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CNN Live Event/Special

President Bush Speaks in Boston

Aired January 08, 2002 - 17:18   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is now speaking in Boton about the education bill he signed into law earlier today. Let's listen in.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ...during an incredibly tough time. Ironically enough, Judd Gray was there as well. And both those men went out of their way to put their arm around Laura, and let her know all would be right. So Mr. Senator, not only are you a good senator, you're a good man.



BUSH: Speaking about September the 11th, I want the young folks here to know that the mission we're on to rid the world of terror is a noble and just mission. I long for peace, but we learned a terrible lesson. And that lesson is we must root out terror wherever it exists in order for you and your children to grow up in a free and peaceful society.

This nation will not tire. We will not rest until we bring those who are willing to harm Americans to justice. And that's exactly what we intend to do.


We have a job to do overseas, and our military is performing brilliantly.

For those of you've got relatives in the military or those of you who are in the military, thank you from the bottom of our nation's collective heart.


And we've got a job to do here at home, as well. And that's to make sure every child in America -- every child -- receives a good education.

Senator Kennedy and I, on the way in here, were talking about the Latin School. And I want to thank the headmistress, Kelly, for having us here. Thank you very much (inaudible)


After he had finished the litany of all the Kennedys that had gone to school here...


... we talked about the quality of education that the kids receive here.

BUSH: And the truth of the matter is, if you look at this bill that I signed this morning in Ohio, it says this is the way -- this is Boston Latin all over again, this is what Boston Latin is about. It's about expecting high standards, understanding every child can learn, demanding the best, insisting upon hard work, rewarding success, solving failure.

It is a great school, and I am grateful that I could come and herald the signing of an important piece of legislation here at this school. This is not only a testimony to Senator Ted Kennedy's hard work, it's a testimony to a fine public school. Thank you for having us.


I appreciate the governor coming, and I know the governor's committed to quality education as well.

Jane, thank you for being here.

I'm honored that members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation came.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come by and say hello.

I appreciate so very much the mayor being here.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming. It's good to see you again.

I want to thank all of you for coming. I particularly want to thank the students who are here.

You're seeing government at its best with this piece of legislation. I know there's a lot of folks who look at Washington and say, "Can't they ever get along? All they do is argue. All they do is call each other names."

But on this piece of legislation -- on this important piece of legislation, we figured out how to put our parties aside and focus on what's right for the American children. We showed the country that if we so desire it is possible in Washington to say the nation matters more than our political parties matter. (APPLAUSE)

That was not as easy as it sounds.


BUSH: It took a lot of hard work and it took the leadership of four fine Americans, who are on this stage with me today.

These four people decided they would rather see results than have empty rhetoric dominate the scene. These people said, "Look, we disagree on some issues, but why don't we figure out where we agree and get something done?" And it was in that spirit that we crafted a great piece of legislation.

Big George Miller is out of California. He is -- he might be considered left in Massachusetts.


What do you think, Congressman?


That's saying something.

Before I went to Washington, I had a group of the gentlemen come down to Austin to talk about education reform. And George and I had a discussion about making sure that the systems did not simply shuffle children through; that we wanted to call a halt to what some call social promotion.

I knew right then and there when I heard his passion about focusing on each child, that there was a potential ally when it came to writing good legislation.

And then Boehner from Ohio, showed up. He did a fabulous job, by the way.

I signed the bill this morning in his district to really express my gratitude and the nation's gratitude for his leadership on shepherding this bill through the House of Representatives.

Without John Boehner, without George Miller, this bill never would have made it throughout the House. And I want to thank them both from the bottom of my heart.


And then, there's the Kennedy-Gregg alliance. It was amazing that it worked, but it did.


And the truth of the matter is, the bill wouldn't have gotten out of the Senate had not Senator Kennedy and Judd Gregg put their minds to it. This bill could easily have stalled.

It was a convenient time for people to say, "Well, we better not move anything out of the Senate because there's a war."

But Ted Kennedy and Judd Gregg went to their respective caucuses and demanded action.

BUSH: And as a result, the bill came to the Senate floor, passed overwhelmingly, and I had the honor of signing it this morning.

I wish you could have seen the piece of legislation. It's really tall.


And I admit I hadn't read it yet.


And you'll be happy to hear I don't intend to.


But I know the principles behind the bill, and I want to describe some of them to you.

