Bill Clinton on Education

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


Pay off college loans with percentage of 20 years' income

I hope the Obama student-loan program will correct [our current negative] trend. Under the new system, the federal government will lend the money directly to students, instead of guaranteeing bank loans. That will lower student loan costs. The students also don't need to be afraid of running up debt to get a degree, because their loans can be paid off over 20 years as a small, fixed percentage of income. No one will ever have to drop out of college again because of the cost.
Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.101 , Nov 8, 2011

Pushed for voluntary national school standards

When Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, it was not the first time that an American president tried to influence public education.

Reagan had unsuccessfully attempted to bring school vouchers to fruition. Clinton unsuccessfully tried to establish national standards for all states albeit on a voluntary basis. But by the time Bush II became President, he had a Republican Congress that was ready to pass his platform. But Bush II had a Republican Congress that was ready to pass his platform

Source: Teachers Under Attack!, by Mike Spina, p. 89 , Feb 17, 2011

Donated his saxophone to Save the Music school program

The Save the Music Foundation is determined to give the gift of music back to America's children, regardless of their financial situation. Sponsored by the popular music channel VH1, Save the Music provides new instruments to school mu return for a school district's commitment to fund music teachers' salaries, and to schedule music classes during the school day.

I got involved with Save the Music [in the late 1990s], donating a saxophone and attending events to publicize the effort. Although Save the Music only gives new instruments, most older ones can be restored to fine playing condition. I own a 1915 soprano saxophone, a 1935 Selmer tenor, a 1955 Buffet alto, and a tenor sax made by Adolph Sax himself in 1861. limitations on the music they can make are mine. So if you have an older horn you'll never play again, you should consider donating it to a school music program that needs it, after making sure it's in good working order. You might be changing a life.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p. 62-63 , Sep 4, 2007

1990s: Campaign for school uniforms

More gifted liberal politicians, rather than dismissing moral concerns, go out of their way to make political gestures shrewdly designed to try to convince the electorate that they SHARE a concern for eroding American values. But these political efforts, despite megaphone publicity, touch only on small matters. Remember Pres. Clinton's campaign" for school uniforms? Then, their "image" properly "managed" so as to appear "moderate," these politicians proceed with their real agenda, an agenda utterly hostile to traditional morals.

School uniforms. They happen to be a good idea, but they're not the responsibility of the president. Yet as a politician I have to shake my head in wonderment at the sheer political artistry of such a move. It cost Bill Clinton nothing; there was no changes that this "campaign" would go anywhere. Yet by loudly trumpeting his interest in school uniforms, Pres. Clinton was able to portray himself as someone who got it when it came to questions of America's moral health.

Source: It Takes A Family, by Sen. Rick Santorum, p.209 , Apr 30, 2006

Education is the best possible investment in people

In the first 100 days of the new Congress, the new Republican majority kept their promise to bring all 10 items in the Contract With America to a vote. Speaker Newt Gingrich celebrated with a nationally televised speech.

Clinton at first planned to answer Gingrich with an education message, an issue that had been central for Clinton as AR governor. Clinton knew that education was the best possible investment in people. But it was difficult to give the education issue political lift and immediacy. A direct Clinton response to Newt's Contract would unnecessarily legitimize and elevate it. [But instead, the Clinton speech focused on the Contract, and at] core was Dick Morris's "dynamic center."

Gingrich gave his nationally televised speech. The next day Clinton was elated. Good headlines. It had worked, he declared. "Why in the hell were we giving a speech on education?" he said. How could they have thought an education speech was the appropriate match-up with Gingrich's 100 days agenda?

Source: The Choice, by Bob Woodward, p.136-140 , Nov 1, 2005

$15B in education aid to ‘support what works’

I proposed a large package of education reforms, arguing that we should change the way we spend the more than $15 billion a year of education aid to ‘support what works and stop supporting what doesn’t work,’ by requiring states to end social promotion, turn around failing schools or shut them down. I again asked Congress to provide funds to build or modernize 5000 schools and to approve a six-fold increase in the number of college scholarships for students who commit to teaching in under-served areas.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.843 , Jun 21, 2004

Reasonable range of religious expression in schools

I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was intended to protect a reasonable range of religious expression in public areas like schools and workplaces. The bill was designed to reverse a 1990 Supreme Court decision giving states more authority to regulate religious expression in such areas. America is full of people deeply committed to their very diverse faiths. I thought the bill struck the right balance between protecting their rights and the need for public order.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.558 , Jun 21, 2004

1997: Established middle class entitlement: 2 years college

Clinton managed to gain approval for several new, and rather large, social programs that had been at the heart of his own wish list. There was the more than $30 billion in new tax credits for higher education; in effect, this made the first two years of college a middle-class entitlement. By 1999, an astonishing ten million of the 14 million Americans eligible would take advantage of this credit.

This was an achievement ignored by Clinton's critics. "These aren't big pieces of legislation. These are scraps off the table," said one critic. "It ain't the GI Bill of Rights."

