THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT DURING EDUCATION ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION Herndon Elementary School Herndon, Virginia
12:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say very briefly before I move on, you probably know this because you talked about how your school was growing. But I believe Secretary Riley, I think it was last year was the first year that we actually had a school class from kindergarten through high school bigger than the baby boom generation. And this explosion of children into our schools has created enormous strains on school districts all across America.
I was in a school in Florida -- I believe it had 17 trailers outside
THE SUPERINTENDENT: We have that beat, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: This was just one school, not a school district, and it was amazing. But there was an article in The Washington Post and in other newspapers over the weekend about the teacher shortage in America, and I'm very concerned about it. We have two proposals: One is to put 35,000 teachers in the most difficult and underserved areas in the country -- it's part of our budget -- the other would put 100,000 teachers out there across the country in the first three grades, to try to keep class size down below 20. And I think those things are very, very important. (Applause.)
One of the things I'm hoping I can to is to persuade the Congress in the next month to embrace the idea that we clearly have a national obligation now to support what is a national phenomenon, the explosion of the number of schoolchildren in our schools. So when you say what it did, it made me want to think about that.
I'd like to go on now to JoAnn Shackelford, because it seems to be a logical follow-up to what you about the diversity of your student body and teaching people to read and this Saturday Program, which I'm very interested in. It sounds to me like something everybody ought to be doing.
MS. SHACKELFORD: Thank you. First of all, I wanted to tell you, welcome to our school. We're so excited you're here. Miss Freeman is a hard act to follow, so I won't try. But I do have a few things to ask for. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Who picked this questioner? (Laughter.)
MS. SHACKELFORD: There's a couple. I'll be quick. Our staff, most of which are seated in the first three rows out here, firmly believe that all of our students can learn to read by the end of third grade, and they will then become lifetime learners, not only readers. But to achieve this goal, we are very convinced that we need smaller class sizes. (Applause.) And we also need intervention in the early grades before it's too late.
We have two programs here at Herndon that I'm going to talk a little bit about. The first one is one I know you're familiar with from Arkansas; it's the Reading Recovery Program. Reading Recovery teachers, there are two of us, work very closely with classroom teachers, which is the key to build a program for these students. And these are usually our lowest-achieving first-graders. And we build on their strengths and we make them become not only good readers, but lifelong readers. And we have been very successful here with that program.
It's really the highlight of my day when I come to work and I spend that two hours with my four Reading Recovery students and watch them learn to read; it's exciting. But because of our large size -- here comes the asking part -- (laughter) -- and only two trained Reading Recovery students, we're not able to reach all of our students; we have a long waiting list of students that would like to be, that need that support. So we would like to see this program expanded in all of our schools across the nation. (Applause.)
The second program that's probably the dearest one to my heart is our Excel Saturday Program. We fondly call it here "Saturday School." And if you came to our library and our cafeteria on any given Saturday, you would find about 90 of our students and about 60 to 70 students from Herndon High School and other area high schools who have actually gotten out of bed -- (laughter) -- to come here. And the high school students serve not only as the tutors, but as the mentors and as the role models for our students.
The teachers provide materials to help their academic skills, and we also try to encourage our English as second language students develop their English proficiency. We have four or five of our teachers every Saturday and four or five of the high school teachers here helping to provide guidance and encouragement for the program. So that is a large commitment from our staff and from Herndon High School.
We feel like this is a winning program for everyone -- not only for our students, but the high school students receive as much benefit as we do. One of the things that's fun to watch is they practice the languages that they're learning at the high school on our native-speaking children and on our French immersion children. So they're practicing, and yet the children are the teachers. It also gives them a wonderful opportunity to give back to their community, which is so important.
At the same time, Miss Freeman talked a little bit about it, we capture the parents and we're able to provide -- discuss parenting issues, and in my role we talk a lot about how important it is to read to children; but not only in English, but in your own native language. So that has been very beneficial. We also translate the meetings into Spanish or any other language that is needed that Saturday.
Now, what we would like is, we would like to be able to expand this program to serve more students, provide transportation for some of our students that aren't able to get here; we haven't done that in the past, and scholarships for some of our high school tutors so that they can go on. Many of our high school tutors are English as second language students themselves who have gone through the elementary school and are now in the high schools. So if we had more funds, we could do all of those things. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'd just like to make a couple of observations. First of all, I'll think about this high school scholarship thing. The only high school scholarships directly for service, community service, we have are the ones that I announced at Penn State a couple of years ago, where we give a modest scholarship that's matched in the local community to one person for outstanding community service in high school.
