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Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Congressional Education Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters

January 23, 2001

The President. Good morning. I want to welcome you all. I particularly want to welcome senior Members of the Senate and the House. We're here today to discuss a domestic policy issue of high importance, and that's public education, how to make sure every child in America gets educated.

I've always said that public schools, the common schools, issues related to public schools are not a Republican issue or Democrat issue; it's an American issue. And we'll agree on things. We won't agree on things. But we'll always agree that making sure every child is educated is of national importance. It is a major priority. There's a role for the Federal Government. There's a role for the State government. There's a role for local governments. And part of our discussions and eventual legislation will recognize those roles.

And I'm so honored that the Senators came over and Members of the House, the leadership, that's going to help carry legislation. I believe the best way for the Vice President and I to help the legislative process is to discuss issues in a frank and open way, and that's the beginning of a process here.

So thank you all for coming. I'm honored you're here.

Campaign Finance Reform

Q. Mr. President, Senator McCain yesterday said that he has a mandate. Do you agree with him, that he has a mandate? And if so, what——

The President. I'm going to meet with the Senator tomorrow night to discuss issues of concern for him. I suspect one of them might be campaign funding reform. But I'll let you know how the conversation goes. I'm confident it's going to be friendly and productive. John and I are friends. I remember we debated this issue several times. I think you might have been there.

Q. Do you think he has a mandate?

The President. And I think there's a need to discuss good campaign funding reform, and we will.

Legislative Agenda on Education

Q. How much of a sticking point for Democrats do you think your school choice or voucher program is? And are you willing to give ground in order to get a broader deal?

The President. I think that there is consensus on a couple of things: One, accountability is the cornerstone for reform; and secondly, in order for there to be an accountability system that's got merit, there has to be a consequence. And that's what we're going to discuss. Representative Miller from the State of California understands that accountability is crucial for success. And so does Boehner, and I hope the Senators do. I haven't had a chance to speak specifically with Senator Kennedy yet. I'm about to.

But we've got to measure, and there needs to be flexibility at the local level to make sure that local folks can chart the path of excellence. But in order for an accountability system to work, there has to be consequences. And I believe one of the most important consequences will be, after a period of time, giving schools the time to adjust and districts time to try different things if they're failing, that parents ought to be given different options.

If children are trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change, there has to be a different consequence. None of us at the Federal Government should try to impose a school voucher plan on States and local jurisdictions. That's not the prerogative of the Federal Government, as far as I'm concerned. But to the extent that the Federal Government spends money, we ought to expect good results and good consequences.

Q. Thank you.

The President. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is.

California Electricity Shortages

Q. [Inaudible]—to do about the California crisis?

The President. You'll hear something today.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:20 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Representative George Miller. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Congressional Education Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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