[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[September 30, 1997]
[Pages 1270-1271]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1270]]

Remarks on Congressional Action on Education Legislation and an Exchange 
With Reporters
September 30, 1997

    The President. I have said that I had no higher priority than 
getting our children the best education in the world in the 21st century 
and that to achieve that politics must stop at the schoolhouse door. I'm 
committed to making sure every 8-year-old can read, every 12-year-old 
can log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old can go on to college, 
every adult can continue to learn through a lifetime. And we have made 
significant progress in our efforts to strengthen, improve, and hold 
more accountable public education.
    As Congress continues to debate the education bill this fall, it's 
become clear that there are some who are waging an effort to undermine 
our commitment to public education and our public schools. First, the 
Senate has passed an amendment that would virtually close the Department 
of Education and abolish some of its most successful efforts to expand 
school choice and charter schools, to bring computers to every 
classroom, to create more safe and drug-free schools.
    Second, the House of Representatives has actually voted to prevent 
our country from setting high standards of academic excellence with 
voluntary national tests to ensure that every child masters the basics 
in reading and math. I will veto any legislation that damages our 
commitment to public education and to high national standards. I am 
pleased that our effort on standards has received strong bipartisan 
support in the Senate, and I intend to continue this fight for as long 
as it takes.
    Third, in a vote to occur today, some in Congress would diminish our 
country's commitment to public education by siphoning badly needed funds 
away from our public schools into a voucher program that would support 
private academies for a very limited number of students.
    Ninety percent of our children in America attend public schools. Our 
public schools do face a host of challenges. Every city especially faces 
problems with large numbers of poor children and often old facilities 
and other difficult challenges. But the answer, the answer is to put 
competition, change, excellence, accountability back into the public 
school system, not to take limited funds away from it.
    The District of Columbia has some very good public schools, and 
others that are not performing as well as they should. We can have more 
competition there and more options for parents and children without 
abandoning the schools through public school choice and greater use of 
charter schools. I have worked very hard on these things for the last 
several years and will continue to support them.
    But instead of abandoning our schools, we should continue to support 
proven reform efforts, including getting more parents involved, 
improving teaching, getting drugs out of the schools, getting more 
discipline in the schools, raising the standards so that we can hold 
teachers and principals, schools, and students accountable.
    Public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. We have always 
recognized our common responsibility for preparing all our young 
children for the challenges of the future. I call upon Congress to 
challenge our public schools, to change our public schools, but not to 
walk away from them.
    Thank you.

Internal Revenue Service

    Q. Mr. President, what are your concerns about a credibility or 
confidence crisis for the IRS, and what do you think about this 
Republican idea for an independent board for oversight?
    The President. Well, first of all, I think some very important 
things came out of those hearings to which the IRS has to respond. There 
has been some response already. But let me back up a little bit and say 
we have been working to professionalize, not to politicize, the IRS for 
the last several years. I signed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights about a 
year and a half ago. We established an IRS modernization board to 
improve technology and customer service.
    One of the things that I asked my staff to find out for me after the 
hearings were held is, how many of the abuses that were reported 
occurred before the Taxpayer Bill of Rights was

[[Page 1271]]

passed? How many, if they occurred after the Taxpayer Bill of Rights was 
passed, were a violation of those law's requirements? And then, where 
are we going to go from here? That's the most important thing.
    For quite a long while now, the Vice President and Secretary Rubin 
have been working on a project, part of the Vice President's National 
Performance Review, to change and improve the IRS, and Secretary Rubin 
will have some more to say about that later. But we believe that we have 
to respond to what was said.
    There were some difficult issues posed, and you have pointed out 
some of them in your reporting. But I think that we should continue to 
press ahead with change. But I think it's very important that all the 
American people have confidence that they're going to be treated fairly 
and that taxes will be collected in a fair, nondiscriminatory, and 
nonburdensome manner, and that we will not have any kind of abuse there. 
And so we intend to push ahead.
    Q. But are you concerned that the Government's tax collecting agency 
faces credibility and confidence problems because of the specter of 
those hearings?
    The President. Well, I think they raise some legitimate points that 
ought to be responded to. I believe the IRS is functioning better today 
than it was 5 years ago. I think it has to improve more. And I think we 
should not try to sweep any of these problems under the rugs. I followed 
the hearings with great interest, and I am glad to see that there has 
been some action based on the evidence that was adduced at the hearings 
already, and there will be more. But I think it's also important to know 
that we have done a lot of things to try to make the IRS more 
accountable, more professional. We can do more. We should not politicize 
it, and we should not do anything that will in any way call into 
question whether it's being even-handed or fair in the future.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White