THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATIONAL PTA LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE The Washington Renaissance Hotel Washington, DC
9:15 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Katherine. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here with you. More importantly, I am delighted to have you here with me. I need all the help I can get. (Laughter and applause.) I feel like reinforcements have just arrived. (Laughter.)
I want to say, too, a special word of thanks to the PTA for presenting Secretary Riley the PTA Child Advocacy tomorrow. He's here with me. And I think he's done a magnificent job. And I thank you for giving him that award. (Applause.)
Such a beautiful sort of premature spring day outside. I almost feel that we should be having recess instead of class. (Laughter.) But unfortunately events compel us to have class, for we are in danger of forgetting some of our most fundamental lessons.
I want to start by thanking a kindergarten class taught by Linda Eddington from Jackson Hole, Wyoming -- (applause) -- for the wonderful letters they sent up here with her. I reviewed the letters. I had some favorites. Charlie Wheeler said, "You are a good paper-writer, because you practice." (Laughter.) My favorite letter, regrettably, was unsigned, otherwise I would be writing a letter back. It said, "You're one of the best. I never have seen you, but I like your speeches." (Laughter.) I am sending to the Congress today a proposal to lower the voting age to five. (Laughter and applause.) We might get better results. (Laughter.)
I want to thank the PTA for now nearly 100 years of help to children and to parents and to schools. The PTA has meant a lot to me personally. I have been a member of the PTA -- Hillary and I both were active when I was the Governor of Arkansas. Essie used to come sell me my membership every year. (Laughter.) And I actually paid and actually -- (laughter and applause). You know how Presidents never carry any money anywhere they go? (Laughter.) I brought some money today, because I knew she was -- (laughter). I did. (Applause.)
I also, besides being an active member of the PTA, and spending a lot of time at Chelsea's school, had a chance to work with the PTA for a dozen years in my state, and throughout the country as we worked to implement the recommendations of the Nation at Risk Report, starting in '83. And then we worked up to the national education goals in '89. And then, of course, ultimately culminating in my service as President in the last two years.
At a time when many of our most important citizenship organizations have been suffering and civic institutions generally are often in decline, the PTA has grown, as parents have come back in droves to understanding that they had to do more to make their children's education work and that they had to be involved.
PTA embodies the three ideas that I have talked about so much for the future -- opportunity, responsibility and community -- what we call the New Covenant.
This is a period of profound change in the life of America and in the lives of Americans. There are many things going on which are wonderful, exhilarating, exciting, and others which are profoundly troubling. The biggest challenges we face on the eve of this new century relate to our economic and social problems, which threaten the middle class economics of the American Dream and the mainstream values of work and family and community. We see it everywhere in every community. About half of the American people are making the same or less money than they made 15 years ago.
We have an enormous divide opening up within the great American middle class based largely on the level of education. And in spite of the fact that -- and I'm very proud of the fact that we've had an economic recovery that has produced the lowest rates of unemployment and inflation combined in 25 years, and 6.1 million new jobs; a whole lot of Americans are still worried about losing theirs, or losing the benefits associated with their job -- their health care, their retirement, or never getting a raise.
And in spite of the progress we are making on many fronts, there is still an awful lot of social turmoil in this country, from drugs and violence and gangs and family breakdown. And these things are profoundly troubling to the American people. So we have a lot of good news and a lot of bad news. And a whole lot is happening. In 1993 we had the largest number of new businesses started in the United States in any single year in the history of the country.
So we're all trying to work through this as a people, as we must. I believe our common mission must be to keep the American dream alive for all of our people as we move into the next century, and to make sure our country is still the strongest force for peace and freedom and democracy in the world. To do that, we've got to have a strong economy. We've got to be able to grow the middle class and shrink the under class. We have to support all these wonderful entrepreneurial forces that are bubbling up in our society. We have to dramatically change the way government works. But our goal must be, always, always, the same -- to make sure that every American has the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. And that is what the PTA is all about.
Education has always been profoundly important in American life from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson talked about it a lot. But it has never been more important to the prosperity and, indeed, to the survival of the American we know and love than it is today -- never. (Applause.)
Now, as we move away from the Cold War and the industrial age into the post-Cold War era and the information age where most wealth generation is based on knowledge and technology is changing things at a blinding pace. We know that there will be big changes and there must be in the role of government. There's a huge debate going on here in Washington which can be seen in almost every issue about exactly what the role of the government should be as we move toward the 21st century.
On the one side is the largely-rejected view that Washington still knows best about everything and that there is a onesize -fits-all big answer to every big problem in the country. On the other side is what you might call the Republican Contract-view which is that the government is the source of all the problems in the country, and if we just had no government, we'd have no problems; and unless something is going on at the state and level that they don't agree with, in which case they want federal action. But, basically, that's the argument stated in the most extreme forms.
