REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
6:27 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello. (Applause.) I think we should give Barb Hess another hand. She did a good job on her speech. (Applause.) And your principal, Mr. Caudle, give him another hand. (Applause.) And your great Governor, Governor Tom Vilsack, I'm glad to be here with him. Thank you. (Applause.) I also want to thank the Jazz Band and the Marching Band for playing. You did a great job today. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
I am glad to be here. I want to say I appreciated meeting at least two of your student leaders, Kelly Witt and Ricky Harris -- thank them for -- (applause.) And I want to thank Lt. Governor Sally Pederson, Attorney General Tom Miller, Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge, and the Director of Education Ted Stillwell for joining us today. And, Mayor Arrington, thank you for welcoming us back to Davenport. And the other Quad City mayors are here -- Mayor Leach, Moline Mayor; Mayor Ward of East Moline; and Mayor Mark Schwiebert, Mayor of Rock Island. I think I pronounced that properly, and if I didn't he can reprimand me later. (Laughter.)
I'd like to thank your Superintendent, Jim Blanche, for making us welcome here. And since we're here for construction purposes, to talk about better school buildings, I'm glad to be joined by the president of the building and construction trade union, Mr. Ed Sullivan. So thank you all for making me feel welcome. (Applause.)
I love this community. I came here in late 1992 on a bus with Hillary and with Al and Tipper Gore right before our election. Then I came back in 1993 after the terrible flood, and I watched you come back from that. And today I want to talk about another kind of building.
I'm in the process of going around the country for two days -- we just left Owensboro, Kentucky. And I want to do two things. I want, first of all, to make this trip an opportunity to show America how good the young people of our country are, and how much they are learning in our schools. (Applause.) But the second thing I want to do is to point out what challenges are still out there if every young person in America is going to have a world-class education.
And one of the things that we know is that you are not the only group of young people in school facilities that are either over-crowded, or too old, or both. And if we want learning to occur, we have got to give all of our students the facilities they need.
Now, this is a beautiful old school. It's even older than the high school I went to, which was built in 1917. I've been to the top floor; I've seen the physics lab; I went into a biology class; I went underneath the bleachers here, in the locker room. I saw where you have your meals in the cafeteria, which was built in the '85 extension. And I have been given a briefing by your principal on how you're going to handle the modernization.
But what you need to know is there are people all over this country who are in situations even more severe. In the city of Philadelphia, the average school building is 65 years old. In the city of New York there are still buildings heated in the winter with coal-fired furnaces, where people literally shovel coal into them like they did a hundred years ago.
We have school buildings so old they can't be hooked up, they cannot be wired to the Internet. The Vice President and I have worked for six years to connect every classroom in America to the Internet. When we started, 16 percent of the schools were connected and 3 percent of the classrooms. Today, 95 percent of the schools and almost 75 percent of the classrooms are connected. (Applause.)
But believe it or not, there are some which literally can't take a connection. And I saw some of your classrooms here today that have severe limits on what can be done in terms of electricity provision.
So what's all this got to do with what we're doing now? Well, when I became President, we could never have thought of doing anything for school construction or school modernization or repairs because we had a big deficit. Today, we're in the midst of our third budget surplus. By the end of this year we will have paid off $355 billion of our national debt. (Applause.) And I'm proud of that.
We are in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history. And the big question before the voters this year, and all the adult citizens of America that you young people can have an impact on -- and some of you are old enough to vote now -- is what are we going to do with our prosperity. So we've got the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, and the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years, and the lowest female unemployment in 40 years, and the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment ever recorded -- (applause) -- so what are we going to do with it?
A lot of times, in free societies, when times are good, people do nothing. They just sort of hang around and enjoy it. that would be a terrible mistake, because we still have challenges. And one of the challenges we have -- and everyone of you know it's true -- education is more important than ever before. It's more important to you, and it's more important to your country.
We live in an information economy where what you know and what you can learn will determine in large measure the shape of your adult lives and the kind of lives you'll be able to give your own children. So one of the things that we have to do with our prosperity is to ask ourselves -- let's take an inventory -- where are we not giving our young people a world-class education? Why are we not doing it? And what are we to do about it?
Because if we can't do this now -- if we can't make uniform excellence in education a reality in America now, at this time of historic prosperity -- we will never get around to it. So we have to do it now.
One of the things that we ought to do is to make sure that we can put all our kids in facilities that are modern enough that they can be hooked up to the Internet, that people can learn, that we can do what we need to do here -- not just the science classes, not just the labs, but all the classes. (Applause.)
Let me just give you an example. I just talked to Senator Harkin about this before I came in, because he got some money for Iowa to do this -- the first federal money ever to help in school construction he got on the basis of a pilot project for Iowa. And now you heard the Governor say the state's putting money in. But four years ago, when we started to talk about this, the government said it would take $112 billion to modernize schools for all of our kids. Today, they say it will take $322 billion.
The engineers of our country, the people charged with building things, a couple of years ago evaluated all of what we call America's infrastructure -- our roads, our bridges, our railroads, our ports, our airports, our water systems. You know what? They said the worst system in the world that we had, the worst one in our country, was our school buildings -- that they are too old and not ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
I have been to schools, elementary schools, in Florida -- I went to a little town, in Jupiter, Florida, and went to one elementary school. There were 12 house trailers out behind the school, because the kids were so numerous, the school district had grown so much, that they couldn't go in there. Even in this school, where you've got a lot of rooms, you have a lot more students here than the school Washington built for. And it's one of the things the teachers talked to me about today.
So, why am I here? Because I hope that America will see this problem and this opportunity through you and your school, thanks to our friends in the media. And because I have given the Congress now for one more year, my proposal, which basically would say one of the things we ought to do with our prosperity is to help build or massively overhaul 6,000 schools, and we ought to give the states enough money to repair another 5,00 schools every single year for the next five years. The students of this country and their families deserve it. (Applause.)
Back in 1907, this high school was called -- I quote --"a high school for the future." Back then the population of Davenport was 39,000, about a third of what it is today, and Central High had half the number of students it does now. It was a high school for the future. You have some new renovations planned over the next two years, which I hope will make it a high school for the future again. But I want every single school in America to be a school of the future. You need it, you deserve it. And if the Congress will pass my proposal, we will help you get it.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 6:38 P.M. CDT