So we now have 1,000 colleges and universities providing reading volunteers through the America Reads Program to go into schools to help young children learn to read, and most of them are Work Study students, but a lot of them are not eligible for Work Study and they just do it anyway. There may be something we can do on that and I'll think about it.
The other thing I'd say is that I'm a big fan of the Reading Recovery Program. And if you look at the research, it has about the best long-term results of any strategy. But there is a reason for it; it's very expensive because it's so labor-intensive. And it's something that maybe Secretary Riley wants to talk about this a little bit.
We've discussed before that whether the generalized assistance we give to school districts for supportive programs like this, or the states which then the school districts get, should be more focused. And we've tried not to sort of pick and choose among the various reading strategies because of the limited amount of money and the large number of programs under way in the country.
But there's no question that the Reading Recovery strategy, particularly when you've got a lot of young people whose first language is not English, have had, I believe, the best long-term results, but it's because it's so labor-intensive and is quite expensive and it's something we need to look at.
Dick, you want to say anything about this?
SECRETARY RILEY: No, you said it correctly, that the funds that we give out from the federal government, we really try to have them flexible enough for you to use them for programs of this kind, but that specific decision probably should be a local decision. But, frankly, this reading by the end of the third grade we think is probably as important as anything in this country. And if a child is having difficulties, this concentration through the Reading Recovery Program just makes so much sense to meet that national goal.
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe we should go on now to, since we're talking about this subject, to Maria Gorski, who is a parent liaison. And you talked about involving the parents, so talk a little about that for us, Maria.
MS. GORSKI: Mr. President, welcome to Herndon Elementary once again. We are aware of your busy schedule and we appreciate your time here with us today. My concerns are about our children's parents who have two -- up to three jobs, and they don't have enough time to help with homework for their children, because of the language barriers and the lack of time to have family unity.
As the parent-liaison, I have the opportunity to observe and learn how parents feel frustrated not being able to fully understand the language, help their children and express their concerns about their children's education. Parents, through my own experience, have the willingness to learn the language and get better skills to have a better future.
As you know, if they learn the language, better opportunities, they can find better jobs and spend more time with their children. They have requested programs for after school and weekend tutoring for the children, and also for the parents, for themselves. Please support our existing United Neighborhood Program, which is being run by Captain Smith of the Herndon Police from Herndon and the volunteers from our community. It's a tutoring program that runs three nights as week, three evenings a week, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and the volunteers come and tutor the children.
I've been there a few times and the children, their grades improve a great deal. So far, it's been successful, but I said before, it's only -- runs with volunteers only. Please restore the funding which is with support programs like ours, and allows them to work better to make our community stronger. As you know, the future relies on our children and now is the time to think about them as well as for the parents.
Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. How many parents volunteer in this school? Do you know how many?
MISS FREEMAN: We clock the volunteers by hours that they spend in the school, but I would say if you're looking roughly for a figure, we have anywhere during the course of the year from 500 to maybe more than that in terms of volunteers coming in and out of the building. We also have, if you add to that number, volunteers that work from home and send in materials or make things for us so that we add those hours into the clocked hours for the year. So we have a large volunteer corps.
THE PRESIDENT: What about the children who have both parents work and maybe have two jobs? How do you work out time for them to meet with the teachers and --
MS. GORSKI: That's -- usually since that's on Saturdays, I do the translations for the Spanish parents, and the conferences sometimes in the evenings, in the mornings, early mornings. Sometimes, usually they have the day off and I try to work it out for their own convenience and their own schedule. It's very difficult, especially in November, for the conferences. But last year, we had a lot of them that they made the conference.
THE PRESIDENT: What about -- how does the school work? What does the Assistant Principal do to make sure that there are no fires started and everybody sort of shows up more or less on time and all of that? (Laughter.)
MS. ISAACSON: Well, life here at Herndon is very, very interesting. And, Mr. President, despite recent events in the past year concerning discipline and safety in the school, we at Herndon Elementary believe that schools should and need to be one of the safest places for our children. (Applause.)