I believe that the truth is somewhere both in between and way beyond that. I believe we have common problems that require common approaches. I believe we need a government in Washington that is leaner but not meaner, one that does not pretend to be the saviour of the country, but does not presume to sit on the sidelines, either. One that, instead, is a partner in working with the American people to increase opportunity while we shrink bureaucracy, to empower people to make the most of their own lives and to enhance the security of the American people, both here at home on our streets and around the world.
I believe that such a government would promote both opportunity and responsibility. And I believe that such a government should have clear priorities that put the interests of the American people first, the interests of all the American people.
Now, there are strong feelings on both sides of this debate. And a lot of what is said may be hard to follow. But I think it's important that we keep in mind what is really the issue. The issue is, how are we going to get this country into the 21st century? How are we going to give our children and our grandchildren a chance to live out the unlimited aspirations of the human spirit, and to fulfill the traditions of America.
Now, let's look at this thing on an issue by issue basis. There is broad agreement that we should cut the size of government, that we should send more responsibility back to the state and local level, and that we should work more in partnership directly with citizens -- with businesses, with other organizations, and less in a regulatory government-knows-best way. There is broad agreement on this. Indeed, we started this movement.
But the question is, how do you implement these challenges, and what does the government still have to do? For example, I believe we should downsize the government, but I think we should invest more in education, training, technology and research. Why? Because I think it's in our interest. (Applause.)
It looks to me like walking away from our opportunities to succeed in the global economy and to develop the capacities of all of our people, at a time when we have so much diversity in our country and the world is getting smaller, so all this racial and ethnic diversity is a huge advantage to us; at a time when we have people who have phenomenal abilities who live all over the country in tiny, tiny places and big, big cities, to walk away from our common objective of developing their capacities, it seems to me, is not very smart. I just don't think it makes much sense. And I don't think that any theory of what we should or shouldn't be doing should be allowed to obscure the clear obligation we all have to help our people get into the next century. This is about a fight for the future.
Now, let me put it another way. It seems to me like trying to cut back on education right now would be like trying to cut the defense budget in the toughest days of the Cold War. Because that what -- our competition for the future, our security now, is going to be determined in large measure by whether we can develop the capacities of all of our people to learn for a lifetime. (Applause.) That is it. (Applause.)
For the 12 years before I came here, there was this political tug of war where government was regularly bashed, but the deficit quadrupled and we walked away from our obligations to invest in our future. For the four years before I came here, we had the slowest job growth in America since the Great Depression. For two years, we have worked very hard here to both create more opportunities and insist on more responsibilities. And we're making progress. The deficit is down. The federal government is smaller by over 100,000. We're on our way to the smallest federal government since Mr. Kennedy was the President. We have more jobs, more police on the street, more prosperity, than when I took office.
And we have invested more in our children. In the last two years, we have, I believe, had the best year in terms of legislative advancements for education that we've had in 30 years. (Applause.) And I might say, it was done in a largely bipartisan way. We expanded and reformed Head Start. We passed an apprenticeship program for young people who don't go on to four-year colleges, but do want to move into good jobs after high school. We made college loans more affordable and the repayment terms better for millions and millions of middle class and lower income students. We made a new commitment to help you to get drugs and guns out of our schools and to end the mindless violence that too many of our children still suffer from. And of course, with your help, we passed Goals 2000 -- something that was very, very important to me and very important to you. And it's a clear example of government as a partner, not a savior and not on the sidelines.
No one disagrees with the fact that education is largely a state matter when it comes to funding, and a local matter when it comes to teaching and learning. But global education and global competition will go hand in hand. There must be some idea in our country of the world class standards of excellence we need to really meet the challenges of the future.
As Secretary Riley reminded me when we were governors working together and the Nation at Risk Report came out, that's what the name of the report was, and it came out in a Republican administration. It was a nation not -- at risk, not one place here and another place there and not somebody somewhere else. It was a nation at risk.
And Goals 2000 responds to that. It sets those standards, reflecting the national education goals that were adopted by the governors in 1989, working with President Bush and the Bush administration, plus a commitment to continuing development of our teachers, plus the very important parental involvement goal that the PTA got in this -- (applause).
If it was a good idea last year with bipartisan support, it didn't just stop being a good idea because we had one election. We worked for 10 years on this in a bipartisan way. It didn't stop being a good idea because we had an election. That is not what the election was about. It was not about turning our backs on world- class excellence in education and a partnership to make our schools better and the support that you need to succeed in all of your communities. That was not what was going on.
The success we've had in the last two years is building on what has been done in the last 10 years. You know, after all, I think it's important to remember that there's been a lot of progress in our schools in the last 10 years. To hear these folks talk about it, you'd think that it's all gotten worse and only because we had a Department of Education in Washington -- ran the whole thing into the ditch. (Laughter.) I don't know what they're doing in Idaho today, carrying the burden of the Department of Education around all day long in their schools. (Laughter.) That's the kind of talk we've got.
The truth is that kids are staying in school longer, more of them are going to college, math and science performance is up, because we emphasized, we worked on those things. We did it together. Are there a lot of problems? You bet there are. But this country is the most remarkable experiment in diversity of all kinds in all of human history. And we are doing better because we are working together and setting goals and working as partners. And that's what we should continue to do.
