Public Papers

Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion on Education Reform


The President. Good morning, everyone, and welcome. Excuse me for keeping you all waiting. But what we want to do here is talk about choice in education. I remember the GI bill working so well. It did nothing but make the colleges better. It's our theory that choice, at the level that we're going to talk about it today, can do nothing but make things better. But here's the firing line; here are people from the Governor on down right to the very most important level, Tommy, yours and mine, is the family level. So I've been interested in this since the first -- one of the early meetings we had in 1989 was on school choice. I think it's an idea whose time has come.

But what I wanted to do today is, just before we go out and announce this ``GI bill'' for lower levels of education, perhaps the most important levels of education, is to hear from you all. Lamar Alexander has been our point man. This fits beautifully into a program we call America 2000, which encourages innovation at the local, the family, the State level. What I've heard about -- and since I remember talking to some of you all about this when I was in Milwaukee -- but what I've heard about is the enormous success it's been. So what I wanted to do is to not put all of you on the spot with all this attention but literally, in an unstructured way, hear from the families.

Lamar, before I turn quickly to the Governor, do you want to say anything?

Secretary Alexander. Well, only this, Mr. President.

The President. Our Secretary of Education.

Secretary Alexander. I think Milwaukee has the opportunity to be the pioneer here because you have a bipartisan group in the State government who have used State funds to give middle- and low-income, or give low-income families more choices of the schools wealthier people have. Now you've got private business stepping up and expanding those choices to include religious schools. Then your ``GI bill'' for kids proposal would put the Federal Government into the action, and if Milwaukee wants to, give Milwaukee about million. That would be a ,000 scholarship for that many children, as long as they could spend it at any school. So all of that money could go to the public schools if the public schools can attract the children, or the families would have the absolute choice to take the money, tell private schools to meet the needs of children.

I think I'll stop there because I think the parents here and the teachers and the school principals and school leaders are the ones who know how this works, and I'd rather hear from them.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.