Our teachers and staff are dedicated to meeting the challenge of educating and nurturing every child that enters their classroom. And by being proactive, we have fostered the importance of building a sense of community within the classrooms and throughout the school. Our teachers have been trained in discipline with dignity strategies and teach the pillars of character education. They get to know the children, they get to know the families. In fact, many of them go to sporting events and dance recitals and take the kids to Orioles ball games. We really have a very dedicated staff.
Our counselors work with the students to learn strategies to help themselves in peer mediation and conflict resolution. They, too, go out; they outreach into the community, into the homes. They run classes on parenting skills and also are a very integral part of the Excel program.
The administration is very visible. And the reason we are very visible is because we need to know the tone of the day. We like to avoid problems, we like to be proactive, and also to get the sense of the emotional state of our children. So we are visible by greeting them every morning, by being in the cafeteria for breakfast and for lunchtime. We try to model and convey that we care for our children and we are there for them, that they know who they can go to for help.
Our Go for the Gold program has really helped the children set expectations and accomplish their goals, academically and socially, and also our parents, our business partnership and our community has been a very integral part of the team by tutoring, by mentoring and for numerous volunteer hours.
Also, we have a very unique program here at Herndon called "Adopt a Cop." And our local police come in and have lunch with the children. And we find that extremely beneficial, because it has heightened the awareness of the children about safety in the school and within the community. So we are very, very proud of our staff and our community, proactive work in discipline and safety, because discipline and safety are important and are really some of the most challenging issues we are dealing with as educators today. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Last week, I went up to Worcester, Massachusetts and released there this handbook that Secretary Riley and Attorney General Reno did for all the schools on trying to identify children that have problems and trying to prevent things from happening before they go too far. But I've tried to emphasize to them that the schools -- still, schools are basically the safest places in the country for our kids. But when something goes wrong, it can be terribly tragic.
But I think it's important that the American people know that most schools have people like you in them and other people who are really working hard to do their part to help the children grow up in a safe, secure environment so they can learn. And I know Secretary Riley, he mentioned the Character Education Program; he's been promoting that and worked hard for it ever since we've been here, and I thank him.
What about the teachers? It's about time we heard --
MS. BELL: We're excited, Mr. President. I know at this time of the year, we're all setting up our classrooms and wondering when those students are ready to come in and meet us. But we also are realistic and look at the challenges that each individual child will bring to our classroom. And also, we need to think about how do we communicate with the parents? How do we share our expectations and how do we get them to work together with us as a team.
It's hard enough for seasoned teachers to prepare. But for brand-new teachers who are just entering the profession, in Fairfax County we feel it's important to provide a mentor so they can have support and encouragement and maybe somebody just to listen to their stories and to give them what they need.
We also provide a colleague teacher to anybody new to the county, but who has taught before, because across the nation, we do things a little bit differently. I think, too, we need to make sure that we can convince our middle school and high school students that teaching is a wonderful profession. (Applause.) We need to provide funding so maybe a child who is afraid they can't afford college can be provided that. But then, we also need to go one step further, and when they do choose education, make sure we're there as experienced teachers giving the support that a new teacher needs.
I think across the board in our school, we try to have a really strong mentorship program. And I think it goes across our staff. If you can share with one another, it just keeps building. Because as teachers, we never stop learning and we should never stop reaching out to help others. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: What's the most challenging thing that new teachers face -- first-year teachers?
MS. BELL: I think it's that first conference, sometimes, with the parent, or the first phone call and you're not sure what the concern is from the parent, because you want to establish rapport immediately with the parent, because if you establish that rapport, the rest of the year is so much easier. And so we need to reach out to our parents and make sure they know that we're there to work with them. And we need to share that with the beginning teachers. Don't be afraid of parents. (Laughter.) They're there to learn with us, and we must be there for them.
THE PRESIDENT: I could use her in any number of positions. (Laughter and applause.) We've got an airplane strike in the Midwest I think you could -- (laughter) -- and I'd appreciate it.
MISS FREEMAN: Mr. President, she's taken. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: But one of those parents who is sitting to your left, Mr. Lewis, you're the PTA President. First of all, I know this is not what you are going to say, but what do you do when you're not the PTA President and why did you decide to do this?
