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Remarks to the Community at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Selma

September 05, 1995

Thank you very much. It is wonderful to be here today. I want to thank Cal Dooley for his kind remarks and for his remarkable leadership in the Congress. He does a terrific job for all of you. I thank Delaine Eastin for her commitment to education and for being here with me today. I want to thank your school principal, Lucile King, who on next-to-no notice allowed me to come in here and share some time with some of your students. I thank Eleanor Brown who did a fine job speaking here. I said, "Eleanor"—before she came up, I said, "Eleanor, are you having a good time, or are you nervous?" She said, "I'm a little nervous."

So I said, "Well, just pretend you're talking to a few people." And she did a fine job, didn't she? Let's give her another hand. [Applause] I thought she did a great job. I also want thank the Selma High Marine Corps ROTC, who posted the colors, the high school choir, and the Black Bear Brigade Band, who played very well when I came up here today, I thought.

I'd also like to thank the mayor and the members of the City Council and the school board who met me. One of the school board members gave me this Save the Children tie to wear in the speech. And the mayor told me, as the sign said, that this is the raisin capital of the world. And I said, "Well, the only thing I can say is, I don't know about raising them, but I have probably consumed more raisins than any President who ever held this office. And I've enjoyed every one of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, and to all the young people who are here, I want to talk about education today. This is back-to-school day. But before I do, I have to say just a few words about the situation in Bosnia. You may know that this morning our pilots and crews and their NATO allies resumed the bombing of Bosnian Serb military positions. I support that; it's appropriate; its necessary, because the Bosnian Serbs failed to comply with the conditions set over the weekend to withdraw their heavy weapons from Sarajevo. We have to follow through on our commitment to protect Sarajevo and those other safe areas. We cannot allow more innocent civilians and children to die there. This war has to end by negotiation, not on the battlefield.

I'm glad to be here in the number one agricultural region in our Nation. The Central Valley's orange groves and pistachio trees and the acres of vineyards and cotton and corn and the people who grow the raisins are critical not only to your State's economy but to our Nation's economy.

I wanted to come here to this community today because I think that all of you symbolize, in what you're doing here, what we have to do as a country. We've got to take responsibility for ourselves and our children. We've got to work together, and we've got to work for the future.

All of you know that education for individual Americans has always been the key to the American dream. I have a simple message today: At the end of the cold war, at the beginning of this period of global economy, of the information age, the technology age, education is more important today to individual Americans, to families, to communities, and to our future than it has ever been in the entire history of the United States, and we have to act on that fundamental truth as a people.

Thirty months ago, I set out to change the economic direction of our country, to bring the economy of America back and to help the economy of California recover. Thirty months later, we have over 7 million more jobs, 2 1/2 million more homeowners, over 1 1/2 million more small businesses. The jobs you lost in the difficult 4 years before I took office have been replaced, and you're beginning to come back in California.

But there is one fundamental problem left in America economically, and that is for the last 15 years more than half of the hourly wage earners in America are working a longer work week for the same or lower wages. And there is a simple, clear reason for that. In the global economy, no matter how hard people work, if you don't have the skills that will command high incomes, it is difficult to earn those incomes. We have simply got to make a commitment as a nation to revolutionizing the availability and quality of education, starting with the youngest preschoolers and going through adults who need it to get better jobs or when they're unemployed. And we have to do it together. It is the fundamental fact of our time.

When Congress comes back from its recession—excuse me, recession—whatever that—recess—[laughter]—school—it's a school day—the recess. When Congress comes back from their recess tomorrow, we will have 90 days of decisions about the budget, 90 days to choose what direction we're going to take. There's some good news for these children in the audience about decisions that have already been made. For the first time in over a dozen years, we now have a bipartisan commitment to balance the Federal budget and remove the burden of debt from our children and our grandchildren. That is a very good thing to do.

The question is, how are we going to balance the budget? I have given Congress a plan which recognizes both these fundamental truths: that we have to balance the budget and that we have to provide for education and invest in our young people's future. They are working on a plan that balances the budget, but by their own estimate only produces weak economic growth, in part because it cuts education. In California you have had enough of cutting education. We need to invest more in education, and we can do that.

I hope as strongly as I can say that you're going to see the most productive 90 days we've seen in a long time in Congress. We can balance the budget. We can end welfare as we know it. And we can invest in education and protect the medical care of our elderly and protect our ability to have a safe and clean food supply and environment. We can do all this in a balanced way if we'll work for common ground with common sense. That's what we have to do.

