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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (Owensboro, Kentucky)
For Immediate Release                                        May 3, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY

                          Aboard Air Force One

10:10 A.M. EDT

MR. REED: First off, no questions on biotech. I haven't had a chance to bone up on that yet.

I want to just talk for a minute about what we're doing in Kentucky. The purpose of this stop, and the focus of the entire tour, is on turning around low-performing schools. The reason we're going to Kentucky is that the state has a phenomenal record in targeting and turning around failing schools. In 1996, Kentucky identified 175 low-performing schools, targeted them for special help and intervention, and by 1998, 159 of those schools had actually not only met but surpassed the state's goals for them. And we want the rest of the country to do what Kentucky has done in identifying and turning around failing schools.

The particular school that we're going to, Audubon Elementary, is a terrific example of how this can be done. Six years ago, this school was among the worst schools in the state. As the press paper outlines, it was in the 12th percentile in writing, the 5th percentile in reading, and the 0th percentile in science. Now, it's gone from 12 percent to 57 percent in writing, 5 percent to 70 percent in reading, and 0 percent to 64 percent in science.

Q Sixty-four?

MR. REED: Sixty-four, yes, sir. And the school has done a number of things, including reduced class sizes. And the President will actually visit a class that has a teacher hired under our 100,000 teachers program -- and at the school, they refer to her as the "Clinton teacher."

He is also today signing an executive order directing the Secretary of Education to take additional steps to turn around low-performing schools. The executive order asks the Secretary to, for the first time, publish an annual report of data from the states on the number of failing schools, and what states are doing about them; and second, to send teams to the states to monitor whether the states are complying with existing accountability requirements under the '94 law that we passed, and to help states effectively turn around low-performing schools by identifying other federal programs that they could make use of, like class size and after-school.

And all of this takes place with the backdrop of a stalled congressional debate on education reform. We're not going to wait for Congress to act. We're going to keep pressing forward to turn around low-performing schools. And we want to take our case to the country, with a clear message for the Congress that it's time to invest more in our schools and demand more from them. We need accountability and more investment.

So far this year, Congress has come up short on both counts. Senate Republicans are currently about to bring to the floor a bill that backtracks on accountability, and actually weakens the accountability requirements that we passed in 1994. And they are outlining tax and budget plans that under-invest in education. As the President and the Vice President have said, some of the Republican plans put as much as $100 in new tax cuts for every new $1 in education, and we think that's wildly out of proportion to the urgency of the problem.

I guess that's it.

Q Bruce, how much did you ask for, for class reduction and new school construction money, in your budget proposal? And how much did the Republicans fund in what they passed last month?

MR. REED: Well, the Republicans have -- they just passed a budget resolution. They haven't determined their allocations for particular programs. And I believe that the House will start debating in committee an Education budget next week. We haven't seen the details of that, but if the past is any guide, congressional Republicans have consistently fought us year after year on school construction, fought us on class size -- although in each of the last two years they went along with it in the end.

And they've outlined an overall budget structure which, as Jack Lew pointed out in his speech yesterday, has the wrong priorities and will make it extraordinarily difficult to get the math right for education.

Q Can you remind us how much you asked for, for FY '00?

MR. REED: In this year's budget, we have a school construction request of $1.3 billion for repairing schools, which will help repair about 5,000 schools a year. We also have a school construction tax credit proposal that didn't change this year. And I think the five-year cost of that is about $3 billion, but that's not an exact figure, that would help modernize 6,000 schools.

On class size, we asked for $1.7 billion, up from $1.3 billion, which was the enacted level last fall. That would allow us to get to 50,000 of the 100,000 teachers; right now we're at about 30,000.

And we have other important budget requests: for $1 billion for after-school programs, which would serve 2.5 million kids; a $1 billion increase in Head Start, the largest increase in the program's history; and an overall Education budget increase of $4.5 billion, which is a 12 percent increase over last year.

Q Will the executive order address school construction at all? Is there anything the President can do?

