[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 9, 1998]
[Pages 1544-1548]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Hillcrest Elementary School in Orlando, Florida
September 9, 1998

    Thank you very much. When President Waldrip--[laughter]--was up here 
speaking, I had two overwhelming thoughts: One is that even though I had 
been made a member of the PTA, she was one incumbent president I could 
never defeat in an election. [Laughter] My second thought was, I wish I 
could take her to Washington for about a month. It might change the 
entire atmosphere up there. [Laughter] It was great. She was 
    Let me say how delighted I am to be here at Hillcrest. I want to 
thank Principal Scharr for making me feel so welcome. And Clair Hoey, 
thank you for what you said about the education of our children. And 
thank you both for the comments you made about the First Lady and the 
work we have done over the years for children and for education.
    I'd like to thank the Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rossello, my 
longtime friend, for being

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here. It's quite fitting that you would be here at this school, which is 
committed to bilingualism and to a multicultural future for America.
    I'd like to thank three Members of the United States Congress who 
came with me today, Representatives Corrine Brown, Robert Wexler, and 
Peter Deutsch. They're all here in the front row, and thank you for 
coming. Thank you, Anne MacKay, for being here. And I'd like to thank 
the State representatives who are here, Shirley Brown, Lars Hafner, and 
Orange County Chair Linda Chapin, and the superintendent of the schools, 
Dennis Smith.
    Let me say to all of you, I was so excited when I heard about this 
school because it really does embody what I think we should be doing in 
education and, in a larger sense, what I think we should be trying to do 
with our country. And I'd like to begin by just saying a few words about 
    First of all, the principal has already outlined it better than I 
could, along with what your teacher and your PTA president said, but 
this is a school that has a lot of different kids in it, not only 
different ethnic groups, they have different religions; they have 
different cultural heritages; their parents have different financial 
circumstances--I would imagine breathtakingly different--and yet, if you 
look at them all together, they're all a part of our future.
    And we say in our Constitution, we say in our laws, that every one 
of them is equal not only in the eyes of God but in the eyes of their 
fellow Americans. This school is trying to make that promise real for 
all of them. And in creating a community in which they all count and all 
have a chance to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities, 
they're doing what we in America ought to be doing.
    I also think some of the strategies are very good. I think the 
school uniform policy is a good one. I've tried to promote it because I 
think it promotes learning and discipline and order and gives kids a 
sense of solidarity and takes a lot of heat off parents without regard 
to their income and sort of reinforces the major mission of the school. 
I think that's a good thing. I think having a school-based academic 
strategy is important. I think the literacy programs are profoundly 
important. And I'm very glad you are involved in reading recovery.
    So there are so many things that I think are quite good about this 
school, and I thank you for giving me and Lieutenant Governor MacKay the 
chance to come by here today.
    I want to talk about what we're trying to do in Washington for 
education and to support not only this school but the truly 
extraordinary effort that Governor Chiles and Lieutenant Governor MacKay 
have made here over the last few years to support Florida's schools. And 
let me begin by backing up a step.
    I'm very grateful as an American to have had the chance to serve and 
to be a part of what our people have accomplished in the last 6 years: 
to have the lowest unemployment rate in a generation; to have in just a 
few more days the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years; to have 
the lowest crime rate in 25 years; and the smallest percentage of our 
people on welfare in 29 years; and the lowest inflation rate in 32 
years; and the highest homeownership in American history. And we did it 
while downsizing the National Government to its smallest size in 35 
years and investing more in States and localities and schools. I'm 
grateful for what all of the American people have done together.
    But my focus today is on what we should do with that. What should we 
do with that? Because normally, if people have been through some very 
trying times and very challenging times and they reach a kind of 
plateau, the easiest thing to do is to sort of say, ``Whew, now let's 
just sort of sit back, relax, and enjoy it.'' I think that would be a 
mistake, because the world is changing very fast. You see that, don't 
you, if you pick up and see what's happened in the stock market--you 
know? We had a great big day, yesterday; we had not such a good week or 
so before that. And when you read and you say, ``Well, why is all this 
happening? Are a bunch of companies going broke or are a bunch of new 
companies making a lot of money?'' And you read between the lines and 
see, no, no, it's a lot of things that are happening around the world. 
What does that mean?
    The more we become a part of the world in America, with the 
diversity of our population, the more America becomes a part of the 
world beyond our borders in our economic and other partnerships. And the 
world is changing so fast that I believe what we should do with these 
good times is not to pat ourselves on the back but to say, ``Hey, thank 
goodness. We finally have the security and the resources to face the