MR. LEWIS: Well, Mr. President, before I answer that question -- (laughter) -- by way of beginning, we at Herndon Elementary, along with the chorus of voices across this nation want to take this moment to commend you and your administration for your unwavering commitment to the notion of quality education for millions of schoolchildren in America. (Applause.)
We ask you, Mr President, to continue to press forward. Simply stated, Mr. President, we want to say that we appreciate you, and thank you. (Applause.)
Now, to answer your question specifically, Mr. President, my day job is with Communities in Schools, so I'm working with Bill Milligan; I know you know him. And, of course, we are the largest stay in school program in the nation, and we're in over 1,000 schools across the country, we serve over 350,000 to 500,000 schoolchildren a year. I have a deep, burning passion to help children to achieve their capacity and potential, as well as everyone around this panel and those that occupy the audience today.
My daughter, Christina Lewis, who is here with us today -- (applause) -- is a student at Herndon Elementary School, and it seems to me that everyone has an incumbent obligation to contribute to their community in every way they possibly can, and that brought me to the PTA. And let me say very quickly that the PTA is composed of teachers and parents and administrators that are world-class in every way and it makes my job very easy.
I do want to say, Mr. President, that in your Inaugural metaphor that you used to call the nation to action, that is, building bridges to the 21st century, the PTA at Herndon Elementary School is about building bridges, it's about connecting the disconnect, it's about building a community context around the school and every student within the school.
Secretary Riley has talked often about the fault lines in America, the emerging fault lines in America. And what we're about as a PTA is building bridges across those fault lines. And let me tell you how we do that, Mr. President. We build community around the school, around every student in the school, and we have something called "Guiding Principles" that inform our decision-making. There are 10, and there are 10 guiding principles because someone came down off a mountain once with 10 principles, so we try to approximate that.
Number one: We believe that within every child there is greatness. Number two: We believe that all children can learn. Number three: We believe that all children should be affirmed and validated. Number four: Every child should feel safe, cared about and capable. We call these four principles, the Principles that Produce Social Capital, that every child can draw upon in order to realize their capacity, potential, hopes and aspirations.
Number five: We believe that effective schools should have a abiding source quality. That is, we should constantly examine whether or not we are providing value for our customers in terms of adequacy, relevancy and effectiveness. Number six: We believe that effective schools should be learning organizations. That is, they should be open, responsive and adaptable. Number seven: We believe strongly in parent involvement. The literature tells us and experience tell us that when parents are involved in schools, children succeed in school exponentially.
Number eight: We believe that every child should have access to modern information technology and that technology should be integrated in the teaching and the curriculum. We believe that that is essential. Number nine: We believe that children in school should be embraced by a community of collaborative partnerships, that are needs-based focused. And number ten, Mr. President: We believe that every school in every school district should have a vision that is compelling, clear, and is consistent. We believe that these guiding principles, Mr. President, are imperative. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I would just like to say a couple of things and ask you one question. First of all, I want to thank you for your work with the Cities and Schools program. I brought it to Arkansas with Bill Milliken probably 15 years ago, and that's a long time ago. Secondly, I want to thank you for your work in the PTA and as a father who used to be an active participant in all our school events, I think it's a good thing to have men as well as women be present -- (applause.) And I think that's good.
How many members does your PTA have? How many parent members?
MR. LEWIS: Last year, 47 percent of the parent population of Herndon Elementary School were members of the PTA. This year, under the able leadership of Mary Mann, who is our Vice President for Membership, we expect to go to scale -- 100 percent. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'd say that's pretty good.
MS. MANN: We think big here.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Mr. Superintendent, are all your schools like this? (Laughter.)
MR. DOMENECH: Well, welcome, Mr. President, to Herndon Elementary and to the Fairfax County Public School System. We are the 12th largest school system in America with 152,000 students; and undoubtedly, we are the best school system in America. (Applause.) Clearly, the reason for that, I think, is demonstrated around this table. This is a community that values education, that treasures education, where the parents, the business community, the staff just give 100 percent for all of our children. And in spite of our size, it's a quality school system.
We are a microcosm of America. We have 39 percent of our students are minority students. But we don't see diversity as a weakness, we count diversity, really, as our strength. (Applause.) We have instituted a number of programs, and I think you heard a sample of those programs here that have been very successful for us.