Dick Riley in a way has been perfectly suited to be the Secretary of Education at this time. I can't imagine why anybody would want to abolish his job after watching him do it for a couple of years. (Applause.)
I'd just like to point out something to the people who say on the other side that the answer to our problems in education is to abolish the Department of Education. I noticed one of the Republicans leaders said the other day that they had actually -- the Department of Education actually made things worse.
Well, here are the facts. There are fewer people working in the Department of Education today than were working for the federal government in education when it was part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the '70s. That's an inconvenient fact for the people who want to abolish it. (Laughter.)
Here's another interesting fact. Secretary Riley has proposed to end in this present rescission package that we sent up, or in the coming budget, 41 programs, and to consolidate 17 others -- 58 of the 240 programs in the Department of Education. Inconvenient facts for those that are saying that it's terrible, and they're throwing money away. It happens to be true.
But we don't agree with what they're trying to do in the House -- to cut $1.7 billion from education, to eliminate all the funds for the Safe and Drug-Free School Program -- all the funds at a time when, disturbingly, young people are beginning to use drugs casually again, forgetting that they're dangerous and illegal, when schools still need the funds they need to be literally more secure in difficult areas. They want to eliminate all the funds in that bill for teaching homeless children, all the funds for the parent resource centers, which you know are very important. We're dealing with a lot of parents, folks, who want to do a better job by their kids but need some help and some support from people like you who have been showing up in the PTA for years, some of you for decades. (Laughter.) They need it. (Laughter.) -- kid stays in school. (Laughter.) Listen, I got to keep laughing. Otherwise, we'll be in tears thinking about this. (Laughter.)
They want to eliminate much of the money for computers and new technologies. The amount they propose to cut from Goals 2000 is equal to all the funds now allocated for poor and rural communities, and all the funds necessary to help 4,000 schools raise their academic standards. And they want, of course, to cut back on the school lunch program.
Now, how are we going to cut? Dick Riley found a way to cut 41 programs without doing this. This school lunch program is a mystery to me. Everybody wants to cut funds in the Agriculture Department because the number of farmers is smaller.
You know what we did? We finally concluded a world trade agreement so that our competitors would have to cut agricultural subsidies, so we cut agriculture subsidies. And then we realized we had basically an outdated structure in the Agriculture Department. The best line in the '92 presidential campaign was Ross Perot's line about the employee at the Department of Agriculture who had to go to the psychiatrist because he lost his farmer. (Laughter.) Because the number of farmers had gone down.
So what did we do? We closed 1,200 agricultural offices. They want to cut the school lunch program. I think we know how to cut better than they do. (Applause.) I think that's the way to do it. (Applause.)
So let me say again, every effort we had in the last two years from Head Start, to apprenticeships, to Goals 2000, to the reformation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- everything we did was done in a bipartisan way. And now, we see education becoming both a partisan and a divisive issue again. We cannot walk away from this. You need to be here.
You are the reinforcements for America's future, and I want you to go up there today and say that. Say this $1.7 billion in a $1.5 trillion budget is a drop in the bucket, and it should not be eliminated to pay for $188 billion in tax cuts. It should not. (Applause.)
You know, I want us to have the right framework here so that you can go back home and do your job. I've done everything I could and Secretary Riley's done everything he could to devise Goals 2000 so that we would really have a partnership. We'd say, here are some resources, here are the goals, here's what we know, you decide how to implement. We want more responsibility for principals and teachers and parents at the grass-roots level. We want less control of education in Washington. We have done a lot in the legislation that we have passed to reduce the degree of federal control and rulemaking below that which previous administrations imposed. But we don't want to walk away from the kids and the future of this country. (Applause.)
I want to just mention one other thing. I want to thank Secretary Riley again for taking the lead in creating the National Family Involvement Partnership for Learning. It includes many members of the private sector, more than 100 organizations, including the PTA. He's been proposing seven basic steps for all parents to take. And I like them so much that I want to repeat them for every parent now here at the PTA meeting, because if these things are not done, then our efforts won't succeed. And if these things are done, then our efforts here become even more important to support the parents who are doing them.
Find more time to spend with your children. Read with them. Set high expectations for them. Take away the remote control on school nights. (Laughter.) Check their homework, check their grades, and set a good example, and talk directly to your children, especially to your teenagers about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the values you want them to have.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. That's about as good as it gets. (Applause.)
Let me say again in closing my remarks, I am doing my best to work in good faith with this new Congress. There are deep trends going on here which can make this a positive time if we stop posturing and put our people first. We do have to change the way government works. We need dramatic reform in the government. And we are working hard to get it.
But what is the purpose of all this? The purpose of all this is the same purpose that you have. To elevate the potential of the American people to make the most of their own lives, to keep the American dream alive and to guarantee a future for their children. So go up there on Capitol Hill and remind everybody that we need to work together, tone down the rhetoric, and put the kids of this country and our future first.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END9:43 A.M. EST