Bill Clinton photo

Remarks in Wyandotte, Michigan

August 27, 1996

Thank you. Let's give them another hand. They were terrific, weren't they? [Applause] Wow! First, I think we ought to say to Justin and Elizabeth, there are a lot of people 3 or 4 or 5 times their age that couldn't get up in front of a crowd like this and do what they did. Let's give them another hand. [Applause]

That book, of all the hundreds and hundreds of books that Hillary and I read to Chelsea when she was a little girl, is probably one of our favorites. And you see it today. This was a mountain that Justin and Elizabeth had never been on, but they thought they could. And sure enough, they did, and I'm proud of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad to be in Wyandotte today. And I didn't know I was the only President who had ever been here as President. I like Teddy Roosevelt; he's one of my favorite Republican Presidents, one of my favorite Presidents ever, but he didn't know what he missed when he didn't stop when he went through here on the train.

I've got a lot of folks I'd like to thank. I'd like to thank the VFW Post 1136. Their color guard met me when I got off the train. It was a wonderful thing. Thank you. I want to thank the people here at the Bacon Memorial Library. It is a beautiful, beautiful building, and they gave me a few moments there to collect my thoughts. And I thank them for the work they do in this community.

I want to thank Joey Palamara, who was the program emcee before I came out. Thank you, Mayor DeSana, for making me feel welcome in your home town. Thank you to the Wyandotte City Council. I want to thank Dee Okray, principal of the McKinley Elementary School who met me when I came in. I thank the public school band, the high school band. And I want to thank all the teachers, the principals, the people who work in our school buildings and help to maintain them and feed our school children— all the people who are here today. I thank you for helping to educate our children.

I want to thank State Senator Chris Dingell for being here. Thank you, Dr. Patricia Cole, for the fine work that you do in this school system. I want to thank all the folks that made signs. I've loved reading the signs. And one lady brought my mother's book. Thank you for doing that. Hers is better than the one I just wrote. It's a wonderful book. Thank you for all these signs.

Let me say that Hillary and Chelsea would love to be here today, but they have already gone on to Chicago because Hillary has to speak there tonight. And Chelsea spent yesterday on the train with me, but she wants to be there with her mom when she speaks. So they're not here, but I know they would love seeing this.

Let me also thank all the people in the community. That beautiful old house across the street with the bunting—I don't know who put the bunting up, but all the things that anyone in this community did to make us feel so welcome, we thank you very, very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to say a very, very special word of thanks to two of the best friends I have in the United States Congress, Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Dingell. You should know that there are no people in Congress who work harder, who are more scrupulously honest, and who labor more diligently for the economic interests of the people of this district and this State and for the values that have made America strong.

I don't know how many times one or the other of them has come to see me in the last 4 years to try to get me to do something to create jobs in Michigan, to advance the economy of Michigan, to make sure that our workers are being treated fairly in global trade. Day-in and day-out, month-in, month-out, they are up there working hard. And it made a profound impression on me because you don't see what I see, and I'm there, and I see it. Every day, in every way, it's not just speeches for them; it's hard work. They're there for you, and I appreciate them, and I know you do, too.

Folks, I have loved taking this train trip through America. We have been in West Virginia and Kentucky and Ohio. This morning I was in Toledo, where I watched an American automobile plant where they make Jeeps roll off their 2-millionth Jeep in the oldest operating auto plant in America. It goes back to 1910. Last year, because of the partnership we have established when I was in Japan, I went into a dealership, and I sat in a Jeep in a Japanese dealership made in Toledo, Ohio, by American workers. That's the kind of thing I want to see more of.

On this train trip, we're saying to the American people—number one, I wanted to go on a train trip to Chicago so I could stop in towns like Wyandotte and look into the faces of the people I've been trying to work for for the last 4 years. But I also wanted to say that this train is on the right track to Chicago and also on the right track to the 21st century for America.

The people of Michigan, with all their diversity in the economy and the diversity of our citizens, coming from all walks of life, all faiths, all races, doing all different kinds of things for a living, know as well as anyone that we are going through a period of profound change in how we work, how we live, how we relate to each other, how we relate to the rest of the world.

I sought the Presidency because I wanted to make sure we were prepared for the 21st century, because I wanted us to go roaring and united into the next century with the American dream alive for everyone, with every person in this country who's willing to work hard having the chance to live out their dreams and live up to their God-given potential. And we are moving in the right direction to meet that goal.