Now, in spite of that, we want to continue excellence. And in order to do that and in order to meet the challenge of the 21st century, because we very much agree with you that the United States of America is the number one power in this country. But we only have five percent of the world's population. And what that tells us is that there isn't a single child that we can afford to lose if we treasure the future of this country. (Applause.)
The challenges that confront us, Mr. President, and the ones that we need assistance with is size. We -- you mentioned before visiting a school in Florida, well, the Secretary visited us this spring at Centreville High School, where we have over 40 -- we don't call them "portables," we call them "learning cottages." (Laughter.) That's at just one school. And you'll see that represented around the county. We have a problem in terms of facilities. We need dollars to construct new schools; we need dollars to extend facilities. Herndon -- you'll see a couple of learning cottages outside here as well.
Technology -- it's a major issue, a very important issue for us in education, but again, a big ticket item. We need help there. And definitely we need help in terms of class size. One of our -- (applause) -- one of our initiatives for this coming school year is a program we call "Success by Eight," and that translates into that by the time they're eight years old, by the third grade, we expect all of our children to be able to read, we expect all of them to on grade level in terms of math and the other studies. But in order to do that, we have to be able to create the kind of learning environment for them where the size is small enough that teachers can do the kind of job and the students can learn.
So those are important issues that we face, and we as a school system are making ourselves highly accountable, also, to our public and to our community. And we're saying this is what we expect to do, this is what we will do -- hold us accountable, because in turn, we get this tremendous support from staff and community and business. So we're happy to have you here, and we certainly look forward to your assistance, sir. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, I think this is a truly extraordinary school district. And I have done my part to promote you, you know, around the country -- (laughter) -- talk about what an amazing school district this is. Some of your schools, particular schools, are as diverse as any in America and a stunning array of people coming from different places. So I'm very impressed and I thank you for what you're doing.
I wonder if -- Secretary Riley, would you like to say anything before I talk a little bit about the congressional agenda?
SECRETARY RILEY: Let me say just a word, Mr. President, and then present you for some remarks. First of all, there was mention made of your speech about the early warning signs, those publications the President charged the Attorney General and myself to come up, including child psychologists and law enforcement people and teachers and all, and we're going to have that to you all within the next couple of days, and all of your schools, then, will have them and I think it will be a big help. It's a child-centered guide. It's not to label children, but to help them. And I think you'll find it very, very helpful.
I -- and what a grand panel this has been.
THE PRESIDENT: Didn't they do a great job? (Applause.)
SECRETARY RILEY: I had the chance to read a very good book a couple of months ago -- some of you might have read it -- "Cold Mountain." And Charles Frazier, the author, could do as much with the English language as anybody I've read lately. And Ada Monroe, his wonderful lead character in there, was making a statement about her father, who was deceased, who was a Methodist minister and from Charleston, South Carolina, in the book, in the novel, and which is -- South Carolina is my home.
Anyhow, associated with that, she said wonderful things about her father all through it, and he was a great community leader, and she said that "he talked of ignorance and developed strategies for its defeat." A lot of people talk about education and ignorance. The important thing, I think, for all of us, though, is to come together on strategies for improving education. No one -- no one has done more to present practical, common-sense strategies for improving education than our President. Whether it's standards -- (applause) -- raising standards, improving teaching, making schools safer -- all of the many strategies, many of which have been talked about today.
Bill Clinton has worked tirelessly to meet these challenges, to prepare America for this Information Age. And he's not just talked about improving education and he's not just talked about defeating ignorance. He has devised strategies to help make it a reality. It's a great pleasure for me, once again, to introduce to all of you in this wonderful audience, this grand panel, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: The way I was prepared for this, I was supposed to go up there to the podium and give a little talk and it's way too past that. (Laughter.) We've had too much fun. But what I would like to do is to outline to you -- there are six things that the Congress should pass that are in my budget that don't break the balanced budget, that are in our balanced budget that they can pass or not pass in the next few days that I think would really help our children a lot. Five of them bear directly on our schools, one indirectly.
But I'd like to just mention them so you would know, because I would like to see them get broad bipartisan support. I don't really believe we're best served when education is a partisan issue; I think we're best served when it's an American issue that crosses party lines. (Applause.)
