THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION AT NATIONAL PTA CONFERENCE
Washington Renaissance Hotel Washington, D.C.
9:45 A.M. EST
Q We thank you, Mr. President, for your remarks. I think everybody out in the audience was saying, yes, yes, that's what we've been talking about for the last couple of days.
I think what we see is a certain amount of frustration because we've worked very hard over the last few years on children's issues. We have worked very closely with Secretary Riley, the Department of Education to get the kind of funding that we felt we could use from the federal government down to the locals without a lot of attachments to it saying, this is what we want for our children's education. And now we see some of those programs that we started off supporting being brought up and being looked at for possible cuts. And we agree with you, it's not the place to cut.
We have a real concern with such things as the elimination of the Department of Education, vouchers, the entitlements, what's going to happen with School To Work, school violence. Our list is long. And we'd like to have some dialogue with you on some of these issues so that we have a better feel with what's going on.
I think one of the things we've found in the last couple of days is we have money figures from one side. We need to get the money figures on some of the other points of view that are coming forward because when we talk about block-granting some of these programs, we don't really know what will happen in our state. We have no concept about how this will play out when you get down to the states, bring the money down to the locals. We need to know this so we can really get a handle on the dialogue and on the issues before us.
I think the best thing, since we've talked about it -- you brought it up -- was the Department of Education. How serious do you think that is with the possibility of that program going? And I think Gloria has some specifics on what she'd like to address if you don't mind.
Q Mr. President, I realize from your speech -- I mean, our concern is what is your gut reaction to eliminating the Department of Education. The PTA fought many years ago, and it's been almost a decade, to establish the Department of Education. Boy, we would hate to lose it. And from your speech, I can see that you would, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, for one thing, you have to ask yourself, why would they do this? First of all, there's a burden -- why would you do it? And there are only two reasons to do it -- to save money or because you think it's doing bad things or it's useless. And I noticed the other day that the majority leader of the Senate said that it was one of those departments that had done more harm than good.
Now, most of the time it's been in existence the Department of Education has been under the control of Republican Secretaries of Education. Maybe they did do more harm than good -- (laughter) -- I hadn't really thought so until he said it. But maybe we need to reexamine that. But Secretary Riley has not done more harm than good. He's done more good than harm by a good, long ways.
And I think that it's just sort of fashionable now. I think the truth is that there have been big commitments made in terms of tax cuts -- mostly for upper-income people -- and big commitments made in other areas. And so, they are looking for ways to save money. But this is not a good place. This is not the right thing to do. And we have worked very hard to have what I consider to be the appropriate level of partnership.
Now, on the block grant issue, generally, let me just say I'm not against all block grants. I strongly supported the community development block grant, for example, which the states get and which bigger cities get, and then they get to decide how they're going to use it to develop the economy and make reports on an annual basis to federal government. I think that's fine.
We supported in the crime bill last year more block granting, more flexibility to states and localities in prevention on crime and crime prevention programs because programs that work in one community may not work in another. They know what works best there.
We've now given 26 states waivers from federal rules to implement welfare reforms in their own states, because they know more about it. But let's not kid ourselves, the school lunch program was proposed for block granting just to save the money, because it works the way it is. And we've made some significant improvements in the school lunch program. Last year, with your support, as you know, we got the nutritional standards up, we made some changes. The only reason it was proposed for block granting is because block grants are in, they're fashionable, they're ala mode today. And that's the way they could save some money.
If you add all this money up, it's just not very much money in this big federal budget, and you could argue that we could be doing much more for education, but I think it's very hard to argue that we should be spending less. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, in light of the fact that it seems the majority of our parents across this nation have a thing that we would call fear of sending our children to school -- our history has shown to us that when our children went to school, they were going to a very safe and secure place and no one ever worried whether their children were not going to be safe in that place. I know that you have promoted many things in your crime bill, but I really do think that at the grass-roots level we really need to concentrate on getting the confidence back into our schools and communities about the violence that is going on. How can the PTA help you in that area? What kinds of things can we partner on that can change that direction and focus?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the first thing I would say about that is that in the absence of security, not much learning is going to occur. You know that. We know that there are thousands of children who stay home from school every day because they are afraid of what might happen to them in school. We see constantly examples of violence both in school buildings and then in the near vicinity of schools.
Now, what we tried to do with the Safe and Drug-free Schools Act, because there was violence in the schools and in the perimeter, is to provide some funds for things like security devices, metal detectors, things like that, but also more enforcement officers in the outside of school. Then I think you must have, the PTA and all the other committed groups in the country that care about the schools, but especially the PTA has to work with every school district to make sure that there really is a functioning security policy.
You know, there are schools that are very safe environments in very high-crime areas in this country. So it's simply not true that there are no schools in high-crime area that are safe. There are schools that are quite safe in very high-crime areas because of the security policies they have and because of the leadership and the discipline and the organization of resources that have been adopted, and because they've gotten a lot of parental help often.
And so my recommendation is that you identify the schools that you think have done the best job in the most difficult circumstances, figure out what they did, and make sure every PTA chapter in the country has access to that knowledge, and then if we can get these funds and help out there, that you spend them in a way that will maximize the security in the schools in your area.
