Remarks on Signing the Augustus F. Hawkins-Robert T. Stafford Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments of 1988

 

April 28, 1988

 

Thank you all very much, and let me get right to the business at hand. Excellence in education is a key to the health and well-being of society. That's why when I came into office in 1981 I brought a mandate from the American people to turn over a new leaf in education, to rededicate ourselves to the highest standards of achievement and excellence in our nation's schools. Over the last 8 years we've made much progress. And working together with Congress; State and local governments; parents; teachers; charitable, religious, and community organizations; and business, we have begun to turn back what our education commission 5 years ago called ``a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.''

 

Well, we've taken a firm and uncompromising stand against drugs in our nation's schools. We've encouraged a return to basics and common sense in primary and secondary education. And we have shifted authority away from distant Federal bureaucracies and returned it to parents, principals, and school boards.

 

As Secretary Bennett's report this week makes clear, much remains to be done. We remain, as that earlier commission said, ``a nation at risk.'' But today, more than ever before, the American people, the Federal Government, and the States are working together, and not at cross-purposes. We all have come to realize what is at stake: our standard of living, the cohesiveness and unity of our society, our moral standards, and in short, our future.

 

The legislation that I'll sign today is a product of that common purpose. H.R. 5, the Augustus F. Hawkins-Robert T. Stafford Elementary and Secondary School Amendments of 1988, reauthorizes and improves a wide variety of Federal programs at the elementary and secondary school level. At the same time, it recognizes a fundamental truth: that the primary responsibility for educating these children lies with the local communities and the States, and not with the Federal Government.

 

The school improvement act will further this important but supplementary role of the Federal Government in elementary and secondary education. It will extend programs for the disadvantaged and other students with special needs, stimulate education innovation and reform, enhance local control and flexibility, improve program accountability, and focus program benefits on those with the greatest need. I'm pleased to note that the bill reauthorizes the magnet school program and expands parental choice. I'm also pleased to see that the bill amends the Bilingual Education Act in ways that provide greater flexibility to local school districts in the selection of instructional approaches. This administration has struggled for several years to amend Federal bilingual requirements so that we may more effectively teach students English. I'm also pleased that the bill enhances parental involvement in programs for disadvantaged children. Parents are, after all, our first and most important teachers.

 

These central features of the bill echo the themes that the Vice President, Secretary Bennett, and I have been sounding, and I'm pleased that they received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. From the beginning, we worked with the Congress, educators, and interested members of the public to ensure legislation that would improve basic education for America's youth. I want to commend the Members of Congress who are here today for their leadership in guiding this bill through the Congress.

 

I want to note that this bill renames the Guaranteed Student Loan Program after Bob Stafford. Bob has had a major influence on Federal education policy for many years, and I commend him on his distinguished career.

 

I urge the Congress to focus in the appropriations process on the existing, successful programs that this bill reauthorizes. It is these current programs that offer the greatest promise of educational opportunity and educational excellence to our nation's children.

 

H.R. 5 also contains provisions making ``Dial-A-Porn'' services a criminal misdemeanor. I commend Congress for joining the administration's longstanding efforts to combat hardcore obscenity. I am bound to note, however, as much as it displeases me, that current Supreme Court jurisprudence is unfriendly to parts of this bill. And I hope that the courts and the Congress will work with the administration to do as much as is permitted by the Constitution to enforce the provisions of this statute.

 

On balance, H.R. 5 is a solid achievement, one that deserves to be signed, which I am about to do right now.

 

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

 

Now I'm going to do what the little 11-year-old girl told me to do in a letter that she wrote to me when I first reported here for duty. She told me all the things I was going to have to deal with and then said, ``Now get over to the Oval Office and go to work.'' [Laughter]

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:39 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. H.R. 5, approved April 28, was assigned Public Law No. 100 - 297.