in them and how important safe environment is and a drug-free environment is in terms of learning -- high standards.

Q: What's your outlook now on how the conference might come out? I mean, you've got a broad range of between $0 and $482 million. How do you think it's going to work out?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I certainly hope it will fall in the direction of the Senate, and, certainly, that's what the President wants to happen. I sense that part of the Senate reaction is a public reaction reflected in the Senate after they have had a chance to reflect on what the House recommendation was. So I think it's probably part of a growing public interest in education, and this is just one part of that.

I mean, the House significantly cut Goals 2000 -- 90 percent of that money goes to the school districts themselves. Around $400 million -- it's a little less now -- but around $400 million was in last year's budget. Of course, it's forward- funded, so it was not spent, won't be spent until July. The House lowered it to about 140, as I recall -- but they've lowered it 40 percent to 140. And then the Senate Committee put back in a piece of that,

and then the floor, in the amendment yesterday, put back in the rest of it all but, I think, $7 million. So, you see, all that cut in Goals 2000 and school to work and safe school and drug-free schools, the technology money -- they put some of that back in. I mean, all of that money, as it went through the process, it got stronger and stronger and stronger.

Q: There's a policy issue at stake here, but what's the political component of the President and his administration and you -- although it's understandable in your case as Secretary of Education -- but the President singling out education as one of the areas on which to take on the Republicans. What is the political component of that decision?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I think it's the right decision for the country, and I've always felt like good government was good politics. And I really think, as I mentioned in the economic conference, anything, anybody, any thinking person you talk with that is into the education era or the information era or knowledge-based economy knows that education is the way for this country's future to go.

If you are looking at poor people, if you're looking at disadvantaged people, if you're looking at bright, gifted people, if you're looking at the anxious class, if you're looking especially, as the President is especially concerned about the middle class -- that's who is caught in this education need, and I think that's a big part of the anxiety that's out there. It's a real concern about the complexity of the times, and technology and all of those things. And people really seem to feel inadequate because of their educational strength and so forth. And I think that's the push we need to make. I think --

Q: Do you have polling that tells you that the Republicans are vulnerable on this issue?

SECRETARY RILEY: We have polling that says, and it's been listed in all the papers, that the American people believe that we should cut and deal with the deficit, but do not do it with education cuts. And the American people believe more should be invested in education. Of course they want it to be sensible investment, you know, and nobody wants to waste money. But money well spent in education is supported even in this time when the American people are really demanding cuts. And I mean that's a complete turn of what the House picked up on. I mean, it's just the opposite. While all that debate was going on --

Q: Secretary, is there a point in the conference that will trigger a veto by the President of this rescission bill? He said he would accept it if it came out as it is now. But is there a point that they can cut education back where he'll say, no, I'm not going to accept it?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, that I do not know, and I wouldn't be able to say -- I'll say this: If the President thinks that the rescission bill is harmful to American education, in my judgment -- you'd have to ask him about it -- in my judgment, he'd be inclined to veto it.

Q: But what would be a trigger point? How much money --

SECRETARY RILEY: That's hard to say. I think any of it is foolish. I think it's foolish to cut education money that's already been appropriated. You know there's a reason that this money is forward-funded. You all understand that education dollars are forward-funded because the budget comes out in November or December, and, of course, they've got to know, planning back in January, February and March, what they're going to do in the fall. So this is last year 's money -- it's this year's money which is coming out in July. And I think it's foolish to cut this year's education dollars when everybody that thinks about it knows that education is the most important thing we can be about.

Q: Well, safe and drug-free Schools, for example, sounds about as unobjectionable as mom and apple pie. So how come the House Republicans cut it? What's their basis for that?

SECRETARY RILEY: You'd have to ask them. That blows my mind. I mean, I was stunned when I saw it. I really -- and you ask any -- you talk about polls and politics or what the American people want and they talk about November 8th. I don't think you could ask any American coming out of the voting booth on November 8th that would have said that they don't want something more done about violence and drugs in and around their children and schools. And I think the polls reflect that.

So I think they misread November 8th. November 8th did deal with the deficit, and I think that's very clear. But it did not deal with just indiscriminate cutting of important investments that the President believes are important to this country.

