TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
November 24, 1999
This week, all across the country, millions of Americans will take a moment to count their blessings. When I sit down to our Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, I know I will bow my head in gratitude for family and friends -- with special thanks for the children who have enriched my life in ways I can't even count.
I have spent most of my working life -- nearly 30 years now -- striving to protect and improve the well-being of this country's children. That's why I was so pleased with last week's resolution of the budget impasse. Although long in coming, the final agreement is a clear victory for the American people -- and for America's children. But Congress failed to enact important initiatives, leaving much hard work still to be done.
Because my husband refused to turn his back on his commitment to
improving America's public schools, the budget puts education first -- by funding the next installment in his plan to hire 100,000 new teachers, reducing class size in the early grades, and more than doubling the funding for after-school programs.
In addition, the agreement offers help to states and school districts to turn around their worst-performing schools, while permitting families to opt out of failing programs. It provides over $600 million for school-based drug- and violence- prevention programs. And it increases funding for the President's GEAR UP initiative, a program designed to help nearly 500,000 disadvantaged seventh-
graders begin to prepare for college.
While House Republicans tried to deny additional children access to Head Start, the final plan endorses the President's proposal to add 44,000 slots to this proven preschool program, moving us closer to our goal of giving 1 million youngsters a critical "head start" on learning, and a solid foundation for success in elementary school.
Charter schools offer the opportunity for communities to craft innovative and high-quality educational programs to meet very specific needs. When my husband was elected, there was only one charter school in the country. Today, there are more than 1,700, providing parents in 30 states a wide range of choices within the public school system. Thanks to the budget bill, next year alone, school districts will receive start-up funds to create 650 new charter schools.
The budget looks out for children in other ways as well. There are funds to provide older foster children the support they need to make the difficult transition from foster care to independent living. Children's hospitals across the country will receive much-needed funding to support the training of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. And with the passage of the bill, our children will not only enjoy better schools, they will live in safer neighborhoods -- neighborhoods with more police on the streets, and the resources to strengthen local law-enforcement efforts.
Thanks to the President and the Vice President, the planet we leave our children tomorrow will be healthier than it is today. After beating back dozens of anti- environmental riders to the bill, including several that would have benefited special interests at the expense of public lands, Democrats won significant environmental gains, including new resources to combat water pollution, protect wildlife, address global warming, and preserve precious land across the country.
Finally, as a result of the President's resolve to veto irresponsible tax cuts, the nation is on a course to pay off its debt by the year 2015 -- the first time since Andrew Jackson was President.
Despite these achievements, all of which will significantly improve the lives of our children, members of Congress left town with many important issues unresolved. In the face of recent shootings that should have served to reinforce the need to protect America's families from gun violence, our lawmakers failed to enact common-sense gun laws to require background checks on weapons sold at gun shows and child safety locks on handguns. They also failed to ban the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, or bar violent juveniles from owning guns.
They failed to pass a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights that would have taken medical decisions out of the hands of accountants and put them back in the hands of doctors, where they belong. Ignoring the clear wishes of the American people, they left town without agreeing on meaningful campaign finance reform, a plan to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, or comprehensive tobacco legislation to reduce youth smoking. Furthermore, they failed to pass a straightforward increase in the minimum wage, funding to help states and school districts build and modernize 6,000 schools nationwide, or assistance to low-income working families who need affordable and high-quality child care.
As we bow our heads this Thanksgiving, let us remember not just the children sitting around our own dinner tables, but less fortunate children as well. Let's be grateful for the hard work members of this administration and Congress did to fashion a budget agreement that works for children. But let us not forget that there is still a lot of hard work to be done.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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