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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 6, 1999
                             TO THE NATION
                            The Oval Office                            

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week, we learned the good news that our efforts to raise academic standards for our children are beginning to pay off. The National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, released state test scores on Thursday that show that our children's reading scores have risen, with some of the greatest gains in states that once scored below the national average.

Today I want to talk to you about what I think we must do to build on our progress, by putting more teachers in the classroom and reducing class size in schools around our country.

We all agree that to build a stronger nation we must build up our nation's public schools. I have proposed a comprehensive education agenda to strengthen and improve our schools with more accountability, higher standards, more volunteer reading tutors for young children and mentors for teenagers, with Internet connections in every classroom, and with more well-trained teachers in smaller classes.

As any parent, teacher, or school principal can tell you, smaller classes make a huge difference in our children's lives. Studies show that teachers in smaller classes spend less time on discipline and more time teaching. Students spend less time competing for attention and more time learning. Students in smaller classes out-perform their peers.

For children in struggling communities, from remote rural areas to inner-city neighborhoods, small class size is even more critical. And with school enrollments at record highs and expected to keep rising, we must act now to reduce class size in all our nation's public schools.

Across the country, more and more communities are recognizing the importance of smaller class size and trying to do something about it. To help them meet this challenge I called on Congress early last year to pass my initiative to reduce class size by helping school districts hire 100,000 highly-trained teachers. I'm pleased that Republican members of Congress joined with Democrats and did the right thing in making a big down payment toward meeting our goal.

Today the Department of Education is releasing guidelines that will let every school district in our nation know how much money they will receive and how best to use the funds to reduce class size in time for school this fall. But communities deciding now whether to hire and train new teachers for next year need to know whether they can count on the commitment Congress made last year to help them reduce class size for years to come. It is time to finish the job.

Now, this week the Senate and House will vote on a bill that gives states the flexibility they need to improve their public schools and spending federal aid they receive. I support this bill. But I also strongly support efforts by Senators Murray and Kennedy, and Representatives Clay and Wu, to add an amendment to it that will fully fund 100,000 well-trained teachers over the next six years.

Unfortunately, Republican leaders are trying to shut down debate on the Ed-flex bill before this important amendment on more teachers and smaller classes can even be voted on. Now, last October, just before the election, Republicans joined us in promising the American people more teachers and smaller classes. Less than five months later, we now have the first big test of whether this Congress is really willing to work together across party lines and with the White House to get things done for the American people; whether the Congress is serious about giving our children the education they need and deserve.

The choice is simple: Are we going to give Americans smaller classes, or more partisanship? Are we going to put politics ahead of progress, or put 100,000 teachers in our nation's classrooms? I call on the Senate to allow an up or down vote on the Murray-Kennedy class size amendment, and I urge every senator to vote for it. When it comes to our children's future, politics must stop at the schoolhouse door.

Thanks for listening.