There are some who say that there should be no compromise this autumn, but I say that good people of good will want us to find common ground, want us to find honorable compromise, want us to balance the budget and keep faith with the children of America and their educational needs.

You know, I believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans of both parties are committed to an agenda of balancing the budget and investing in education. When I became President and we increased our investment in Head Start and added 50,000 more poor children to the Head Start rolls, it had bipartisan support. When we passed the Goals 2000 program to give schools the chance to reform themselves and to get more computers and other technology in the classroom and to have smaller class sizes and higher standards, it had overwhelming bipartisan support. When we began to help the States of this country to set up programs for young people who graduate from high school but don't go to 4-year colleges and still need further education to get good jobs and good wages, a school-to-work program, it had bipartisan support. When we established the safe and drug-free schools program to support the message to our young people that if you want to learn, you have a right to learn in safety and you have to learn without drugs, it had bipartisan support. When we expanded the availability of college loans and scholarships for lower income students and college loans for all students, we lowered the cost and improved the repayment terms, it had bipartisan support. There are young people here with AmeriCorps who are working in the communities of the valley and earning money to go to college. That program was created with bipartisan support.

Education is not supposed to be a partisan political football, and it should not be when the Congress returns tomorrow. We ought to all stay on the side of education.

I will be urging the Congress to adopt two new education ideas which will help the working families in this valley to provide for their future. Number one, there's going to be a tax cut; the question is, who's going to get it and what's it going to be for? I believe we ought to give a tax cut for working families to have the cost of their education tax deductible after high school: college education, training for technicians, unemployed people. That's the kind of tax cut I think we ought to have.

The other thing I hope they will do is to recognize that adults need education, too. I have urged the Congress to create a fund which would give to every person who loses a job in the United States the right to get a $2,600 voucher for a year for 2 years to take to the nearest community college, junior college, or other educational institution to get retrained if they lose their jobs and they need a brighter future.

One other thing I'd like to say: I want to thank the young people who were in that class with me today practicing citizenship, asking me tough questions, some of which I had never been asked before by anyone. I want to thank them for being an example of what I want for all of our young people.

One of the things that I feel very strongly about is that our schools have to teach good citizenship and good basic character and values: fairness and honesty, respect for self and others, responsibility. Those things are too often absent in our schools today.

And I'm proud to announce that through our Department of Education we have been supporting the spread of character education, basic principles of citizenship and personal character all across America. And today we are releasing four grants to four States, including the State of California, to make sure that we do everything we can to help our principals, our teachers, and our parents inculcate the values and character of good citizenship into our young people throughout this country.

So I ask you, my fellow Americans, without regard to your political party or your philosophy, to stand firm on this central principle. Tell the Congress and the President you want the budget balanced but you want us to invest in education and the future. We don't want to be pennywise and pound-foolish. We don't want to weaken our economy by balancing the budget. We want to strengthen our children's future by getting the burden of debt off of them. There is a plan that balances the budget and increases investment in education, and that's what we should do.

We don't need—we don't need—to take 45,000 children out of the Head Start program. We don't need to deny every State in the country the right to benefit from smaller classes and more technology and educational excellence in the Goals 2000 program. We sure don't need to stop helping the schools who need it with the safe and drug-free schools program. We don't need to stop helping people who want to go on to good jobs with higher skills but aren't going to higher education and 4-year schools. We need the school-to-work program. And we sure don't need to make college loans and college scholarships less available.

Look what's happened in California. We need more college scholarships. We need more college loans. We need more affordable education and higher education.

I have promised the Congress that I would never disagree with them without offering an alternative. I have given a balanced budget plan which increases investment in education. And on Thursday, I will talk more about how we can save even more money in this budget to put into reducing the deficit, balancing the budget, and investing in education.

But before you leave here today, I want to ask every adult American in this audience—you look at these children. You know they're our future. You know we're living in a global economy. You know that what you earn depends on what you can learn. You know it's more important to our whole country than every before. What do you want this country to look like in the 21st century? If you want a highwage, high-growth, high-opportunity society, if you want every American, no matter how humble their background, to have a chance to live the American dream, if you don't like the fact that too many of our people are trapped in a hard-work, low-wage future, then we can change it only if we decide to both balance the budget and invest in the education of our people. That is our commitment. I ask all of you to make it.

God bless you, and thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to student body president Eleanor Brown and Mayor Ralph P. Garcia of Selma, CA.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Selma Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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