First, this bill says that we will hold people accountable for results. It says, in return for receiving federal money, states must design accountability systems to measure -- to determine whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. In return for federal money, the state of Massachusetts or the state of Texas or any other state in the union must develop an accountability system to let us know whether children in grades three through eight are meeting standards. It basically says every child can learn, and if they're not learning, we want to know early, before it is too late.

Now, I've heard them say, "Well, tests -- we're testing too much." Well, if you don't like to take a test, too bad, because we need to know, we need to know whether you're learning.


I read a quote from a little girl from New York the other day that touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours. She said, "I don't remember taking exams. They just kept passing me along. I ended up dropping out in the seventh grade. I basically felt no one cared."

Well, she was through, and she was blowing the whistle on what happens in some of our schools in America. You know, sometimes it's easy to walk into the classroom and say, "Certain children can't learn, therefore let's just move them through. Let's don't test them, let's just push them out the end." And that's wrong in America. Every child matters. Every child should be diagnosed on whether or not they can read and write and add and subtract. BUSH: And if they can't, we need to correct the problems early before it's too late. The cornerstone of reform is strong accountability measures, just like you do here in the state of Massachusetts.

Secondly, in order for reform to mean anything, there must be consequences; something must happen if there's failure.

Now in this bill, it says schools will be given time to correct; after posting the test scores and mailing out the report cards that show mediocrity or failure, schools will still be given a chance to correct the problems. And therefore, we provide incentives and resources to make sure that failing schools have got the opportunity to meet standards.

But if they don't, the consequence is that parents must be empowered to make different choices. We must not trap children in schools that will not teach and will not change. And so therefore, this bill says parents in failed schools can send their children to another public school or charter school or be able to get tutoring for their children in either the public or private sector.

It is important to free families from failure in public education, and that's what this bill does.

The third principle, it says that we trust the local people to make the right decisions for the schools. It says we trust the governors and the school boards to design the path to excellence for every child. It says Washington has a role of providing money and now Washington is demanding results, but Washington should not micromanage the process.

And so this bill provides a lot more flexibility for the local folks. In essence, it says, the people of Boston care more about the children of Boston than the people in Washington, D.C.

Rod Paige understands that. The reason I picked Rod to become the secretary of education is because he was the superintendent of schools in the Houston Independent School District. He knows what it means to run a school district. And when we implement this bill, I can assure you Rod is going to make sure that the spirit of No Child Is Left Behind is a part of the regulations.

But this bill says one size doesn't fit all when it comes to public schools. It fosters change by pushing power to the lowest level, and that is at the local school districts, which should make the teachers in this audience feel good.

BUSH: First of all, I want to thank all the teachers who are here.

Yours is a noble profession. And thank you for taking on this tough job.

(APPLAUSE) But a system that devolves power -- system that devolves power says we got to trust the teachers and principals to make the right decisions in the classrooms. And that's what this bill says.

This bill also wages a battle against illiteracy. It recognizes that spending money is important, but you need to spend money effectively in order to make a difference. We've spent a lot of money in education -- a lot. And a lot of it hasn't made a difference.

One area where we're going to make a difference from this point forward in America is in reading, teaching every child to read. The numbers of inner-city kids, kids from impoverished families, their ability to read or the illiteracy rate -- let me put it to you that way -- is astounding. It is pitiful. It is not right for America that over 60 percent of the children in the fourth grade from impoverished families cannot read.

If you can't read in the fourth grade, you're not going to read in the eighth grade. If you can't read in the eighth grade, you're not going to read in high school. And if you can't read, you got a tough life ahead of you. And we need to do something about it, America.

And this bill does it: triples the amount of money for early reading programs; programs based upon the science of reading, not something that sounds good or feels good, but something that works. There's money for teacher training. There's money for enhanced methodology. There is money that says we're going to stay focused until we teach every child to read by the third grade in America.


And so, those are the principles of a good bill. The bill is not only good for education, but it's a good go-by to show what can happen in Washington.

And that's why the five of us -- or the six of us, including Rod Paige -- have been traveling around the nation today, heralding the success, the joint success, the success of people from both political parties, and both houses of Congress.

BUSH: It shows what is possible when people say, "I want to get something done."

I know what's possible when it comes to educating children. You've seen it here in your own state, how the numbers have improved dramatically. It starts with an attitude that says public education is crucial, every child can learn and we must set high standards.