First of all, I have given Congress a plan for smaller classes, better-trained teachers and more modern schools. Let's begin with the teacher shortage. You know what's acute here, it is profound in many places. Now, let me say one other word of introduction. There has been what I consider to be a legitimate question raised of me by many members of Congress who say, well, now, look, Mr. President, you're trying to get the federal government into financing things that the federal government has never before financed. We've never been into building or repairing schools, for example.
There are many states in this country where the states don't even do that, where it all has to be done at the local level, or putting 100,000 teachers out there for smaller classes in the early grades.
My answer is as follows: Number one, it's hard to think of a more important national issue. Number two, I'm not doing anything to interfere with the local direction of the schools or the states' constitutional responsibility to set the framework of public education. And number three, in some places like this district, the level of growth, and in other places the level of poverty, make it simply inconceivable that they can achieve these objectives otherwise.
So I think if we have the money, this is what we ought to do. (Applause.) But I want to prepare you in case any of you feel moved by the spirit to call or write your congressman or senator. (Laughter.) There is a legitimate historic pattern here where they'll say, well, you know, President Clinton's got a lot of energy, but he may have gone too far this time because the federal government's never done this. There is a reason we're doing it now. There's a reason we're doing it now. We have to prove that our elementary and secondary schools can be uniformly as excellent as our colleges and universities are and give all of our kids world-class education. And unless we do this, I am convinced there won't be the resources out there to get the job done.
So let me say first of all, the teacher shortage. I've asked Congress to pass a plan to help school districts hire 100,000 new teachers, all trained, tested and certified by state education authorities, targeted to smaller classes in the early grades. Again, where all the research shows, there are permanent gains if kids get the kind of individual attention they need in the early grades.
I've also asked them to help me support better teacher training programs not directed by Washington; those things that all of you know work, all educators know work. There is not today in my opinion a sufficient commitment to helping teachers continue to improve their skills, upgrade their skills, work with other teachers, to have the time necessary to try to continue to improve, to avoid burnout under all the pressures that they're under.
When I go out and talk to educators, there's really a lot of support for increased investment in teacher training. So I hope that Congress will fully fund this class size reduction program. It would give us down to an average of 18 children per class once we do it. (Applause.) The second problem is, it's hard to have a small class without a classroom. (Laughter.)
What did you call them, learning cottages? Learning cottages. That sounds like someplace you're sent when you misbehave. (Laughter.) Learning cottages. Anyway, so I have also presented a plan to help to modernize or build new, 5,000 schools. Next Tuesday, when I get back from my trip, the Secretary and I and others are going to hold school modernization days all across America to highlight our proposal which would provide tax credit to build or modernize or rebuild 5,000 public schools.
I have been to schools in this country where whole floors were closed because they were so old. But they're wonderful buildings. Structurally, no one could afford to build such buildings today because of the cost of construction. But if you go to an inner-city school, for example, think of what message it gives a seven-year-old child to walk up the steps of a school where the paint's peeling off and the windows are broken.
Think of the message you're sending your child -- you want to say, oh, every child is a treasure, all these things that your PTA President said; I believe every one of them. But sometimes, the actions speak louder than words. You can tell those children that, but if they have to keep walking up steps into broken-down buildings, do they really think we believe it?
The other day, I was in Philadelphia in a school -- the average school building, the average age of school buildings in Philadelphia is 65 years. That's the average age. Now, the good news is, those structures, by and large, are magnificent. The bad news is, a whole lot of them are in terrible shape and I think it's a worthy investment. I think it's a worthy investment of our money. (Applause.)
So, we want to give fast-growing districts like this one and districts with good structures but old, run-down buildings the chance they need to go forward. So that's the first -- more teachers for smaller classes and more classes.
Second, we want to fully fund my plan to equip our nation's classrooms with computers and cutting-edge educational software and to train teachers to be there to make sure that the technology is properly used. I want to hook up every classroom and library in the entire country to the Internet by the year 2000 and make sure that the software is good and that the teachers are trained to make the most of it. And we have to help you do that. You shouldn't have to fully fund that. (Applause.)
Third, I want to strengthen the charter school movement. There are some school districts that have been greatly advanced by letting teachers and others get together and start new schools within the framework of the school district where the whole district's not reforming, but they want to try something new. We've got now about almost 1,000 of those schools out there. When I became President, there was only one in the whole country. When I was talking about it in 1992, I might have been trying to explain the theory of relativity. Everybody thought I was nuts. (Laughter.)
