Bill Clinton photo

The President's Radio Address

September 20, 1997

Good morning. We're living in a time of great hope and optimism and prosperity in our Nation. Our economy is booming. We've cut the deficit 80 percent and passed a plan to balance the budget. Crime and welfare rolls are dropping. But perhaps most important for the longterm future of America, this has been a banner year for education, too.

Our historic balanced budget is truly an education budget, with the largest new investment in education since 1965, from more children in Head Start to our America Reads program that will mobilize a million volunteers to make sure all our children can read when they leave the third grade, to putting computers in all our classrooms and libraries by the year 2000.

We've also had the largest increased investment in helping people to go on to college since the passage of the GI bill 50 years ago. The increased Pell grant scholarships and work study positions, the HOPE scholarship to help pay for the first 2 years of college, and other tax credits and IRA's, all these things will truly open the doors of college to all who are willing to work for it for the first time in American history.

But we can't rest. We have more to do in education to fully prepare our children to seize the opportunities of the new century. And especially, we all know we have to do more to improve the quality of public education.

I have called upon all Americans to leave politics at the schoolhouse door and to work together to provide our children with the best education in the world. And many have answered that call. Just last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 87 to 12, for voluntary national tests in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math, bringing us an important step closer to setting high national standards of academic excellence that will ensure that no child leaves our schools without mastering the basics.

Unfortunately, two events in recent days have jeopardized this essential progress in education. First, the same forces that have resisted education reform and high standards and accountability for years in the House of Representatives have voted against developing the national standards we need to challenge students, improve teaching, empower parents, and increase accountability in our schools. In effect, they've cast their votes against better schools and for a status quo that is failing too many of our children.

Second, the Senate narrowly passed an amendment that would undermine some of our most successful efforts in the last 5 years to strengthen our schools. National efforts to bring more charter schools to more communities, to bring computers to every classroom, to create safe and drug-free schools across our country, all these would virtually be abolished by an amendment which would throw all our education funds into a pot and distribute it in an arbitrary way to the States.

Today I'm going to see firsthand just how high these stakes are. I'm visiting the San Carlos Charter Learning Center in California, one of many charter schools across our country and in the State of California that are bringing new life, new energy, and new creativity into public education. Charter schools are established by educators with less redtape but higher expectations. Students must choose to attend them, and they exist only as long as they're doing a good job.

Our administration has been helping charter schools to get started all across our country, and our balanced budget contains funds to establish hundreds more of them all around America. This is an innovation we cannot afford to lose. Making sure every 8-year-old can read, every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old can go on to college, these are national goals, and we must support national efforts to meet them.

In the 21st century, our children must have a world-class education. We must strengthen our schools, raise our standards, insist that our students master the basics, and demand excellence at every level. So if Congress sends me partisan legislation that denies our children high national standards or weakens our national commitment to stronger schools, I'll have to give it the failing grade it deserves, and I'll veto it.

Bringing vital change and progress to our schools will take courage and the steadfast commitment of all. But throughout our history, we have always risen to the challenge of building better futures for our children. If we all work together, we are up to the task today as well.

Thank you.

NOTE: The address was recorded at 3:16 p.m. on September 18 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on September 20.

William J. Clinton, The President's Radio Address Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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