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long-term challenges of this country. And that is what we intend to do 
with our good times.''
    That is what I have asked the American people, in this season when 
as citizens we think about voting, to think about: What are we going to 
do to deal with the long-term challenges of the country? When these 
children get out of high school, all the baby boomers will start 
retiring. I know that; I'm the oldest of the baby boomers. [Laughter] 
The baby boom generation are roughly Americans between the ages of 52 
and 34. And until this group of schoolchildren that came into school the 
last 2 years, we were the biggest group of Americans ever.
    Now, if we retire without making some changes in the Social Security 
system and reforming the Medicare system so it takes care of seniors but 
does it in a way that doesn't put unconscionable burdens on younger 
people--if we don't do that, then by the time we retire, one of two 
things is going to happen: Either the baby boomers are not going to have 
a very good retirement, or we're going to have it at the expense of 
lowering their standard of living, because there will be, for a period 
of time, two people working--only two people working for every one 
person retired. No one wants that.
    We're in good shape now. That's why I say we shouldn't spend any of 
this surplus that, hopefully, we will have for several years, that we'll 
begin to realize on October 1st. We shouldn't spend it all in a tax cut 
or a spending program until first we know we've taken care of Social 
Security and Medicare, because I don't know anybody in my generation 
that wants to undermine their future to take care of our retirement. 
That's a big issue.
    We have to prove in this global economy with, as you know in 
Florida, with a lot of global warming--you had all those fires this 
year; you had the hottest year in history, the hottest month you ever 
had in June--you know about that. We've got to prove we can deal with 
environmental challenges and grow the economy. Believe it or not, there 
are a lot of people that don't believe that. There are still a lot of 
people who think that it is impossible to have an economic growth in any 
advanced society unless you are deteriorating the environment. I don't 
believe that, I don't think the evidence supports that. We've got to 
prove that. We have to prove that.
    We have to prove that we can give both quality and affordable health 
care to all our people, the 160 million people in managed care plans. 
People still want to know if they get hurt, they can go to an emergency 
room; if they need a specialist, they can see it; and their medical 
records are going to be protected. We have to prove we can have the most 
cost-effective health system and still maintain quality.
    So we've got these big challenges, and we've got to deal with all 
these challenges in the global economy you've been dealing with, reading 
about. But let me say to you there is no more important challenge than 
giving every one of these children, especially if they start out in life 
without all the advantages that a lot of other children have, a chance 
to get a world-class education. There is no more important long-term 
challenge for America.
    That is what will make us one America, whole, together, respecting 
each other's differences, when everybody's got a chance to sort of live 
out their dreams.
    You know, we've all got this on our mind. I don't know if you all 
know this, but when I got off the plane today, the young man that caught 
Mark McGwire's home run last night was there waiting for me because he 
was flown down to Disney World today, which I thought was a real hoot--
[laughter]--with his family. And last night, late last night, I talked 
to Mark McGwire and his wonderful young son, who's in uniform and always 
out there. And I got to thinking about what's Mark McGwire going to do 
with the rest of his life? What's he going to do with the rest of his 
    And I'll tell you what I think he'll do. I think he'll hit more home 
runs and play more baseball and do more things. But that's what you've 
got to think about America. How would you feel if Mark McGwire 
announced, ``Well, I've been working real hard to do this all my life, 
and if it's all the same to you, I think I'll skip the last 18 games.'' 
[Laughter] Right? Or, ``If it's all the same to you, I think I'll just 
stand up there and see how many times I could walk.'' You would be 
puzzled, at least, wouldn't you?
    Well, that's the kind of decision we have to make as Americans. What 
are we going to do with our good economy? What are we going to do with 
our improving social fabric? I'd like to see our country become modeled 
on what you're trying to do here at Hillcrest.

