[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 21, 1997]
[Pages 1401-1403]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the America Reads Initiative
October 21, 1997

    Thank you very much. Secretary Riley, Dr. Corrigan, Senator Kennedy, 
Senator Specter, Congressmen Etheridge and Miller and Hoyer. And I thank 
the Members of Congress not here in both parties who support this 
    Thank you, Eric Castillo, for what you do and for representing a new 
generation of American college students, I believe among the most 
idealistic and community service-oriented young people we have ever had 
in the colleges and universities of this country, and a rebuke to the 
superficial and downright wrong characterizations of generation X as not 
caring about the future of this country. And I thank you for that.
    And thank you, Victoria, for reading the book with me and making me 
look good. [Laughter] You did an excellent job. Her mother is here. I'd 
like to ask her mother to stand. Thank you very much for coming. 
[Applause] And they did a great job. Thank you. I thank all the other 
young students and all the other college students who are here, and a 
special word of thanks to all the college and university presidents who 
have joined us today.
    We have just seen a concrete and, I thought, very moving example of 
the difference reading can make in the lives of our children. We also 
ought to remember the difference that this can make in the future of our 
country as we move into a new century and a very different time.
    In the last 5 years, together we have done a lot to prepare our 
country for the 21st century: a new economic policy that works, a new 
crime policy that works, a new welfare reform policy that works, 
expanding health care coverage to our children, improving the 
environment, now opening the doors of college to all who are willing to 
work for it. But to fundamentally succeed in having an America where 
opportunity is open to everyone who will work for it and where everyone 
can be a part of a thriving American community, we must give all our 
children the world's best education.
    By the year 2000, we should succeed in seeing that every 8-year-old 
can read independently, that every 12-year-old can log on to the 
Internet, that every 18-year-old can go on to college, and that every 
adult in our country can continue to learn for a lifetime.
    We have made historic progress toward these goals. Last summer's 
balanced budget contained the biggest increased investment in education 
since 1965, the biggest increase in access to higher education since the 
GI bill 50 years ago. It will go a long way toward funding our mission 
to connect every classroom and library to the Internet by the year 2000. 
But all of this progress will be limited if our children do not first 
master the basics. The next major step is

[[Page 1402]]

