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President's Remarks to Students, Teachers and Tutors at Chicago Elementary School

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary
(Chicago, Illinois)

For Immediate Release September 25, 1998


Jenner Elementary School
Chicago, Illinois

12:05 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. There aren't all thatmany 6th graders that could do that and be less nervous than she was. Shedida great job, didn't she? Thank you, Gina, thank you. (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am so glad to be here today. Ithankthe Mayor for his extraordinary work. And I want to thank Secretary Daley,too, for being a truly remarkable Secretary of Commerce. My old friend,JohnStroger, thank you for being here. I'd like to thank the Board members oftheChicago School Reform Board -- Gery Chico and the other members who arehere.I thank Paul Vallas, your CEO. I thank your principal -- thank you foryourgood work here. It's been my experience that all good schools have a goodprincipal. (Applause.)

I want to thank Gina again. I'm sure the first time shewasasked to do this, this was just one step above going to the dentist, youknow.(Laughter.) And I thought she did a superb job. (Applause.)

I'd like to thank Joanne Alter, and all the people who areinvolved in the WITS program here in Chicago. I believe in this sostrongly.Last year we arranged to have students from a thousand colleges anduniversities go into our elementary schools to help to tutor, to try tofollowthe sterling example you have set here.

To all the parents, the teachers, the educators, thetutors,the students, thank you. I'd also like to thank Mary Lou Kearns for beinghere, for her work in health care and for presenting herself as a candidatefor lieutenant governor. And I'd like to thank Glenn Poshard who wanted to behere, but I wouldn't have him anywhere else -- he's back in Washingtonvotinga tough vote so close to an election, voting not to give an election yeartaxcut before we make sure we've got the budgetbalanced and we save Social Security for the 21st century. It isthe right thing to do, and I thank him for that. (Applause.)

And we're glad to have Glenn's wife, Jill Poshard,here with us. Thank you, Jill, for coming. We're glad to seeyou. (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I told the Mayor on the way inthat he ought to put me on the payroll because I've become such ashameless advocate for the Chicago public schools. But I want totell you why. First of all, I am deeply gratified by the successof our country. Most of the credit belongs to the Americanpeople. But I think our policies have had something to do withthe fact that we have the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years,almost 17 million new jobs; the lowest crime rate in 25 years;the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years; thelowest African American poverty rate since statistics have beencollected; the lowest inflation in 32 years; the highest realwage growth in more than 20 years; the highest home ownership inhistory; and in just six days, the first balanced budget andsurplus in 29 long years. (Applause.)

I have been particularly grateful to the people ofIllinois and the City of Chicago, without whom it is doubtfulthat I could have become President. I brought some of them withme here today -- Secretary Daley and Rahm Emanual. I was met atthe airport by Kevin O'Keefe, who worked in the White House forseveral years. And I see my good friend, Avis Lavelle out there,who was a part of our administration. And, of course, the mostimportant person from Chicago to this administration is the FirstLady, who asked me to tell all of you hello. She's out on theWest Coast today and I'm going to meet her tonight so we can seeour daughter tomorrow. But you've had a lot to do with it.

But I would like to especially thank Senator CarolMoseley-Braun and Congressman Glenn Poshard and the other membersof the Democratic delegation in Illinois, without whom -- withoutany one of whom we would not have passed the economic plan in1993, which led to this big decline in the deficit, big declinein interest rates, big takeoff in the economy.

One of the things that very few people know aboutthat economic plan was that it also doubled something called theEarned Income Tax Credit, the EITC, which lowers taxes to workingpeople on modest incomes with children. Today, for a family offour with an income of under $30,000, that amounts to about$1,000 a year going back to families. Last year alone, thanks toGlenn Poshard and Carol Moseley-Braun and these other folks --and remember, if one of them had fallen off, none of it wouldhave passed -- last year alone 4 million working Americans,including 1.1 million African Americans, were lifted out ofpoverty because of this tax cut. And that has made a majorcontribution to broadening economic growth. And the people ofIllinois should be very grateful to them for making that historicvote in 1993 when it was hard to do. And I thank them.(Applause.)

Now, the Mayor once said when he was talking thatnot so many years ago people were kind of defeatist about theAmerican economy. There is still a great debate going on inWashington, D.C. about public education. Everybody knows --everybody knows that we have the finest system of highereducation in the world, and we have now open the doors of collegeto everybody who is willing to work for it with the HOPEScholarship, the $1,500 tax credit for the first two years ofcollege; with tax credits for all higher education; thedeductibility of student loans; huge increase in Pell Grants;300,000 more work-study positions. We've done that. But all ofus know that we can't stop until we can look each other straightin the eye and say with absolute conviction, every child in thiscountry, without regard to their race, their income, theirneighborhood, their family circumstances -- every single childhas access to a world-class education. That is our nationalmission and we cannot stop until we achieve it. (Applause.)

Now, back to what I was saying before -- therereally is an honest debate in Washington. Some people whohaven't been to places like Jenner School have given up on thepublic schools. Chicago didn't give up. Chicago said, if wegive the schools back to the parents, if we hold the students andteachers accountable, and if we help those who need help, we canmake our schools work again.

