[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[October 31, 1998]
[Pages 1933-1935]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Community at Glen Forest Elementary School in Falls 
Church, Virginia
October 31, 1998

    The President. Good morning.
    Audience members. Good morning.
    The President. First, I would like to thank Susan Fitz, Fran 
Jackson; the teachers, Lori Kuzniewski--I was in her class--Ms. Kristen 
Mullen's class; Alan Leis, Paula Johnson, your superintendents; John 
Butterfield, from the education association; Jim and Molly Cameron, from 
the PTA; all the people who made me feel so welcome at this school 
    This is the best of our country's future. I look around this crowd 
today, and I see people whose roots are all over the world, whose 
languages are very different, whose cultures are different, whose 
religions are different, who have come together on this school ground in 
a common endeavor of learning with a promise that our country opens to 
all people who are willing to work hard and be good citizens and do 
their part. It is thrilling for me to be here and look at you. I have a 
much better view than you do today.
    And I loved being with the children in the classroom. The best part 
of this morning so far, for me, has been answering the children's 
questions. They ask very good questions; some of them I didn't want to 
answer even, they were so good. [Laughter] And it gave me a great deal 
of hope for the future.
    You just heard my weekly radio address, so you know that I am very 
concerned about the overcrowding in our Nation's classrooms. We have, 
almost suddenly, the largest group of schoolchildren in our Nation's 
history. I was part of the last large group, the baby boom generation; 
all of us are now between the ages of 34 and 52. This group in school 
today is the first group that is larger.
    We have two huge problems: One is represented here, all the 
housetrailers; the other

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is represented by the dilemma in our largest cities, where we have huge 
numbers of students and wonderful old school buildings that were 
unoccupied for many years. They deteriorated. Many of them now can't 
even be hooked up to the Internet. And we must, as a nation, face this 
    In the last Congress, we were able to get a big downpayment on my 
plan for 100,000 more teachers in the early grades to take the average 
size of the classes down to 18 across America in the first 3 grades. But 
we have to have the school buildings, as well. And I did present a plan 
to the Congress, that I will present again early next year, that would 
enable us to build or modernize 5,000 schools. If you want the smaller 
classes, the teachers have to have some place to meet with the students.
    And I ask all of you, based on your personal experience here and 
without regard to any political differences you may otherwise have, to 
please, please help me convince the Congress that it is the right thing 
for America's children to have the smaller classes, to have more 
teachers, and to have modern schools. Every single child in America 
deserves them, and the United States ought to be in the forefront of 
helping achieve that. And I thank you for that.
    Let me also say to all of you, I learned when I came here today, 
because I received a little card from one of the students, that next 
week is the week you have student elections at the school here. Now, all 
the students are going to vote. And what I'd like to say is, I hope that 
all the parents will be just as good citizens as the students are. 
Because Tuesday is election day in America, as well.
    For nearly 6 years, I have worked hard to bring our country together 
across all the lines that divide us, so that America would work the way 
this school works, so that we could all feel the way I think all of you 
feel today, coming from your different walks of life to this common 
ground. America ought to be a place of common ground, where we move 
forward together.
    I am grateful for the fact that after 6 years we have nearly 17 
million new jobs and the lowest unemployment in 28 years; the highest 
homeownership in history, over two-thirds of Americans in their own 
homes for the first time ever; the smallest percentage of our people on 
public assistance, welfare, in 29 years; lowest crime rate in 25 years. 
I am proud of that. I am also determined that we take this moment of 
prosperity, which has given us the first balanced budget since 1969 and 
a surplus, to meet the long-term challenges of America.
    We talked about education today. There are other long-term 
challenges. Those of you who come from the rest of the world and have 
come here as immigrants, who have relatives in other countries, know 
that there is a lot of financial turmoil in the rest of the world. I 
have done my best to try to help stabilize the global economy because 
America depends upon the success of other people in other countries and 
their being able to have good jobs and raise their children and do 
    I have done my best to see America stand on the forefront of world 
peace. A week ago yesterday, we announced the latest agreement between 
the Palestinians and the Israelis, and we hope it will be fully and 
faithfully implemented. And we will continue the work toward peace in 
the Middle East.
    We have to look ahead to what happens when this huge generation of 
baby boomers retires, which is why I have said we should not spend this 
surplus on anything until we have reformed the Social Security system 
and reformed the Medicare system, to make sure that it can be preserved 
for the people who need it, especially when all the baby boomers retire.
    We have to continue to work on the fact that many of our people, 
literally over half of our people, are in HMO's or other managed care 
plans. And this can be a good thing, because we have to save all the 
money we can. But it is wrong if a person is in a health care plan and 
the doctor says, ``You need to see a specialist,'' and the plan says no. 
It is wrong if someone is in a car accident and they have to pass three 
hospitals that are closer on the way to an emergency room that happens 
to be covered by the plan. It is wrong if someone is pregnant and during 
the pregnancy, or someone is sick with cancer and has had chemotherapy 
and during that treatment, an employer changes health care providers and 
the person has to change doctors.
    All of that is wrong. That's why we want a Patients' Bill of Rights, 
basically to say: Okay, let's manage the system, but let's put the 
health care of our people first and let medical decisions be made by 
medical professionals, not accountants. I think that is very important.
    All these issues are out there, issues that will affect the long-
term stability and strength of the