And that's what we've got to do in America, it seems like, all over the country. After 9/11, a lot of people have asked, "What can I do to help? How can I make a difference in America?" Well, my advice is, first, love your children like you've never loved them before. Show them that they're the most important people in the world.

But a way you can help America is to mentor a child, to teach a child to read. You can make sure your kids turn off your TV and read. You can make sure that you support the public school in your neighborhood. You can make sure you thank a teacher. You can help by going into classrooms to make a difference.

If you're really interested in how to help fight terrorists, if you want to make sure that the terrorists aren't able to affect the heart and soul of America, support your public schools, insist upon the best, demand accountability, because every child in America can learn, and when they do, this country's going to be a heck of a lot better off.

Thank you for letting me come. May God bless.


BLITZER: President Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy shaking hands in this, the third stop of the day in Massachusetts -- earlier in New Hampshire, as well as in Ohio, where the president signed the education bill into law.

Our Senior White House correspondent, John King, has been traveling with the president today. He joins us just outside of the Boston Latin School, where he once was a student himself.

But, John, let's talk about what the president's thrust of his remarks in all three of his speeches were today -- the bottom line being he wants to try to use some of this bipartisanship as an example for other issues. But can he do it?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question, Wolf.

In the early days of the new year -- and remember, it is a congressional election year -- the bipartisan spirit on the domestic front, anyway, when it comes to the economy, health care and other domestic issues, has given way to some partisan struggles between the Republican president and Democrats in the Congress, especially the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, who has been taking the lead for the Democrats.

You can see the president here. He went through all the policy in this bill, so I won't revisit it. But you see him, as you noted, trying to tap the bipartisan spirit. It took months to negotiate this compromise. As the president said, many thought, "Let's call it quits for this year and come back next year" after the terrorist strikes of September 11.

But working with some conservative who had to deal with criticism on the right, working with liberals like Senator Kennedy, who said that maybe the Democrats were giving the president too much, the president was able to strike this compromise.

And you see that, along the way, he built an important friendship, especially with Senator Kennedy. You saw the poignant moment when the president noted his wife, the first lady, Laura Bush, was actually up on Capitol Hill to testify before the senator's committee when the terrorists struck the United States. Senator Kennedy helped get her to safety initially. Then she was to taken to a secure location.

Mr. Bush, a conservative Republican, called Teddy Kennedy, a liberal icon, not only a good senator, but a good man. The president hopes relationships like that can get him some more progress on the domestic front in the year ahead. Obviously, the economy is No. 1. And the big question is: Can a wartime president translate all that popularity to progress on the domestic front, when the Democrats are looking to take control of the House again if possible, defend their majority in the Senate?

So, some partisan positioning in the early days of the new year -- the president hoping this major achievement of the last year and the bipartisanship that it sprouted from will come back in the days and weeks ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any immediate prospect, John, that this good spirit that we see today will be translated into some movement on the so- called economic stimulus package, which only yesterday the president promised to reintroduce in the coming days?

KING: White House aides behind the scenes are actually saying they do have a bit of optimism. They say, yes, Senator Daschle was quite critical of the president, looking back, critical of the tax cut, but that he himself, Senator Daschle, on behalf of the Democrats, put some new business tax cuts on the table.

The White House believes there's some political posturing going on right now. And they concede it is in both parties. But they also believe Senator Daschle's speech represented -- if you strip away the politics -- evidence that the Democrats believe they too need to prove they want to get something done when it comes to the economy. The thing that held up a compromise just before Christmas was, in the White House view, a Democratic assumption that there was no political price to pay for not cutting a deal with the president.

The White House says it will explore that in the days and weeks ahead -- Congress not back for about two more weeks. So those negotiations will go very slowly for the next two weeks or so -- White House aides also saying perhaps, just like did he on education, the president can find a bipartisan group to work out a compromise on another big issue, the patients' bill of rights -- all that in a congressional election year.

Perhaps they are overly optimistic, but White House aides saying the president is committed to trying. And they actually think Senator Daschle moved a bit their way in his speech the other day. It was the political positioning that drew all the attention, but they will give it a try, and the president is committed to do that.

BLITZER: John King, a 1981 graduate of the Boston Latin School, very briefly, are you happy to be home two decades later?

KING: It's nice to be here. When you are in high school, Wolf, you don't realize what you are gaining and what you are benefiting in. Perhaps I learned here the motto of my life: reasonably good grades for my work, constantly at war with the management.


BLITZER: John King in Boston, thank you very much. I will remember that.