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    And in specific terms, I want to say there are some things before 
the Congress today, some specific education bills that I think respond 
to the needs of the American people. And no matter how well you're 
doing, you know there are still some needs out there. I was especially 
impressed by what you said you were doing with new mothers and newborn 
children and trying to get kids off to a good start. Hillary and I had a 
conference on early childhood and the brain not very long ago, and I 
think we have all underestimated how much good can be done in those 
first couple of years of life. And that's very good.
    Let me tell you--sort of set the scene here. The Department of 
Education today is releasing a report that shows that while we're making 
progress, students that live in high-poverty areas continue to lag 
behind other students in fourth grade reading and math scores. Fewer 
than half of all the fourth graders in the high-poverty areas are 
scoring at basic levels of performance in math.
    Now, I will say again, you rebuke that whole idea that there has to 
be a difference in people based on the income of their parents or the 
nature of their neighborhood. That's what you're trying to prove does 
not have to be. And I believe that as well.
    So let me just briefly review the agenda that these Members of 
Congress--these three here--are supporting, that we're going to try to 
pass in what is just a very few weeks left in this legislative session.
    I want smaller classes in the early grades all across America. 
You've got that here. We have a program that would hire 100,000 teachers 
in the early grades. If we hired the 100,000 teachers--it's in our 
balanced budget--we could lower class size to an average of 18 in the 
early grades all across America.
    I want Congress to help me create safer schools, to continue to 
build partnerships with local law enforcement and schools. Just this 
morning, the Justice Department has released over $16 million to 155 law 
enforcement agencies across the country to make sure we have community-
based organizations to prevent crime in the first place.
    This school--I understand you do a lot of work and loan out some 
computers so families can learn about computers. I think it's important 
that we hook up every classroom and every library and every school in 
America by the year 2000. We have a bill to do that in Congress, and we 
want to pass that bill.
    We also have responses specifically to that education report I 
mentioned, a bill in Congress to create what we call education 
opportunity zones, as well as expanding funding for Title I. It would 
give extra help to the classrooms--the schools that are prepared to end 
social promotion but not tag kids as failures, that want to have after-
school programs, that want to have summer school programs, that want to 
have extra help for kids who need it, that need more resources to do the 
kind of intensive effort that this reading recovery program here, for 
example, requires. Everybody knows it's one of the best programs in the 
world. Unfortunately, too many schools don't do it because it costs 
money to do it, because you really have to give intensive help to these 
children at an early age.
    So I think that's important. A part of that would be paying the 
college expenses of 35,000 young people who agree when they get out of 
college to go out and teach off their college loans by going into 
underserved areas, in urban and rural areas in America. I think that's 
worth doing. I want to--[applause]--thank you.
    And finally, we're trying to fully fund our America Reads program, 
which will make sure that we give enough reading tutors and trained 
volunteers to enough schools to make sure every 8-year-old in this 
country--every one--can read a book independently by the time they're in 
the third grade.
    Now, this is very important stuff. And so far I can't tell you how 
it's going to come out in Washington. But remember, I'm not increasing 
the deficit. This is in the balanced budget that I presented to 
Congress. The money is there. So the issue is not whether the money is 
there; the issue is what are our priorities and what are we going to do 
with the money. Now, notwithstanding what Representatives Wexler, 
Deutsch, and Brown want to do, the House of Representatives voted to 
actually cut $2 billion off these programs. The Senate has not done so 
yet. They've been a little more encouraging. I don't want this to be a 
partisan issue; education should be an American issue. When I go to a 
school and walk up and down and shake hands with kids, I don't look for 
a political label on their uniforms. This is an American issue. But it 
is a big issue.
    So I would just ask all of you to make it as clear as you can that 
you'd like for us in

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Washington to put the same priority on education that the parents and 
the teachers and the kids do at Hillcrest, that you would like for us to 
try to create an American community like the one that you are trying to 
create with your children here at this school, and that there are very 
specific opportunities Congress is going to have in the next 3 weeks 
where a ``yes'' vote or a ``no'' vote is required, and you'd like to see 
us vote ``yes'' for our children and our future.
    Thank you very much. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. in the cafeteria. In his remarks, 
he referred to Susan Waldrip, president, Parent-Teacher Association, 
Aliette Scharr, principal, and Clair Hoey, teacher, Hillcrest Elementary 
School; State Representatives Shirley Brown and Lars Hafner; Linda W. 
Chapin, chair, Orange County Board of Commissioners; Dennis M. Smith, 
superintendent, Orange County Public Schools; Gov. Lawton Chiles of 
Florida; gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay of Florida, and 
his wife, Anne; and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire, who 
broke Major League Baseball's single-season home run record, his son 
Matt, and Tim Forneris, the Busch Stadium groundskeeper who retrieved 
the record-breaking ball. The President also referred to Title I of the 
Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-382), which 
amended Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 
(Public Law 89-10).