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United States and our ability to do what should be done in the world.
    So let me say that I've been very concerned periodically over the 
last 6 years, and I was especially concerned last year, that in 
Washington, DC, in National Government, there are not only different 
parties with different philosophies and different views--that is a good 
thing; we should have different parties, different philosophies, 
different views, different opinions--but there is a great deal of 
difference in constructive debate and extreme partisanship which keeps 
things from being done.
    In the last year, for 8 months, we had extreme partisanship which 
kept things from being done. And what we need to do is to put the 
progress of all of our people over the partisanship; we need to put 
people over politics; we need to celebrate our differences, but work 
    That is what I am hoping will come out of this coming election. I 
hope that a Congress will be elected on Tuesday that will put the 
education of our children first and build or modernize these 5,000 
    I hope the election will produce a Congress that will not spend that 
surplus until we fix Social Security first, to stabilize our country, to 
stabilize our economy, and to avoid a situation where when we retire we 
will have to either lower our standard of living or lower the standard 
of living of our children because we refused to take this moment to fix 
the Social Security system.
    I hope the next Congress will provide the American people with a 
Patients' Bill of Rights.
    I hope the next Congress will provide the American people with a 
bill to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco, the number one 
public health problem in America today. It is wrong that 3,000 children 
start smoking every day; 1,000 will die sooner because of this.
    I hope the next Congress will reach across partisan lines and raise 
the minimum wage for 12 million Americans. The unemployment rate is low; 
the inflation rate is low. You cannot support a family on $5.15 an hour. 
We can afford to do it, and we should do it, and we ought to do it as 
Americans, across partisan lines.
    I hope the next Congress will produce a genuine and bipartisan 
system of campaign finance reform, so that honest debate, instead of big 
money, controls elections.
    All of these things are within your hands. So I say to all the 
adults who are here: Look at these children; look at how fortunate we 
are that they can come together and learn from each other and have the 
right kind of disagreements and go have an election next week in which 
they campaign and make their case and everybody votes. We should set a 
good example. This country is still around after 220 years, having 
undergone unbelievable changes in the makeup of our citizenry, because 
more than half the time, more than half the people have been right on 
the big issues.
    This is no ordinary time. The world is changing very fast. It is, 
therefore, no ordinary election. The future of these children, the 
future of our country in the 21st century, is riding on it. So I implore 
all of you, if the education of our children is important to you, if the 
stability of our country and the stability and cause of peace in the 
world is important to you, please set a good example. Show up on 
Tuesday, vote, make your voice heard, and go home and talk to your 
children about what you did and how it is at the core of everything that 
makes our country worth living and fighting for.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:45 a.m. on the athletic field. In his 
remarks, he referred to principal Susan Fitz and teachers Fran Jackson, 
Lori Kuzniewski, and Kristen Mullen, Glen Forest Elementary School; Alan 
Leis, deputy superintendent of schools, and Paula Johnson, area 
superintendent, Fairfax County, VA; John Butterfield, president, Fairfax 
Education Association; and Jim and Molly Cameron, co-presidents, Parent 
Teacher Association.