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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 26, 2000
                              TO THE NATION

                             The Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Last month, in my State of the Union address, I called on Congress to help us launch a 21st century revolution in education, guided by our faith that every child can learn. This morning I'm announcing new steps to do just that -- to provide tools for states and local communities to turn around their worst performing schools, or shut them down.

If our nation is going to make the most of the promise of the new economy, we must help every American make the most of their God-given potential. But students can't aim high in schools that perform low. Every child deserves a high-quality education.

Over the last seven years we followed a common-sense reform strategy -- invest more in our schools, and demand more in return. I'm proud that our administration has enacted the largest investments in education in three decades, while, at the same time, working hard for higher standards, greater accountability, and extra help so that all children can meet those high standards.

It's working. Across our nation, reading and math scores are on the rise. But in spite of this progress, too many schools in our poorest neighborhoods still fail to offer a quality education, and too few of these failing schools ever get enough help to turn around.

That's why I challenged Congress last year to pass my plan to establish a new school accountability fund to help states and local communities to fix failing schools. Together we enacted a landmark initiative to provide $134 million to states and school districts this year alone. Today I'm releasing official guidelines to ensure that these funds are invested in what works.

We're taking two unprecedented steps. First, under our plan districts and states will soon receive money dedicated entirely to turning around failing schools. This accountability fund will enable districts to take firm measures, putting in a tougher curriculum, helping teachers get the skills and training they need, and if necessary, closing down a failing school and reopening it under new management or as a public charter school.

Second, my plan also expands public school choice. For the first time ever, we'll require that districts give students in a chronically failing school the option to transfer to a better performing public school.

We know accountability works because that's what the experience of local communities tells us. Two years ago, for example, North Carolina drew up a list of the state's 15 worst performing schools, and sent assistance teams to each school. Just a year later, reading and math scores shot up and 14 of those 15 schools improved their performance enough to be taken off the list. I've been to schools all over our country that are achieving in the very same way.

Ultimately, of course, it's up to states and local communities to take the reins and turn around a failing school, but the federal government must play a key role by granting more flexibility, demanding more accountability and investing more in education. With today's action, we're declaring as a nation that we will not fail our children by tolerating failing schools.

We must do more. In our budget for the coming year, I'm doubling the size of the accountability fund to $250 million and doubling our support for after-school and summer school programs, so that every child in a low-performing school has the opportunity to participate. I ask Congress to do its part and make these vital investments.

Again, I also ask Congress to pass my Education Accountability Act, which will make our schools even more focused on results. We must stay on track to hiring 100,000 high-quality teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. We must fulfill our commitment to build and modernize public schools. And we must invest in efforts to mentor disadvantaged students to help them understand that if they learn what they need to learn, they can all now go on to college.

This entire strategy is rooted in fundamental values: everyone counts; everyone deserves a chance; everyone has a role to play, and we all do better when we help each other.

Fixing a failing school isn't easy, but communities are proving every day that it can be done. So we must continue to invest more and demand more. We owe it to our children and to our future.

Thanks for listening.