I have followed a very simple strategy; I think it's the basic American bargain: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and then telling every single person, if you will be responsible, if you will seize your opportunity, if you believe in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, you don't have to tell us anything else. We don't care what your race is. We don't care what your religion is. We don't care where you started out in life. If you're willing to work hard and share our values, we'll join arm in arm with you and walk together into the future. You're a part of our America.

Yesterday in Ohio I talked mostly about responsibility and especially about our responsibility to make our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods safe for our children, to bring down the crime rate. Today I've been talking about opportunity. In Toledo we talked about how we work together and how management and labor work together to create hundreds of new jobs and how America, after 20 years, is now number one again in the production and sales of automobiles because of what we have done.

Here, I come to this library with all these schoolchildren because their future is our future and because we need to talk about another kind of opportunity, educational opportunity, without which America cannot triumph in the global economy, in the information age of the 21st century.

We've been making some progress on opportunity in Washington. Just last week, as Mr. Dingell said, I signed a bill to raise the minimum wage for 10 million Americans, including 325,000 here in Michigan. But you know, even in Michigan, the manufacturing capital of the world, there are most people working for small businesses. So that minimum wage bill also contained a tax cut for small businesses that invest more in their business to create more jobs and income, and it contained provisions making it easier for small-business people and their employees to take out pensions and to keep those pensions when they change jobs, and that's very important.

And there's a third thing that that bill contained that I believe every single American, without regard to party or conviction, can agree on; that bill did some dramatic things to encourage the adoption of children who do not have permanent homes. It gave a $5,000 tax credit to families who adopt a child, a bigger one if the child has a disability. And it removed the historic barriers to cross-racial adoption. There are hundreds of thousands of kids out there who need loving, strong parents in good homes. This bill did it. This bill was good for workers, good for business, good for families. It was a great American bill, and I'm proud of it.

I also signed the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill to make 25 million Americans more eligible for health insurance by simply saying you can't be denied health insurance anymore if somebody in your family gets sick and you can't lose it if you move from job to job. That is a dramatic step for guaranteeing health access to all. And I thank you, John Dingell, for your lifelong commitment to health care for all Americans. And I thank you, Senator Levin, for your support of that bill.

Now let's talk about education a minute. I have worked hard to increase the quality and the availability of education, to expand Head Start, to expand the chapter 1 program so that it helps more poor children reach their full potential, to help school districts and local schools set high standards with grassroots reforms, to give more authority to principals and teachers and parents to basically chart their own course. I will say again, I am grateful for the people who give their lives to education, and I don't think it serves the cause of education to attack the people who are educating our children and carrying our future.

We have increased college scholarships for deserving students. We have made dramatic strides in making the college student loan program more affordable and giving better repayment options so that young people can now choose to pay those loans back as a percentage of their future income, and they need never drop out of school or refuse to go just because they're worried about the burden of repaying the loans. That's a terribly important thing that has been done.

Let me say that even though we know we have got a good ways to go, there is a lot to be encouraged about in our country. National math and science scores are up. SAT scores are up. The SAT scores in math are now at a 24-year high. ACT scores have gone up 3 out of the last 4 years. And as Dr. Cole said, that's an America that is more diverse, culturally, racially, religiously, and economically, than ever before, and we're still moving forward into a bright new future with improving education.

But we have to do more. Not every child has access to the same information and learning every other child does. By the year 2000, I want to see every classroom in this country not simply have computers and teachers well-trained to teach them how to use them but connected to the information superhighway so that every child in the poorest inner-city school, the most remote rural district, the standard middle class community, and the wealthiest school districts— they all have access to the same unlimited store of information that is the key to our future.

I want to see our Nation become involved for the very first time in helping our schools rebuild their dilapidated facilities and build new ones, because we will have the largest number of young people starting school this fall of any class in the history of the United States of America, and they need to have good schools to attend.

We want to help States work to set high standards and systems of accountability, so that when people get a diploma it will mean something. We want to open the doors of college even wider. Perhaps this is the most critical thing for those of you who are already out of school or about to be out. We need, in the next 4 years, to make at least 2 years of college as universal as a high school education is today. And that's exactly what I propose to do. I want a $1,500 tax credit refundable to every family who needs it to go to a community college, to pay for 2 years of education after high school. I want every college student, including the parents as well as the kids that are going back to college, to be able to deduct the cost of college tuition up to $10,000 a year. That will revolutionize the cause of education in America.