to make sure every 8-year-old can do what Secretary Riley's grandchild 
and Victoria can do--they can say, ``I can read this book all by 
    We know that children who don't read well by the end of the third 
grade are more likely to drop out of school and far less likely to 
realize their full potential. We know that children who receive the help 
they need are much more likely to succeed in school and in life.
    Today, 40 percent of our Nation's 8-year-olds are not reading as 
well as they should. There are many reasons for this. We come from many 
different places, and we have more and more young children whose first 
language is not even English. But none of these reasons is an excuse for 
our inaction, particularly when we see that action can produce the kind 
of results that Victoria showed us today.
    That is one of the reasons that I have supported high national 
standards for reading and national examinations to make sure our 
children are reaching those standards. And that is the main reason we 
have launched America Reads. Over a year ago, it began with a simple 
idea, that a well-trained, coordinated army of a million volunteers 
could be rallied to teach our children. I called on every sector of 
society to help us mobilize this citizen army, specifically challenging 
colleges and universities to use their new work-study slots to train 
tutors. There are 300,000 of those new slots that have been approved by 
our Congress in the last 2 years. And to help them do it, we waived the 
requirement that colleges pay 25 percent of work-study wages.
    Our college and university presidents and our college students have 
more than risen to meet this challenge. Last December, 21 college 
presidents, led by President Corrigan, pledged to start these programs 
for their students and urge others to do the same. You heard President 
Corrigan say that now almost 800 colleges and universities have joined 
America Reads. These voluntary commitments will reach hundreds of 
thousands of children and help them to reach their dreams. And I might 
say that a lot of the colleges and universities are finding that they 
have more people who want to participate than they have work-study 
slots. They even have people who want to participate who aren't eligible 
for work-study and just want to do it because they think it's the right 
thing to do.
    At Yale, 300 students applied for 60 work-study slots. At the 
University of Michigan, 400 applied for 84 slots. At Miami Dade 
Community College, our Nation's largest community college, more than 150 
tutors have been trained and already are helping students throughout 
your hometown. In Boston, an energetic group appropriately called Jump 
Start teamed up with several local colleges to connect work-study 
students to children who need help. These are just a few examples.
    I want to join Secretary Riley and thank my longtime friend Carol 
Rasco for the outstanding leadership she has given this program. I thank 
the Department of Education. But most of all, I thank the young people 
of this country who are responding to the challenge.
    And I might say also, as we all know, the challenge is not wholly 
confined to our colleges and universities. I just received the quarterly 
report of the church that Hillary and I attend here in Washington. They 
have 45 members of the church involved in America Reads. This idea is 
catching fire in America. The interest is there, the concern is there, 
the commitment is there to meet our goal.
    That's why it is so important for Congress to fund America Reads, as 
President Corrigan said. It was agreed as part of our balanced budget 
agreement. The proposal will pay for 25,000 reading specialists and 
coordinators to coordinate the tutor training and support we need to 
enlist, train, and put into action the entire army of America Reads 
volunteers to serve every child in America, like Victoria and the others 
who are here, who are out there waiting to meet a volunteer.
    Also, because parents are our children's first and most important 
teachers, the proposal includes challenge grants to help parents do more 
to teach their children to read. I think that is critically important, 
and that is a part of the program that is in the budget. These 
approaches are the best things we know to do to teach our kids to read. 
They're already working in places like Simpson County, Kentucky, where 
AmeriCorps members help students jump an average of 3 grade levels in 8 
months; working in Reading, Ohio, where trained parent volunteers are 
helping their kindergarten-aged children make 3 times the progress of 
children who don't get the extra help; working in my home State of 
Arkansas, where the Home Institution Program for Preschool Youngsters, 

[[Page 1403]]

brings parents into their children's learning process with stunning 
results; working here in the District of Columbia, where this February 
we launched DC Reads to bring together literacy programs and local 
volunteer reading tutors. With America Reads, it can work all over the 
country for every child who needs it.
    This reflects the commitment, I might add, that thousands of 
Americans made at the Presidents' Summit on Service in Philadelphia a 
few months ago, to marshal the resources of every part of our society to 
help our children get a good education, get basic health care, do it in 
a safe environment with adult mentors, and with a chance for all 
children themselves to serve.
    We've made a lot of progress since the summit on all fronts. 
Especially, I want to note that we've increased the number of AmeriCorps 
scholarships, recognized high school service, encouraged private 
businesses to help parents move from welfare to work. But we have to 
give all children the chance to learn and all Americans the chance to 
serve. The great thing about America Reads is it serves two of the goals 
of the summit: It gives children a good education, and it gives young 
people the chance to serve.
    It would be a shame, with all the children out there who still need 
help learning to read and who want to get it, with all the parents who 
are yearning to do the best job they can as parents raising their 
children, with all the idealistic students and other American citizens 
who want to be a part of this program--it would be a shame if we did not 
reach the full goal of America Reads. We have to have a bipartisan 
commitment to education that transcends politics. We have to have a 
follow-through on the bipartisan commitment to fund America Reads to its 
full potential.
    The renowned African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune once 
said, ``The whole world opened up to me when I learned to read.'' We 
read ``The Carrot Seed'' today. Instead of the carrot, think about 
Victoria. Think about a million Victorias. Think about millions and 
millions more. We are the planters of the seed. We have to first plant 
the seed, and then we have to tell the doubters it will grow.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:43 p.m. in the East Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Robert A. Corrigan, president, San 
Francisco State University; Eric Castillo, tutor, America Reads 
Foundation; Victoria Adeniji, second-grade student tutored in the 
America Reads program, and her mother, Felicia; and Carol H. Rasco, 
Director, America Reads Foundation.