It's a huge deal, and there's no way -- this is the kind of partnership we need. I mean, there's no way in the world the federal government can tell anybody how they should secure one, two or three schools because they all have different circumstances.
Q Mr. President, congratulations on your School To Work Initiative. I know that started way back in Arkansas. Having said that, I hope the federal government doesn't back off. What should states be doing? What should local school districts be doing? And what do parents need to know about this initiative?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the federal School To Work Initiative essentially tries to build on the work that's being done in states now. When I ran for President, I was fond of talking about the fact that we were the only advanced country in the world that had no real system for dealing with all the young people who finished high school, but didn't go on to four year colleges; and that, while most jobs in the 21st century would not require four-year college degrees, most jobs would require at least two years of some sort of education and training after high school. And we already saw in the difference between the '80 and the '90 census what's happening to the earnings of people who don't have post high school education and training.
Therefore, in terms of the long-term stability of a middle-class lifestyle in America -- that is, the idea that if you work harder and smarter, you might actually do a little better year in and year out -- this School To Work system, the idea of putting into some sort of apprenticeship development system in America, may be the most significant thing we can do to raise incomes. And so what our system does is to provide funds to states to help to build their own systems according to the best information we have and to build on the systems that states are working on.
And your right. I did a lot of work on this at home because I became so alarmed, even as we got the college going rate up, that, though we increased it quite a lot, there are all these people out there that were still just cut loose after high school. And we have to put an end to that. The best way to protect that program here is to -- for every state to aggressively get with the Department of Education and begin to participate as quickly as possible.
That's the same thing with the Goals 2000. Secretary Riley's probably going to talk about this tomorrow, but I think we're on track for over 40 states to be involved in that pretty soon. And so the more states get involved, the more people get involved at the local level, the more it's Democrats and Republicans and independents, it's not a political deal, it's education, the more likely we are to continue to go forward with this.
Q Good morning, Mr. President, once again. I want to switch gears for just a moment and talk about the entitlement program. Many of us come from states where the entitlement provides very basic services for kids who cannot speak for themselves, such as the housing, health services. These entitlements are always -- are the first ones where people say, we want to cut, we want to cut, we don't need them; we want to get rid of the lazy parents, and all this. What can we do as a PTA to ensure those parents and those kids that there kids will not be forgotten in this political atmosphere that we're facing now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, it's important for me to point out to all of you, if you talk about the entitlements, that an entitlement -- let me say, an entitlement is a program in which there is no predetermined amount of money to be spent. That is, if you need it under certain circumstances, the money will flow. A nonentitlement is a program where the Congress appropriates a certain amount of money every year and you spend that, and it runs out and you don't spend anymore.
Entitlements basically fall into three categories. One is -- the best example is agricultural entitlements, where the farm programs are set up like that because the farm economy will change from year to year, you know, based on not only weather conditions and crop conditions in the United States, but all around the world. And it's necessary to sort of even out the farming cycle.
The other programs, and by far the biggest entitlements today are Medicare and Medicaid, the medical programs. And the main problem with the federal budget today is not discretionary spending and education, is not defense spending -- both discretionary spending and defense spending have been going down for the first time in 25 years -- it's entitlements in health care, health care costs going up by more than the rate of inflation and the accumulated interest payments on the debt run up between 1981 and 1993, when I took office. That's basically what the big problem is with the budget.
The other entitlements are entitlements basically for poor people, generally. And except for Medicaid, they, by and large, have not kept up with inflation, but they do provide a safety net. So if there is going to be a move away from those entitlements, the burden is on those who would move away to say, how are you going to care for these poor children?
Now, I like the Women, Infants and Children program, I like the School Lunch Program. I think these programs have worked pretty well for us over time. And we have an interest -- all of us do -- in not going back to the days when children were basically living in very brutal conditions. And I think there is a national interest in the welfare of the children.
I'm all for having the states have more flexibility about how to do these things, but I think there is a national interest in helping states to keep a floor under the lives of our children. Not every state is as wealthy as every other state. Not every state has the same priorities. So, having a system that uniformly says we ought to have a quality of life for our poor children that we believe that all of our children ought to have a chance to get to the starting line is pretty important.
What does the first education goal say?
Q Ready to learn.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Every kid ought to show up ready to learn, right? Not just intellectually, but physically able to learn. My argument is, if I were making your strategy, I would say that we represent the PTA, and our schools can't succeed if, by the time our kids show up for school, their deprivations have already been so great that they will never overcome them, and that the rest of us will pay a whole lot more in tax money and social misery later on down the road if we back away from our obligation to get these kids to school ready to learn. (Applause.)
Q We want to thank our panelists this morning, to our board of directors. And to you, President Clinton, our very deepest gratitude for being with us and talking to us about these issues that are so vital to all the young people in our country.
I know that I speak for everyone in this room when I say how much we appreciate what you've done and what you're going to continue to do -- (laughter) -- to protect the rights of children -- (applause.) And in return, we pledge to you our help, because we want to make sure that things are right for them. Children are first on our agenda, and we know that they are first on yours. And we appreciate that.
And just as a memento, we have a little paperweight, with PTA on it, so that you can have a memento of this occasion of the time that you spent with us this morning. And again, thank you, sir. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Bless you. (Applause.)
END10:00 A.M. EST