Q: Don't they believe that there's no federal role in education and isn't this sort of a weigh station to abolishing the whole Education Department as far as the House is concerned?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, you know, what they believe, I guess, is the best thing to ask them. But they do -- we all think that education is a state responsibility and a local function. And the federal role participates only about $.07 out of $1 -- about seven percent of the education dollars come from the federal government. But those are very important dollars. They are dollars that deal with equalization in terms of disadvantaged kids and Title I. They are dollars that deal with disabled children. They are dollars that deal with limited English-proficient children, safe and drug-free conditions and technology. And you get those kinds of national priorities.

And, of course, I think Goals 2000 is a very good description of what the federal role should be -- supporting high standards but letting the states and the local schools say how to do it. But there is accountability there because the requirement is, they set their own standards and they set their own assessment. But the assessment is the accountability. If the assessment shows poorly, then the public demands something else to be done. So there is assessment. That's what I call a responsible block grant -- Goals 2000.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's a proposal floating around concerning student loans regarding a cap on the number -- could you explain a little bit what that is and give us your thoughts on it?

SECRETARY RILEY: Let me talk a little bit about direct lending, exactly what that is. I don't know how much -- you all aren't into education directly, I don't guess, but if I'm repeating something you already know, tell me. But the whole concept -- as you know, the current student finance aid situation is a guaranteed loan. And at one time it was like 100 percent. It's 98 or whatever, a little less than that -- but it's practically 100 percent guaranteed loan.

Now, anybody that thinks that doesn't have the federal government into student loans really doesn't understand banking. There's very little difference between a loan and a 100 percent guaranteed loan. You see what I mean? You have the guaranteed loan, though. You have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of banks involved, and you have dozens and dozens of guarantee agencies involved. And you have all of these different forces that are part of this process, all of which make money out of it. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's a very clear thing. It's a very profitable piece of bank business and guaranteed loan business.

The direct lending concept says, you know, to have the federal government, instead of guaranteeing all the loan, just to straight make the loan and clear out all of that profit in between. It's quicker, it's simpler, and it saves an enormous amount of money for the federal government. It's better for the student because it's so quick.

Those that were at the economic summit -- a young woman made a statement there who was a med student at the University of Florida, and she said that previously she had been under a guaranteed loan situation, and when she would get her loan she would have to go to her grandmother and temporarily borrow money for two months or so before her loan came through so she could start school. And then when the loan came through, she would pay her grandmother back the money.

Well, poor kids, or whatever, don't have a wealthy grandmother to do that. So what do they do? They will have to go to the bank and get a temporary loan to tide them over until the loan came through. And while the loan was coming through, it money was being taken off by all these middle people. And it really is a very sensible approach.

So the direct lending thing -- the President wanted to speed that up. With technology now, if you can handle 40 percent of the loan volume -- and that's where we are now -- the law said, first year, five percent; second year, 40 percent; third year, 50 and demand; fourth year, 60 and demand. In other words, if everybody wants to come in, under the current law, they can come in after the second year. So we're getting into the second year now 40 percent. I have not talked to anybody that was in the system that didn't say it was great.

I talked to a student over at American University the other day. I mean, she said, it's just a tremendous difference -- simple.

Q: The Republicans want to cap it at 40 --

SECRETARY RILEY: -- say, instead of going 40, 50, 60, to cap it at 40, and some of them would like to see it ended. And you say, why? And they say, well, we want to make sure it works. We want to have a competitive system. There are other reasons, but, of course, there are a lot of vested interests in direct loans that are making a lot of money out of it.

So the President says, you know, that's the way we can go and make lots of money to put on the deficit instead of coming in and cutting Title I from disadvantaged kids, and Safe and Drug Free Schools, and technology out of education, and school lunches and summer jobs program. Why don't you go ahead and put in the direct lending and pick up those funds and do the same thing?

Q: How much could it save potentially?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, the number is -- the potential number is $12 billion for 100 percent. And, of course, people argue that back and forth.

Q: years?

SECRETARY RILEY: Six years, I believe. It's whatever -- they talk about that period. I believe it's a six- year period. But the Republicans want to take about that same amount of money and take out the subsidy on interest that students, poorer students, pay on student loans. It's now subsidized by the federal government. That's a very important part of enabling a young person to go to college that can't otherwise go.

