Remarks to Members of the National Governors' Association

February 23, 1987

Thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House. It's a great pleasure to have you all here in Washington and have this opportunity to talk to you, as one chief executive to others, about our plans to prepare America for the century ahead. With me, as you saw -- usually a group anyplace I go anymore, so we -- Secretary Bennett and Secretary Bowen, Chuck Hobbs, the Vice President. And they'll all help me in answering any questions that you may have. Mostly, however, we want to listen to you, to hear what's happening at the State level; because I may be prejudiced, having been a Governor myself. But I'm convinced that it's in our States and communities that we find many of the most innovating and exciting answers to our problems.

First, however, I want to talk about what we see as our three top agenda items: welfare reform, education, and competitiveness. All three, of course, are connected. Success in all three areas is necessary if America is going to be all it can be.

On the subject of welfare reform: Tomorrow we'll be sending our legislative proposal to Congress, to start that long and convoluted process by which we hope to get true reform started. Our goal is to establish a process that allows States and communities to implement their own antipoverty ideas based on their own unique experiences. States and communities are in the best position to find solutions to welfare dependency. In fact, a number of you already have used the limited independence that you now have to improve your welfare systems. Dozens more of you've demonstrated that you're eager to pursue new ideas and fresh strategies.

I'm also convinced that for any plan to work, it must be based on the advice of experts -- not the ones in the universities and the think tanks, whose expert advice helped create the current welfare crisis, but the real experts: people like a lady named Kimi Gray, a one-time welfare mother with five children. We had her here in the White House the other day, and she told us about how she had gotten herself off of welfare and sent her five children to college. Not only that but she went on to become the driving force behind the Kenilworth Parkside Resident Management Association, taking over the management of these housing projects. And when she started out, she says that Kenilworth Parkside was referred to as ``the end of nowhere, the part of the city that's been forgotten.'' But through the resident management concept, welfare recidivism was reduced from 85 percent to 22 percent and teenage pregnancy was cut by 50 percent. Crime in the neighborhood fell, and new businesses started up.

And how did she do it? Well, her work echoes what every other true expert about welfare knows, what everyone who's had success getting people off of welfare, rather than on, will tell you. ``Our philosophy,'' she said, ``is that the only way we could save our community was by saving our families.'' And how did they do that? Well, here are her words: ``By returning respect and responsibility and pride back to the fathers of our community.'' There, spoken with the eloquence that comes from experience, is the fundamental truth about the difference between dependency and self-sufficiency: It hinges on the family. The fundamental principle that must guide all our efforts at reform is that anything we do, any change we make, must strengthen, support, and give encouragement to the family. We must do all we can to ensure that the family is a safe haven for its children, a source of strength and security for all its members.

And let me make a related point: In some cases day care may be a necessity, but it can never replace the love and care of the parents themselves. We've always been a nation that's drawn its strength from the values of family life. If America hopes to enter the 21st century united and free, we must once again make a wholesale, conscious commitment to strengthening and protecting those basic family values and the strong, stable families from which they spring. I know you all recently received my letter on welfare reform. And I know that you're as dissatisfied with the present system as we are. And many of you've thought long and hard about what needs to be done. Well, that's why we're anxious to hear what ideas your task force, headed by Governor Mike Castle, has to offer. And all of you, individually, have made great strides. We need your ideas, but not just your ideas. I'm asking each of you to help get our legislation through Congress. And I'm asking each of you, then, to use your new freedom to try new approaches in your State so that we can work together to make welfare work better.

Also, I've previewed the ideas you're going to consider tomorrow as a group, ideas developed over the past year by your task force on welfare reform. And I want you to know that I applaud those efforts, especially the emphasis that you're putting on increased self-responsibility among people the welfare system has too often assigned to long-term dependency. An important part of the solution for many is education. And may I take a minute here to congratulate all of you on the impressive strides you're making in this area. Last August you issued a report called ``Time For Results.'' And you raised some tough questions and offered some bold recommendations for reform.

You told us that our education system should set high standards and hold teachers and administrators accountable for the jobs they do. You told us that we should encourage more parental choice and involvement, and you told us to open up the education profession to qualified individuals from other professions. And you said that our colleges should be judged by their success or failure in educating our students. Secretary Bennett tells me that you're moving full speed ahead to put your recommendations into practice. Well, I want to urge you today to continue to build on your report and to carry your ideas through, specifically ensure that all our students have good teachers by opening up the profession to all competent individuals who have mastered the subjects to be taught and make an even greater push for higher standards and higher expectations for all of our children, regardless of their social or economic background.

You've taken the lead, and the Federal Government is going to work to do our part. Last week I sent two important pieces of legislation to the Congress: our ECIA proposal to improve the education of disadvantaged children and our bilingual proposal to restore flexibility to decisions on the best means of teaching children whose first language is not English. These proposals complement your reform efforts. We're encouraged by the progress of our education reform movement. You're on the front lines, so let's stick with it.

And finally, the task of competitiveness. Welfare reform and education are a big part of that. People are our most valuable resource; and their imagination and creativity, hard work, and faith -- that's what'll drive America into the 21st century. We can't afford to leave anyone out, and no one must be excluded. And that's why I recently sent to Congress proposed legislation to ensure that government will contribute its share to America's quest for excellence. Ours is a diverse package, as diverse as the challenge before us. But diverse though it is, every part of it has one central purpose -- and that is to make certain that in the years ahead the door of opportunity and excellence is open to all Americans.

Well, now I've broken my promise of last night at dinner. I've talked too long. Our friends from the press will be leaving now. And when they've cleared the room, I'll just turn to your Chairman, Bill Clinton, so that I can hear some of your ideas. Nice to have had you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:54 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, the President referred to William J. Bennett, Secretary of Education; Otis R. Bowen, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Charles D. Hobbs, Deputy Assistant to the President for Policy Development; and Vice President George Bush. Bill Clinton was the Governor of Arkansas.