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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                     (Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard)
For Immediate Release                                    August 28, 1999
                             TO THE NATION

                            Edgartown School
                      Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week, students all over the country are getting ready for the first day of school. Like every year, parents will send their children off to school with new backpacks and fresh hopes that they'll get the world-class education they need and deserve. Today I want to talk about our continuing efforts to strengthen and renew our nation's public schools, by encouraging more choice, competition, and creativity.

For more than six and a half years now, Secretary Riley and I and our whole administration have worked hard to raise standards, raise expectations, and raise accountability in every public school in America. I have advanced a comprehensive plan to strengthen and renew our nation's schools, and education agenda for the 21st century -- from reducing class size to improving teacher quality, from modernizing and rebuilding thousands of schools to finishing the job of connecting every library and classroom to the Internet, from putting an end to social promotion to expanding after-school and summer school programs.

We've also worked hard to promote the creativity, competition and accountability that can turn around failing schools, and make our good schools even better. That's the big reason I've encouraged states to pass charter school laws and urge communities all across our country to give charter schools a chance.

Charter schools are innovative public schools started by educators, parents and communities, open to students of every background or ability. But they're freer of red tape and top-down management than most of our schools are, and in return for greater flexibility, charter schools must set and meet the highest standards, and stay open only as long as they do.

Also, charter schools don't divert taxpayer dollars from our public school system; instead, they use those dollars to promote excellence and competition within the system and in so doing, they spur all our public schools to improve.

I am proud of the progress we've made so far. When I was first elected President, there was only one charter school in the entire country. This year, there will be more than 1,700 of them. We're well on our way to meeting my goal of establishing 3,000 charter schools nationwide in the first year of the new century.

For an increasing number of families, charter schools are the right choice. In fact, there are now waiting lists at seven out of 10 existing charter schools, as more parents realize that more innovation and creativity can produce good results for their children.

Let me give you just one example. When Bowling Green Elementary School in Sacramento ranked third from the bottom in its district, parents and teachers decided they had to do something to take control and turn the situation around. So they set up a charter school there. Since becoming a charter school, Bowling Green has seen student performance soar -- with greater gains in test scores than any other school in the school district.

The charter school movement is a real grass-roots revolution in education. We must do everything we can to support it. Today, I am pleased to announce nearly $100 million in funding for charter schools all around America. These funds will help teachers and parents open new charter schools in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

They will help existing charter schools hire more well-trained teachers, buy more books, computers, and educational software, and ensure that classrooms are safe and accessible for all students. Finally, these funds will help charter schools develop accountability systems to measure whether they are meeting -- or exceeding -- state standards.

Charter schools are living proof of what parents and teachers can do to reinvigorate public education. Investing in them means investing in accountability and excellence, and a much better future for our children.

But just as our children are returning to class, the Republican leadership's risky tax cut plan would undermine these investments by forcing deep and irresponsible cuts in education and other important national priorities. So, as Congress comes back to Washington, let's remind them what the creators and the students of America's charter schools already know: We're all accountable for our children's future; and an investment in it is our best investment in all our future.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EDT