Q: Is the subsidy on repayment while they are in college?

SECRETARY RILEY: While they're in college. That's when the subsidy ends plus six months. They don't pay until they get six months out of college. And that amounts to about 18 to 20 percent increase on student loans for poor and moderately-poor kids. And I mean that's a clear difference between the direct loan situation, which picks up about the same money as this subsidy would cost.

So the Republicans want to do away with that and pick up around $12 billion over six years. And the President wants to go ahead and put this streamlined policy in and leave the subsidy and have basically the same benefit.

Q: On the bigger picture, what do you think is the realism -- how realistic is the Republican threat to the entire future of the Education Department? Is it in any danger of being zeroed out or abolished by statute by a vote of both Houses? And, of course, would the President veto it and would that stick? I mean, how much in danger are you going out of existence?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I don't think that there's any danger of this country in this time in its history de- emphasizing education. And I think if the people in Japan and the people in Germany woke up some morning and saw in their morning paper that the United States of America in the education era, the most powerful country in the world, the country that is driven by an economy that's driven by educating and productivity has decided to de-emphasize education -- now, I don't think you're going to see that in those papers. If you did, their stock would go up in Japan and Germany, I guarantee you.

However, you get that argument confused with the federal role. And that's a very legitimate argument. And I understand that. I am a former governor. The President is a former governor. I believe in the state role and the state responsibility and the local function and what's important is what happens there on the local level. But the federal government has a role in the United States of America to get this nation's education lifted up and fair for disadvantaged kids and disabled kids and whatever. Those are national purposes. And the way you deal with a national purpose is from the federal level, but with broad-based goals and some assessment, let the states and the local schools handle it.

Q: Certainly the status of education in America doesn't rise or fall with whether there's a Department of Education, does it?

SECRETARY RILEY: It certainly does not. And you won't see any of the major programs that we handle done away with. I mean, you are going to have Pell Grants. You are going to have student loans, direct lending and FFEL or whatever. You are going to have Title I. You are going to have disabled kids. So what do you do if you do away with the Department? Well, you take one program and stick it over here in HHS, another one in Labor, or put them all in Labor, or all in Labor but civil rights and Justice.

And what do you save? You know, you've still got the programs. When all of these programs were in HEW and some related agencies and they came to Education, we had 7,700 employees. Today we have around 5,000, and we do probably twice as much. I mean, that's with direct lending and all that. We have more than 2,000 less employees doing a lot more work. Why? Because we can center in on education and have a

tight, strong, tight-knit organization and not be a part of this big bureaucracy of HEW or Labor or whatever. So I think it's counterproductive to say that you're going to save money.

Now, I've talked to Steve Gunderson. He's a thoughtful guy, and his proposal is for Education to go into Labor not -- but to merge the two. And he says there are savings. We have really analyzed that, and the savings that we can find, like doing away with one secretary, doing away with a deputy, all their staffs or whatever, the only thing -- and our people have analyzed it carefully -- we can come up with some $19 million of savings that's maximum for the whole effort, not to mention the tremendous cost of changing everything around to the new department name and all of that. I mean, it would be tremendous cost involved. He has a big figure of savings -- several hundred million dollars or several billion dollars or whatever it is, and that is all from cutting programs and consolidating programs which we can do right now. And we're doing it.

The President's budget that he recommended this year recommends the elimination of 68 programs in education. We've got too many programs. We have 240 programs. We tried to eliminate 34 last year. The Congress eliminated, I think, 14 of them. But we -- our budget had the elimination of 34. This year, with termination and consolidation and phase-out, we've got 68 programs we're trying to eliminate -- close to a billion dollars. So you can do that without disrupting the education function of the department. That sounds good, but when you analyze it, it doesn't save anything.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what themes will the President strike tomorrow in his speech?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, of course, the center of his speech will be on safe and drug-free schools. And I tell you, teachers are very interested in that subject. I've noticed in these numbers here, the people, the victims -- 65.3 percent were students; 11 percent were teachers or staff; and the remaining victims were community members killed on school property. So, you know, it's -- teachers are not only the people most concerned about children because that's their profession and interest, but also their own safety is involved. And they are very interested in having a safe, drug-free environment to teach in and that's the only place you can be effective.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END5:15 P.M. CDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of Education Richard Riley Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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