MR. REED: On school construction, the President is releasing a guidebook later in the afternoon that you will get on the way to Davenport, and highlighting a study that was reported on in the Post this morning by the National Education Association that showed that the nationwide need for school construction funding has grown to $322 billion, which is about double what GAO had estimated four years ago when we first put our school construction proposal on the table.

But to answer your question, there is little that we can do by executive action to solve the school construction problem.

Q Just to clarify one thing on the numbers, the $1.7 billion that you referred to for the class size? You said now, you've already funded 30,000 teachers --

MR. REED: Yes, 30,000.

Q -- that will take you to 50,000? Or that will increase it by 50,000, to 80,000?

MR. REED: -- take us to 50,000.

Q When did the President set the 100,000 goal?

MR. REED: That was in the '98 State of the Union.

Q Ninety-eight.

Q The $4.5 billion, that's the overall increase --

MR. REED: Overall Education budget increase.

Q Increase?

Q And that's a five-year number, or a one-year number?

MR. REED: A one-year number. One-year number.

Q You said that the Senate bill that will be on the floor backtracks. Can you be a little more specific? What are they doing that you don't like?

MR. REED: The Senate Republican bill includes a program that they call the Straight-As bill -- we would grade it differently -- that allows states to waive all the accountability requirements and set their own bar. So, for example, a state that wanted to take part in the Straight-As program would get its federal education funds in a block grant, and then be allowed to grade itself on its own progress. And all the incentives in the bill are for governors to set their sights low, to pick a target that they can meet. Under the terms of the deal, they don't even actually have to meet the target, they just have to show progress toward it.

We have done an enormous amount over the last seven years to give states more flexibility. The President signed an Ed-Flex law, and Secretary Riley has eliminated more than half of the regulations at the Education Department. So we're very much in favor of flexibility. But we believe that accountability has to be part of the bargain -- that for too long the federal government has invested in education assistance without insisting on results in return -- and that we ought to be going the opposite direction from what Congress is doing. We ought to be demanding higher accountability. We ought to be setting our standards higher. And the President has proposed requiring all states and school districts to end social promotion the right way, hire qualified teachers, identify and turn around low-performing schools, and take other measures that will help to lift performance among our poorest students and close the achievement gap.

Q -- incentive in an election year for the Republicans to come any distance toward your proposals?

MR. REED: Well, we continue to hope that this election year might be a year Republicans decide to be for education. And the purpose of this tour is to increase the chance of enacting school reform legislation and a strong school reform budget this year, before Congress goes home to face the voters.

Q What role, if any, did the Vice President play in this tour planning, or having a voice in this executive order?

MR. REED: The itinerary for this trip, and the places we'll visit, the actions we're taking, were all designed by the White House, working with the Education Department, to do for school reform what the -- and shine a spotlight on the needs of low-performing schools -- the way the New Markets tours have shown that we can't leave anyone behind in the new economy. So there was very little role, if any.

Q Are these Republican districts you're visiting, any of them?

MR. REED: We have a wide variety of local politics on this trip. Governor Patton is a Democrat in Kentucky, Paul Patton. We are going to, I believe, a -- it's a Republican Congressman's district in Owensboro. It actually is along the border of two Republican districts. They're both conservative districts, and I honestly don't know if they're contested seats.

Q -- they are?

MR. REED: It's Lewis and Whitfield. Then, Davenport is on the border of Iowa and Illinois, in the Quad Cities area. That is Leach's district, he's a Republican, and again, an established incumbent. The governor there is a Democrat, Tom Vilsack.

Then in Minnesota, you all know who the governor is. The district is a Democrat, Bruce Vento, who's retiring. And then Columbus, a Republican governor, Taft, Democratic mayor, Coleman. And the congressional seat I believe is John Kasich's. He's retiring.

Q -- back to the numbers. You said that it's a 12 percent overall increase in --

MR. REED: Yes.

Q -- Ventura expected to put in an appearance tomorrow?

MR. REED: Governor Ventura has been invited, but we have not heard back yet whether he's going to take part tomorrow.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. REED: Thanks.

END 10:27 A.M. EDT