Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Signing the Human Services Amendments of 1994

May 18, 1994

Thank you so much. I think Dr. Johnson is a stronger statement for the merits of what has been done and what is about to be done than anything any of the rest of us can say. If every American child could grow up to be like him, we wouldn't even have more than half the conversations we have every day in this town. So I thank President Johnson and all those wise people, including the founders of Head Start who are here and the Members of Congress who were there then, for starting this program 29 years ago. I thank the Members of Congress here today for working together across party lines, across philosophical lines, across racial lines, across district lines, from the city and from rural areas, to make this dream real in our time and to make the improvements and the changes in the Head Start program that we ought to make. I'm glad that Jeanne Kendall was here from Kentucky to make her profession about the Head Start program. And she brought one of her children, too, who's down there, a fine young man. Stand up. I want him to—[applause]—see, he's done quite well—to remind us that children everywhere need this program.

Everybody knows that this is not just a national Federal program, not the kind of preconceived thing that people think when they think about the Federal Government, you know, "I'm from the Federal Government, and I'm here to help you." [Laughter] This is not a program involving bureaucrats in Washington making decisions that individuals and families and teachers have to live by. This is a program that is built at the grassroots by families and teachers and communities.

I've often said that governments can't raise children, that people have to do that. But parents need help in a lot of places in this country today, just like they did 29 years ago. As I traveled America in 1992, I'd meet children in every corner of this country who would still be on the verge of showing up for school not knowing their colors, their shapes, their numbers, how to spell their names. And you ask, well, is that all that important? You bet it is.

You heard the doctor talk about how he got his degree in biology. Maybe there is nothing new under the sun, but when the Scripture says that people perish without vision, I think there's something to that. And the flip side is plainly true: In order to visualize, to imagine the future, you have to have some structure in your head, some way of organizing all the things that are coming in. And there's no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons we have so much violence among our young people today is they have no way of organizing and processing and dealing with and turning outward a lot of the things that they are forced to confront day-in and day-out.

Head Start helps these little children—can you believe—I mean, first of all, they're the second best advertisement. How can they sit here and listen to all these politicians and people talk—[laughter]—and behave in this way? Look at them. I mean, it's been amazing. But it helps these children to know they're special and to begin to see the world in a wonderful but still organized way. And that is a very, very significant thing.

I do want to say to the Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion and to Secretary Shalala and to Secretary Riley and to all those who worked on this program, we all knew that there were some things we ought to do to help Head Start move into the 21st century. We knew we had to invest in reform and put quality first. We knew we needed performance standards because if we're going to spend the public's money to make the program work at the grassroots level, we want children to turn out like the man who introduced me.

We knew we had to expand the program, that it was no longer justifiable with all the kids in trouble in this country and needing help, to do that. So Head Start will go from serving 621,000 children in 1992 to about 840,000 in 1995. And we're struggling hard, Marian, with the budget—we met yesterday—[laughter]—so that we can keep expanding it beyond 1995. We're going to give local communities the option to meet the new needs of parents and children with full-day and full-year programs, which I think is very important.

The bill contains new provisions to meet families' needs who have infants and toddlers from birth to age 3. And I'm especially pleased by the broad coalition in Congress and the executive branch and among concerned Americans all across the country that focused on this vital area. Just a few years ago, this would have been enormously controversial. You would have had all kinds of ideological arguments, unrelated to the reality of these children's lives. And because of the spirit of primarily the leaders of Congress who are here present and those who are not here who supported it and those of you who brought information to the table about the real lives of these children and their families, you made that happen. And that is a dramatic change.

The third thing that this bill does is to act to keep the gains that Head Start makes going through the later years, because we learned, much to our sadness, that some children kept the gains all the way through their lives and others were lost because of intervening events. So we had to ask ourselves what could we do to make these gains keep going, to make sure that these children would take the richness and the vision and the hope and the self-esteem that they leave this program with and be able to hold it close and live by it and gain from it throughout their lives. So I think that that is a terribly important advance in this program that will help not only the children but their parents.

Well, this is in some ways maybe the biggest part of the lifetime learning program we've been pushing, all of us, through the Congress with remarkable bipartisan support: the Goals 2000 program to establish national standards for our public schools and to erase the difference between academic learning and skill training; the school-to-work program to help those young people who don't go on to 4-year colleges but do need greater skills; now, the reemployment program that we're going to try to develop out of the unemployment system, recognizing that most people don't get their old jobs back. But today we begin where our parents always told us we ought to begin, at the beginning.

And this is a wonderful day, I say again, a tribute to those whose vision made it possible 29 years ago, a tribute to those who have worked on these significant, dramatic improvements today, a tribute to the parents and the students who have proven by their statements today and the lives they have lived that together we really are one community and we can pull together and help each other in ways that make us all better people, better citizens, and later, better parents.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

Now, let me tell you what's going to happen. This is Brian Rivera; he's 5 years old. He's the best dressed man here. [Laughter] And I'm going to ask him to join me with the congressional leadership; we don't have room here for all the Members who are here. I would like for Senator Kennedy, Senator Kassebaum, Senator Mitchell, and Congressman Ford, Congressman Goodling to come up here and stand behind me. And as they come, I'd like for all the Members of Congress who are here to stand and be applauded by the rest of us, because without them this would not have happened. Please stand up. [Applause]

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:17 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Dr. Ansel Johnson, former Head Start student, and Jeanne Kendall, parent of a former Head Start student. S. 2000, approved May 18, was assigned Public Law No. 103-252.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the Human Services Amendments of 1994 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives