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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 15, 1997
                            RADIO ADDRESS
                        BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
                            TO THE NATION

10:06 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This is Vice President Al Gore. President Clinton asked me to fill in for him this morning as he recovers from yesterday's successful operation to repair a torn tendon in his knee.

The President's doing great, he's resting comfortably and he'll be back on his feet -- both of them -- very soon. He wanted me to thank all of you who have sent your prayers and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Over the past four years, our country has made real progress. The American economy has produced nearly 12 million new jobs. Family incomes are going up and the poverty rate is going down, and we've had the biggest drop in the welfare rolls in our nation's history.

But we face new challenges in a competitive global economy. And the one thing that will most determine our success or failure is the quality of the education we give to all of our children. That is why President Clinton has made education our nation's number one priority for the next four years. And in recent days, he and I have traveled the country to stress the importance of all Americans working together to make American public education the very best in the entire world.

Here's our goal: By the year 2000, every eight-year-old can read. Every 12-year-old can log onto the Internet. Every 18-year-old can go to college, and every American can keep on learning for a lifetime. And the President has proposed a plan of action to reach this goal and to improve American education.

We must start by focusing on our youngest children. The President's balanced budget plan will expand Head Start to one million children. And this week the President and the First Lady announced that they will host the first White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning. We also must open more charter schools that stay open as long as they meet high standards. And we must make the 13th and 14th years of schooling as universal as high school is today.

And the cornerstone of this plan is to raise standards so we make sure our children master the basics. We have challenged every state to adopt high national academic standards, and then by 1999 to test fourth graders in reading and eighth graders in math so that all of our children, no matter where they live or what their backgrounds, will have the same chance to make the most of their lives and their futures.

Last month, the first two states, Michigan and Maryland, announced plans to adopt these tests. And on Thursday, President Clinton spoke before the North Carolina Legislature where Governor Jim Hunt announced that North Carolina would become the third state to adopt these standards.

The national government is also taking responsibility for the schools it controls. The Department of Defense runs a school system as big as that of the State of Delaware, educating 115,000 American children at bases here and around the world. This week, the Department of Defense schools asked that their students be among the first to take the new tests when they become available. Starting in 1999, students in American classrooms from Wiesbaden to Okinawa to Camp Lejeune will learn the same rigorous material and take the same national test as students throughout the country.

On Thursday, as the President was traveling to North Carolina, I traveled to California and spoke to that state's legislature about another element of our education crusade, a national effort to reinvent the way we finance public education, to reorganize our schools in harmony with the principles of the knowledge economy. This reinventing public education effort will begin not in Washington but in communities across America. Its goal is to enlist everyone concerned about the education of children, from parents to school administrators to students themselves, to begin asking some fundamental questions about their public school systems -- in particular, how school dollars are spent.

In an age of tight budgets, we should be spending public funds on teachers and children, not on unnecessary overhead and bloated bureaucracy. Yet any educational progress we achieve is at risk if our children are asked to learn in a landscape littered with peeling paint and broken glass. With student populations at an all-time high, many of our schoolhouses are now at an all-time low -- rundown, overcrowded, and stuck with ancient technology or no technology at all.

One-third of our schools now need major repair or outright replacement. Sixty percent need major building repairs to fix sagging roofs or to repair cracked foundations. Forty-six percent even lack the basic electrical wiring to support computers, modems, and modern communications technology.

This has become a national problem and it demands national action. That is why yesterday the President sent new legislation to the Congress to provide federal assistance to help local communities and states rebuild the nation's schools. The Partnership to Rebuild America's Schools Act will provide $5 billion over the next four years to help upgrade old schools and build new schools. This will spur $20 billion in investments for school modernization by states, localities, and the private sector.

We urge Congress and communities to step up to this challenge. We simply cannot ask our teachers to build up children in buildings that are literally falling down. Our children deserve to be held to the highest standards, to learn from school systems that focus on teaching and not bureaucracy, inside school buildings that shine as brightly as their hopes.

On all these fronts, we are working hard to prepare our people for the 21st century. We will keep at it, and we ask for your help. Thanks for listening.

END 10:12 A.M. EST