But now, first we had one, now we've got nearly 1,000, and if my budget passes, we'll have 3,000 funded by the year 2000. Fourth, I want to continue to open the doors of college to all Americans who will work for it by reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. Now, that doesn't mean anything, so let me tell you what that means, that reauthorization. (Laughter.)
This legislation will help more children reach their potential by improving teacher education, it will help struggling communities to hire 35,000 well-qualified teachers, it will expand mentoring programs, something that you've already said is important to you, it will reduce interest rates on student loans, it will extend Pell Grants and the federal Work Study Program. We've taken it from 700,000 Work Study positions to 1 million in three years. So these things are very important.
You know, we have provided for lower interest rates on student loans, better repayment, 300,000 more Work Study slots, and now tax credits worth about $1,500 a year for the first two years of college, and then for junior and senior year and graduate school. I am determined that when I leave office, no American will ever, ever walk away from college because of the cost. We can open the doors to everybody who is qualified, and it's important. (Applause.)
Fifth, let's go back to what we were talking about on reading. We want to pass a bipartisan early literacy bill to help to train teachers and mobilize an army of volunteer tutors. Because as I said, we already have 1,000 colleges participating in this program, and I think it's very, very important.
Sixth, we have a general program to strengthen our schools that would expand Head Start, strengthen after-school programs for hundreds of thousands of children. This is a huge deal in areas with a lot of juvenile crime, with a lot of dangerous streets, with a lot of gangs. These after-school programs and summer school programs have dramatically reduced student problems while increasing student achievement, and I think that's very, very important. (Applause.)
We have a special initiative aimed at Hispanic young people because the school dropout rate is still much higher for Hispanics than for any other group, largely because of language barriers and economic problems. And we also have in this package program I just mentioned our Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. We've tried to take the initiatives that we know work in schools like this one and make sure they are in every single school in America.
Now, the bill that the House Republican Majority has proposed falls short of these goals in every single one of these areas. But it's not too late. The bill has to be considered in the Senate, then both the Senate and the House must vote on it. So I would implore you, without regard to your political party, just to contact your members of Congress, your senators, and ask them to support this agenda. We have the money.
We have worked hard to balance the budget. We've worked hard to show fiscal discipline, to get the economy going again. There is no more important area in which to spend the money now that we have it, and so I hope you will help us to do that. (Applause.)
Let me just say one final thing. The Senate tomorrow takes up the Summer Jobs Program. Now, that's not for this summer, but the one we just passed, but for the summer about to come. It provides more than 500,000 young people a chance to work. It is a Godsend to this country. And because of the funding -- federal-funded Summer Jobs Program, we have a lot of places which we are able then to go out and get other people to put up money to expand the program. For reasons I do not understand, the House Committee wants to disband it, and I think it would be a disastrous error.
It comes up in the Senate tomorrow, and again, this is fundamentally an education issue because if kids get in trouble over the summer or they have problems and they don't have something to do, or if they need the money and they can't earn it, it increases the chances that they'll drop out. So I hope that you will also support the Summer Jobs Program. The Senate is taking it up quite soon. I believe the Senate, across party lines, will vote to extend it, but we need help.
So I just wanted to close by trying to close this circle here. We started in this roundtable talking about what you are doing to give the children in your charge the future they deserve and a future America desperately needs for them to have. But we think we have a role here if we're going to build those bridges to the 21st century. And I've done my best to define that role based on 20 years now of working with people in education. I think it's a good agenda. Secretary Riley and I, ourselves, started working together almost 20 years ago on public education. I guess next year will be our 20th anniversary of working together on these things when we were young governors.
I know that you know that there are things we should do, and I believe if we don't be harsh and political in our rhetoric -- we talk about our children and what we know to be true of education, we can get a listening ear among enough thoughtful Republicans to join our Democrats to build a bipartisan coalition to do what the national government should do to help make possible more stories like the ones we've heard around this table today. That is my whole goal. And I know we won't have all the stories we need unless we also do our part. So I ask you: Whatever you can do to contact your representatives and senators, whatever you can do to make it clear that these are not partisan issues, these are people issues, and that our future is riding on it. If you can do that, I would be very grateful. And thank you for what you do here every day. Thank you. (Applause.)
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