Clinton Challenges Governors on Welfare Reform Implementation, Public Education
President Praises City Leadership on Education Standards
In a major address to the nation’s governors, President Bill Clinton has prodded his former colleagues to meet the challenges of welfare and education reform head-on by adopting implementation measures and reforms necessary to create jobs to move recipients from welfare to work, and to meet national primary and secondary education standards.
Clinton’s speech was delivered on July 28 to 45 governors gathered in Las Vegas for the 89th Annual Meeting of the National Governors’ Association (NGA). The July 27-30 meeting was presided over by Nevada Governor Bob Miller, NGA Chairman.
Clinton on Jobs, Child Care, Transportation and Child Support
President Clinton began his discussion of welfare reform by recalling that, "about a year ago, I signed the welfare reform law which has tough work requirements, time limits, parental responsibility, and imposes significant responsibilities on you, while giving you more flexibility to be fully responsible for the program."
"There was a lot of debate about the time I signed the bill about whether welfare reform would work....I would submit to you that after four-and-a-half years that debate should be over, based on the evidence that you have worked so hard to amass,” he added. “There are now three million fewer people on welfare than the day I took office and 1.2 million fewer people since I signed the welfare reform bill just a year ago."
Clinton also credited the strong economy, increased collections in child support, and the increase in the minimum wage and earned income tax credit for the decrease in welfare cases.
The President said that he is moving to "fix things that were in the welfare reform law that I felt should not have been there," including "the most egregious cuts in aid to legal immigrants." In addition, Clinton said that the final budget agreement will add another $1.5 billion for food stamps, and that "it’s important for us to remember that most people on welfare are single mothers and their little children, but a lot of unemployed people long-term in this society are single men, and we should not forget about them."
But while the President highlighted the successes of welfare reform, he concluded that "there’s also a lot more to be done." He reminded the governors, "You asked to be cut loose from the federal government’s bureaucratic strings, and we did that. But now you have continuing responsibility that is greater, and we have continuing responsibility because it’s still a national priority."
Clinton focused his welfare comments on four areas: jobs, child care, transportation and child support.
"If we require people to work, they have to be able to work; there have to be jobs there for them," he said.
Clinton went on to point out that "almost every state in America today has more money under the welfare program of the reform law than you would have if the old law was in place, because we pegged the block grant to the time when welfare rolls were the highest and they’ve dropped at a record rate." The President added, "now that we’ve moved three million people off the rolls, you know as well as I do that the remaining adults on the rolls, by and large, are the hardest to place in employment in the private sector, need the most training, need the most support, may have a false start or two-- and we cannot do it unless we have private sector support."
In referencing the $3 billion job creation program included in the final budget bill, the President said, "We also know that there will be some places in this country where the impact of welfare is so great and the present absence of private sector successful job creation is limited, that we have to do more. So this agreement will include $3 billion to go to communities and states to help you create the work opportunities in those areas where the private sector will not be able to provide them alone."
Clinton also addressed the position of a number of the governors regarding minimum wage covered for workfare jobs, saying, "I also believe, if I might say, that every one of these workers should earn the minimum wage. And I know there’s been some debate about that. I’ve heard already from Governor Voinovich and Governor Miller what your position is, but I just want to reaffirm my view that when people go into the workplace...they ought to be able to earn the minimum wage..."
Outgoing NGA Chairman Miller said at the closing press conference that most governors had agreed to minimum wage coverage, but new Chairman George Voinovich of Ohio and Vice Chairman Tom Carper of Delaware said that the governors would be seeking legislation to remove FICA and unemployment coverage for these workers -- provisions which the governors sought in the final moments of budget negotiations but which were not included.
On the need to focus on child care, Clinton said, "We all know that it’s essential if low-income families are going to succeed at work and at home...and we can’t have people with young children moving into the work force unless they know that their children are going to be well cared for and safe and secure in a nourishing environment while they’re at work."
Clinton added that the budget will add $4 billion annually to the welfare reform law to increase child care assistance to states, and referred to an October 23 “first-ever” White House conference on child care.
"The third thing we have to do is to make sure we have adequate transportation for those moving from welfare to work, because the jobs, the training programs and the child care centers are often outside the neighborhoods," the President said.