As I was saying before, I go all over the countryand people's mouths drop open when I say, they've ended socialpromotion in Chicago, but everybody gets to go to summer school;they have after-school programs. People's eyes pop out when Isay, Chicago's summer school is the sixth biggest school districtin America; when I say over 40,000 kids are getting three squaremeals a day here. I say to you, if we can do this here, we cando it anywhere.

If these students -- and look at them, their brighteyes and their whole life before them -- but you know as well asI do -- when I was in this little class beforehand -- I want tothank the two young men who were in the tutoring class with me,and the tutor who sat around the table and all the other youngpeople that were in there -- and by the way, one of the littlelessons today was on Washington, D.C. and one of the testquestions was, how many words can you make from the letters inWashington? One of the students got more words than I did. Iliked that. (Laughter.)

But one of the questions in the little form they hadtoday was, if you were President what would you do? And one ofthe students said, well, if I were President, I'd do something toend the violence. Another said, if I were President, I wouldn'tsell guns to anybody but police officers. Another said, if Iwere President, I would have more homes for the homeless and moreclothes for them.

So I want these children to know -- I know a lot ofyou have got it pretty tough. I know that life's not so easy foryou when you're out of school. I know that you've seen a lot ofthings in your life already that children should never see. ButI want you to know something else. If you make the most of youreducation you can still live out your dreams. You can do whatyou want to do with your lives. You can be happy. You can befulfilled. You can succeed. And that's what we owe you -- aneducation that gives you a chance to be fully free to live outyour own dreams. And we are determined to do it. (Applause.)

Now, if the principal, the students, the parents,the volunteers, and the students here can double reading scoresand triple math scores -- and according to what I saw, last yearalone, reading scores in percentile terms increased by 50 percent-- if you can do that, if you can do it here, than no one else inAmerica has an excuse. They can do it, too. But if you can doit here, then the decision-makers in Springfield and inWashington, D.C. don't have an excuse either. We owe it to youto give you the tools and the support you need so that everychild can be a part of a successful school. We don't have anexcuse either.

Jenner proves, Chicago proves that the publicschools can work. Now the rest of us have to go to work and giveyou the tools you need to succeed. I have given Congress a planthat would make a big dent in that. And I have worked as hard asI could now for six years to make education a bipartisan issue.America cannot be strong unless we give all of our children aworld-class education. This should not be a partisan issue.But the fact is that the majority of the Congress is in the handsofthe other party. And earlier this year I gave them an educationplan that for both partisan and ideological reasons they refusedto act on, and we know it could dramatically improve our schools.

Let me tell you what it does. It says, first ofall, everybody's got to take responsibility for high standardsand learning. But, secondly, if there are going to be highstandards, we have to give students the opportunity to reachthose standards. That's the formula that's worked here and it'sthe formula that will work throughout the country.

So I said, let's develop voluntary nationalstandards; let's give exams to our kids to see if they're meetingit; but let's don't designate children failures before they everhave a chance. Give these kind of summer school and after-schoolopportunities to all the children of the United States and you'llsee what they'll do with them.

I say we ought to have smaller classes in the earlygrades and gave a budget plan to the Congress that would lowerclass size to an average of 18 in the first three grades, andhire another 100,000 teachers. I said we ought to do even morefor the really poor areas of America, and I gave Congress a planto educate 35,000 bright young people and then let them pay offall their student loans by going into our hardest pressed areasand teaching for a few years. These are good ideas, they'll makeAmerica stronger.

I embrace Senator Carol Moseley-Braun's idea that weought to have more places doing what Chicago's doing and buildingnew schools and repairing old ones. So I gave the Congress abill that says, let's tear down and rebuild or repair or build5,000 schools. And here's a plan to do it, paid for in theBalanced Budget Act.

All of these things are in this education bill. Igave them a plan for safer schools through more partnerships withlocal law enforcement. I gave them a plan to hook up everyclassroom to the Internet by the year 2000 so that every childcan have access to the world of learning now on the Internet, andevery child can have access to the wonders of computertechnology. So far, Congress has not responded.

I gave them a plan for more charter schools, forbetter rewards for our more committed teachers, to do more totrain teachers, to make sure we have certified Master teachers inall the schools of America. Without touching a dime of thesurplus, we did all that. So far, Congress has not responded.

So I say to you here in Chicago, you are doing yourpart, and it's time Washington, D.C. did its part to help yousucceed. That is our commitment to you. (Applause.)

There are a few days left in the congressionalsession -- it's not too late. It's not too late for Congress toput aside the lure of election year and save Social Securitybefore we spend the surplus; not too late to give all thepatients in this country the protection of a patient's bill ofrights; not too late to keep our economy growing by protecting usagainst the troubles in the global economy and doing what we canto turn it back; not too late to reaffirm our commitment to aclean environment; and, most important, not too late -- not toolate -- to pass this education agenda so that every child has achance to be a part of the miracle of his or her own learning.That will be the surest way to America's greatest years in the21st century.

Good luck, young people. Make the most of it.Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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