But the college tax credit plan passed in 1997 was LARGER than the GI Bill of Rights, which only applied to returning World War II veterans.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.159-160 , Feb 11, 2003

Proven formula: higher standards & more accountability

First and foremost, we need a 21st century revolution in education, guided by our faith that every single child can learn. Because education is more important than ever, more than ever the key to our children's future, we must make sure all our children have that key. That means quality preschool and afterschool, the best trained teachers in the classroom, and college opportunities for all our children.

All successful schools have followed the same proven formula: higher standards, more accountability, and extra help so children who need it can get it to reach those standards. I have sent Congress a reform plan based on that formula. It holds States and school districts accountable for progress and rewards them for results. Each year, our National Government invests more than $15 billion in our schools. It is time to support what works and stop supporting what doesn't.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 2000 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 27, 2000

1983: Required teacher testing as part of funding increase

From his Gubernatorial Inaugural Address in 1983: "We must dedicate more of our limited resources to paying our teachers better, and expanding educational opportunities in poor and small school districts." The part of the educational plan most controversial was the requirement for teachers to take a competence test. He said: "It is a small price to pay for the biggest tax increase in the history of the state and to restore the teaching profession to a position of public esteem."

Teacher testing brought a higher rate of failure for black teachers. That failure rate was suggested to be discriminatory: "I agree that would be discriminatory if the test was given once and then if you didn't pass it you couldn't be recertified. The evidence is that black teachers can learn these skills and can do just as well as white teachers. Black children & poor white children in our state have no other shot but the public schools to have a decent opportunity in life. We're doing this for them.

Source: Clinton on Clinton, by Wayne Meyer, p. 42-43 , Nov 9, 1999

More tax credits for college tuition

We have made education a high priority, focusing on standards, accountability and choice in public schools, and on making a college education available to every American -- with increased Pell Grant scholarships, better student loan and work-study programs, and the HOPE scholarship and other tax credits to help families pay for college tuition. Because of these efforts, more young people have the chance to make the most of their God-given abilities, and take their place in the high-tech world.
Source: Speech by President Bill Clinton , Aug 7, 1999

1986 initiative: Good beginnings, Good schools, & Good jobs

Bill Clinton had successfully reinvented himself as Boy Wonder, and in November 1986 he again beat Frank White to win the state's first four-year term as governor. In his inaugural speech, he presented a comprehensive set of initiatives for "Making Arkansas Work--Good Beginning, Good Schools, and Good Jobs." Hard economic times and slumping tax revenues might once have suggested cutting back on education and human development spending, he said. "But that will not work today. In our highly integrated, highly competitive world economy, wither we press ahead or we are pushed back. There is no status quo." It was a brilliant speech, delivered well. Time and again he was interrupted by applause.
Source: Friends in High Places, by Webb Hubbell, p.129 , Nov 1, 1997

America Reads initiative: one million volunteer tutors

We must do more to help all our children read. Forty percent--40 percent--of our 8-year-olds cannot read on their own. That's why we have just launched the America Reads initiative, to build a citizen army of one million volunteer tutors to make sure every child can read independently by the end of the third grade. We will use thousands of AmeriCorps volunteers to mobilize this citizen army. We want at least 100,000 college students to help, and tonight I am pleased that 60 college presidents have answered my call, pledging that thousands of their work-study students will serve for one year as reading tutors. This is also a challenge to every teacher and every principal: You must use these tutors to help students read. And it is especially a challenge to our parents: You must read with your children every night.
Source: Pres. Clinton's 1997 State of the Union message to Congress , Feb 4, 1997

National crusade: educate for 21st century knowledge economy

I have a plan, a call to action for American education, based on these 10 principles:
  1. A national crusade for education standards, representing what all our students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.
  2. To have the best schools, we must have the best teachers.
  3. We must do more to help all our children read. 40% of our 8-year-olds cannot read on their own.
  4. Learning begins in the first days of life. We should start teaching children before they start school.
  5. Every State should give parents the power to choose the right public school for their children.
  6. Character education must be taught in our schools.
  7. We cannot expect our children to raise themselves up in schools that are literally falling down.
  8. We must 2 years of college universal.
  9. In the 21st century, we must expand the frontiers of learning across a lifetime.
  10. We must bring the power of the information age into all our schools.
Source: Pres. Clinton's 1997 State of the Union message to Congress , Feb 4, 1997

OpEd: "Goals 2000" came close to nationalizing education

The federal usurpation of state and local authority in the field of education continues. In 1994, for example, with the passage of a measure called "Goals 2000: Education for American Act," the Clinton administration came close to nationalizing American education. The proposed goals, which the Clinton administration insisted were voluntary, specify levels of "inputs" or resources local schools and school districts must meet in order to receive additional federal funding. In reality, of course, these goals are far from voluntary--if a state refuses to submit to the standards, it can lose federal dollars.

While Goals 2000 may have a high-sounding name redolent of academic excellence, it could in certain circumstances actually prevent a school from giving certain kinds of tough, scholastically oriented tests.

Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.128 , Apr 25, 1996

Goals 2000: public school choice & character education

Every diploma ought to mean something. I challenge every community, every school, and every State to adopt national standards of excellence, to measure whether schools are meeting those standards, to cut bureaucratic red tape so that schools and teachers have more flexibility for grassroots reform, and to hold them accountable for results. That's what our Goals 2000 initiative is all about. I challenge every State to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.

I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 1996 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 23, 1996

Both teachers and students must demonstrate competence

We must do more to make sure education meets the needs of our children and the demands of the future. First and foremost, he must continue to hold students, teachers, and school to the highest standards. We must ensure students can demonstrate competence to be promoted and to graduate. Teachers must also demonstrate competence, and we should be prepared to reward the best ones, and remove those who don’t measure up, fairly and expeditiously.
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 44 , Jan 1, 1996

Need not leave religion at the schoolhouse door

Some families have been frustrated to see their children denied even the most private forms of religious expression in public schools. Here is where I stand: I believe the First Amendment does not require students to leave their religion at the schoolhouse door. Just as we wouldn’t want students to leave at home the values they learn from religion, we should not require them to refrain from religious expression. Reinforcing those values is an important part of every school’s mission.
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.138 , Jan 1, 1996

Private student prayer OK; but no official school prayer

I believe the Supreme Court was right a generation ago to prohibit any public authority from creating an official school prayer and making students recite it. But there is absolutely nothing improper about students wanting to reflect upon their faith. Students can pray privately and individually whenever they want. They can express their beliefs in homework, through artwork, and during class presentations, as long as its relevant to the assignment. They can form religious clubs in high school.
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.139 , Jan 1, 1996

1984 budget proposed $180M for Hillary's education reform

In Hillary's Ed Reform Report, a demand for statewide teacher testing was less well received. The proposal unleashed a torrent of opposition and the teachers' union geared up for war. The National Education Association fought the test in court but failed.

The governor's legislative package that year included a proposed $180 million tax increase for education. The revenues were to come from a highly controversial sales tax increase. The teachers test, which was popular with parents if not teachers, was a way to make the people of Arkansas feel they were "getting" something--accountability--for their hard-earned tax money. Clinton said he felt "it is a small price to pay for the biggest tax increase in the history of the state and to restore the teaching profession to the position of public esteem that I think it deserves."

Source: The Inside Story, by Judith Warner, p. 128 , Aug 1, 1993

Expand public school choice and public charter schools

The FY 2000 budget provides a $134 million accountability fund to help turn around the worst performing schools and hold them accountable for results through such measures as overhauling curriculum, improving staffing, or even closing schools and reopening them as charter schools. This year, the President is proposing to double funding for this fund to turn around the nation’s failing schools to ensure all children receive a quality education.

The Clinton-Gore Administration has worked to expand public school choice and support the growth of public charter schools, which have increased from one public charter school in the nation in 1992 to more than 1,700 today. More than 250,000 students nationwide are now enrolled in charter schools in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The President won $145 million in FY 2000 -- and has proposed $175 million in his FY01 budget -- to continue working toward his goal of establishing 3,000 quality charter schools by 2002.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Jul 2, 2000

Reward best public schools; redesign failing ones

We should reward the best schools, and we should shut down or redesign those that fail, and especially those that are unsafe. That’s one reason why I have supported expanding school choice and charter schools-creative new schools started by parents and teachers and licensed by school systems. And it’s why I have announced a new $5 billion program to renovate and modernize school buildings badly in need of repair-in inner cities, suburbs, and one-stoplight towns.
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 44 , Jan 1, 1996

Offer every parent Charter Schools and public school choice.

Clinton adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Create World-Class Public Schools
Now more than ever, quality public education is the key to equal opportunity and upward mobility in America. Yet our neediest children often attend the worst schools. While lifting the performance of all schools, we must place special emphasis on strengthening those institutions serving, and too often failing, low-income students.

To close this achievement and opportunity gap, underperforming public schools need more resources, and above all, real accountability for results. Accountability means ending social promotion, measuring student performance with standards-based assessments, and testing teachers for subject-matter competency.

As we demand accountability, we should ensure that every school has the resources needed to achieve higher standards, including safe and modern physical facilities, well-paid teachers and staff, and opportunities for remedial help after school and during summers. Parents, too, must accept greater responsibility for supporting their children’s education.

We need greater choice, competition, and accountability within the public school system, not a diversion of public funds to private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers. With research increasingly showing the critical nature of learning in the early years, we should move toward universal access to pre-kindergarten education.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC2 on Aug 1, 2000

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Education.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by Bill Clinton.
  • Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by Bill Clinton.
Other past presidents on Education: Bill Clinton on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

Political Parties:
Republican Party
Democratic Party
Libertarian Party
Green Party
Reform Party
Natural Law Party
Tea Party
Constitution Party
Civil Rights
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Social Security
Tax Reform

Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022