"At the same time, there are a lot of suburbs where businesses need new workers. And Congress, therefore, I think, should put in this new transportation bill the proposal I’ve made for $600 million to help states and localities devise transportation strategies to move people from welfare to work."
The President said that a number of states are spending part of the welfare block grant on transportation, adding that, "I would just encourage you to do more of it..."
And on the issue of child support, Clinton pointed to a recently published study which shows that many states have not put new collection measures in place. "This is one of the critical steps to welfare reform, and the more people who are obliged to pay for their children, who can pay for their children, are unable to escape the obligation to pay for their children, the more there will be public money to spend on productive ways to help the people who actually have to have help," Clinton said. “So I would urge all the states to put in place these tough, state-wide child support collection mechanisms as fully and quickly as possible."
The President concluded his remarks on welfare by expressing concern that states may not use the savings from welfare reform to move people from welfare to work, saying "I know in some state capitals there are big debates about how to use extra money caused by the fact that the block grant was pegged to the peak welfare caseload and the caseload is much lower in your states. But I think if we were to revert these savings to other things away from welfare reform, it would be a big mistake that would come home to haunt the states the next time there is an economic downturn."
Leadership Needed on Education Standards
"In the State of the Union address I asked every state to adopt high national standards and, by 1999, to participate in testing every fourth-grader in reading and every eighth-grader in math to make sure the standards are being met," the President said. "Since I issued that call, governors and education leaders in six states have agreed to participate. And I thank the governors of North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia -- three Republicans and three Democrats -- along with the Department of Defense schools all over the world for stepping up to the challenge."
Clinton then focused on the leadership of cities on education standards,. saying, "Last week, Secretary Riley and I went to the National Association of Elementary School Principals where we were able to announce, thanks to the Coalition of Great City Schools, that 15 of the largest school districts in this country, including schools in six of the seven largest cities in America, have committed to adopt national standards and to participate in the program. (See related story on page 8) Now, this is an astonishing thing. For those of us who have been at this for a long time, the idea that 15 of the largest cities in America, which were written off in terms of their school system, would come up and say not only do we not wish to be written off, we’re willing to be held accountable, and if our kids aren’t measuring up, we want to know about it, is an astonishing development in the modern history of education reform and something we should all be very, very excited about and grateful for."
The President said that there is more good news from the Third International Math and Science Tests, which included a few thousand representative kids from across America, and had for the first time our fourth-graders scoring way above the international average.
The bad news in the results is that students in the eighth grade still scored below the international average, with the President partially blaming the problems of adolescence and the influences of drugs, gangs, guns and many other things. The President said the middle schools in many of our states were organized when our society "was far more stable and coherent than it is now. We’ve got the finest system of higher education in the world. It will continue to carry us a long way, but we simply have to do a better job in K through 12."
The President also sought to calm fears that this is a “federal power grab” and addressed the concern of many governors that national voluntary testing not replicate existing or proposed state testing efforts.
Changing Demographics Demand Focus on Race Relations
Clinton’s closing remarks focused on his race initiative and the need for it. He said that while Hawaii currently is the only state that has no majority race, others will soon follow -- such as California within five years. He added that, "unless there is a dramatic change in birth patterns and immigration patterns -- and I mean a dramatic change -- within 30 to 40 years in our nation as a whole there will be no majority race. We have to think about the implications of this."
Other Highlights of NGA Meeting
Governor Miller focused his year as NGA Chairman on the importance of the first three years of a child’s life, and on programs necessary to encourage parental involvement and support of early childhood development.
In a lengthy discussion of this topic, the governors were joined by a number of childhood development experts and Actor/Director Rob Reiner, chairman and founder of the "I Am Your Child" project. Reiner produced a television special which focused on the critical first three years of a child’s development, and continues to promote the need to get this message out to parents and child care professionals.
Former Tennessee Governor and U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander spoke to the meeting during the final plenary session on July 29, expressing his concerns about national education standards and proposed uniform testing. The governors were also joined on the same morning by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates who discussed the evolution of technology in society and its impacts on state governments and their citizens.
The meeting saw the governors acting on a number of policy positions including language related to the Clean Air Act and proposed preemption of Internet taxation.
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