But before that, we must make sure that basic learning is taking place. I told you the good news. Now let me tell you some of the challenging news. Over the last decade, our country has worked hard to raise math and science scores, but reading scores have stayed flat. And it may be because a higher and higher percentage of our young people come from countries and families where English is not their first language. It may be because a lot of our young people live in homes where the parents are having to work two jobs, sometimes three jobs, and don't have enough time to spend with them reading. But for whatever reason, we know that our reading scores have not increased as much as our math and science scores, and we know that unless we can read, we will not be able to take advantage of the future or understand the past. That's why Justin and Elizabeth were up here, "The Little Engine That Could" pointing us the way to the future. That is what we have to have: a Justin and an Elizabeth in every single home in the United States of America.

I have come here to this wonderful community to ask all of you to join me, without regard to your political party or your views on other issues, in a simple, straightforward, critical national goal: All America's children should be able to read on their own by the third grade, every single one of them.

Look at what we know. We know that students who can't read as well as they should by the third grade are much less likely even to graduate from high school. We know that without reading, the history books are closed, the Internet is turned off, the promise of America is much harder to reach. We know the children who can read can learn from our Founding Fathers, explore the limits of the universe, and build the future of their dreams. If we're going to ensure that those are the children of America's future, they need not only the best possible teaching in school, they need individualized tutoring, help with their homework before school, after school, and over the summer, and they need more parents involved in helping them to learn to read and to keep reading.

To meet this challenge we need one million tutors ready and able to give our children the personal attention they need to catch up and get ahead. Today I propose a national literacy campaign to help our children learn to read by the third grade, a plan that offers 30,000 reading specialists and volunteer coordinators to communities that are willing to do their part, people who will mobilize the citizen army of volunteer tutors we need, America's reading corps.

We will only succeed, however, if the 30,000 are joined by legions of volunteers, seniors, and teenagers, business and civic groups, libraries and religious institutions and, above all, parents. We have to build on the groundwork we have been laying by AmeriCorps, our Nation's national service program. Today I am giving AmeriCorps a new charge: Make reading central to your mission.

Let me tell you what they have done already. Let's just take one place. In Simpson County, Kentucky, a county in rural Kentucky, 25 of our young AmeriCorps volunteers helped 128 second-grade students make up almost 3 years of reading progress in just one school year. We can do that. We can do that.

All over America, efforts like this are working. And in several places in America, organized attempts to train, galvanize, and energize parents are making a difference. We worked hard on that when I was the Governor of Arkansas, I've seen the program work in Missouri. Parents should be their children's first teachers, and we should give them the support they need to be those first teachers.

There are a lot of things you can do for your children, but nothing will do them much more good in the long run than reading to them every night. I can still remember as many of Chelsea's books as she can. Some of them I can almost remember by heart, because kids want to hear the same ones over and over and over again. But when they grow and they learn to read on their own and you see their imaginations fire and you know their lives are going to be richer because of it, then every single tired night a parent spends reading a book to a child is a night well worth it. Every dollar we spend bringing in people to help these kids after school with personal tutoring is a dollar well worth it. We know our children have to spend more time reading and less time in front of the television set. We know—we know that if every single parent would just spend a half an hour a night reading to their children, within a matter of years there would be no issue about whether our third graders could read as they should. We know that.

We know, too, that the private sector can help. Let me say that one thing I'm really proud of in America is the way the business community is moving to change its standards of what's good for business. I was proud when I visited that Chrysler plant in Toledo that they gave their workers an average bonus of $8,000 a year last year because they all made money and they thought the workers were entitled to their fair share. I'm proud of that.

But I want you to know something else; when we passed the telecommunications bill not very long ago to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the telecommunications industry, we also required new TV's to give you, the parents of this country, a V-chip so that parents will be able to control what their younger children see and not see inappropriate material. But it wouldn't work if the entertainment industry hadn't stepped up to the plate and said, "We're going to start rating television shows the way we rate movies, and we're going to give that information to parents and let them make their own decisions." And now the entertainment industry is working with us to create 3 hours more of prime time educational television programming a week in the next couple of years. People are moving in the right direction. We need more of that.

So let me leave you with this thought: We've got 10 million more jobs, a million and a half fewer people on welfare; the crime rate is coming down; child support collections are going up; America is growing together and going forward; wages are rising for the first time in a decade. But the most important thing we have to do is to make sure our children are ready for the 21st century. And I want you to join with me in saying, one way we're going to do that is to make sure every single boy and girl in America can read on his or her own by the time they're in the third grade. Will you do it?

Thank you, and God bless you. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. at the Bacon Memorial Public Library. In his remarks, he referred to students Justin Whitney and Elizabeth Schweye; Michigan State Representative Joey Palamara; Mayor James DeSana of Wyandotte; and Patricia Cole, superintendent, Wyandotte Public Schools.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in Wyandotte, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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