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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 26, 1999
                             TO THE NATION

                            The Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This month, schools across America are letting out for the summer, and beginning to plan for the fall. Today I'd like to talk about what we must do to help our schools prepare for the school year ahead and prepare our children for the future, by reducing class size in the early grades.

For six and a half years, our administration has made improving our children's education one of our highest priorities. This year, in my State of the Union address, I outlined a plan to help our schools, our teachers, and our students meet high standards. The plan would hold states and school systems accountable for fixing failing schools. It would require teachers to be qualified in the classroom in the courses they teach. It would insist that we put an end to social promotion, but to do it in the right way -- by investing in our children and in our schools, from funding after-school and summer school programs to modernizing and rebuilding 6,000 schools across our country, to finishing up our commitment to hook all of our classrooms up to the Internet by next year.

Reducing class size is one of the most important investments we can make in our children's future. Recent research confirms what parents have always known -- children learn better in small classes with good teachers, and kids who start out in smaller classes do better right through their high school graduation.

But in far too many of our schools, 30 or more students are pressed desk-to-desk in a single classroom. Too many teachers have to spend more time maintaining order than maintaining high academic standards. And with the largest school enrollments in our history still to come, the problem is only going to get worse.

Now, if we're serious about preparing our nation to succeed in the 21st century, we must do more to help all our children succeed in school. That's why last year I asked Congress to commit to reducing class size to 18 in the early grades. And with bipartisan support, Congress approved a big down payment on my plan to put 100,000 well-prepared teachers in the classroom.

I'm pleased to announce that later this week we'll deliver on our promise -- with $1.2 billion in grants to help states and local school districts begin hiring the first 30,000 well-trained teachers for the new school year. That means by the time children go back to school this fall, communities in all 50 states will have more good teachers and smaller classes in the early grades, where it matters most.

Now we must finish the job. Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who are backing away from their commitment to reduce class size. Last year, Congress came together across party lines to make this promise to the American people. They should come together again this year to keep it. I think a promise made in an election year should be kept in the years when there are no elections.

So, today, again I call on Congress to put politics aside and put our children's future first, and finish the job of hiring 100,000 highly-trained teachers. We know smaller classes will help them succeed in school. We know higher-quality teaching will help them succeed. We already have the plan to make it happen if Congress keeps its word.

We've got a chance to use this time of prosperity to improve our children's education and to help them make the most of their lives. This isn't a partisan issue anywhere in America; it shouldn't be in Washington. Schoolchildren get the summer off, but we should make this summer a season of progress -- for our children, our schools and our future in the new century.

Thanks for listening.