Presidential Radio Address - 11 September 1999
Good morning. All across America the new school year is now underway with over 53 million children, the largest and most diverse group ever enrolled. It's a time of hope and excitement for students, parents, and teachers alike. But in many communities, it's also a time of concern, concern that when our children walk through the schoolhouse door, they won't be safe from the threat of violence.
We know the vast majority of our schools are safe, but we can't forget the communities in cities, suburbs, and rural areas that do have a serious problem with school violence, and we can't forget that even one incident of school violence is one too many.
The tragic shootings of the past 2 years were a wakeup call, an urgent reminder that to protect our children from violence, we need nothing less than a national campaign that draws on all our resources and demands all our commitment, with all of us taking responsibility.
For more than 6 years now, our administration has worked hard to do our part. We've strengthened and expanded our safe and drug-free schools program, which helps school districts provide counseling, after-school activities, and violence mediation among other things. We enacted a national zero tolerance policy for guns in schools, helping to expel 4,000 students for carrying guns to school last year alone. We announced a grassroots national campaign against youth violence, and we fought hard to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals. At the first-ever White House School Safety Conference, and after the tragedy in Littleton at a White House strategy session on youth violence, we launched new actions: 2,000 more school resource officers in our schools, an antiviolence media campaign you may have already seen on television, and a new plan to help schools respond to deadly violence. These steps have made our schools safer, more disciplined, better learning environments. But when it comes to protecting our children, we must do more.
We know the best solutions to the problem of youth violence come when everyone at the local level works together, students, parents, teachers, police officers, local judges, counselors, religious and community leaders. That's why I asked the Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services to develop the Safe Schools/Healthy Schools initiative to help communities coordinate their efforts to identify troubled young people, prevent them from acting violently, and respond when violence does occur.
As part of this new program, we launched a national competition to find and fund the best ideas to reduce youth violence. Hundreds of communities applied. Today I'm pleased to announce that 54 communities with the best plans will receive more than $100 million in safe schools grants. These communities will use the funds in a variety of ways proven to reduce youth violence, from hiring more school resource officers to improving mental health services, to modernizing school security systems, to expanding after-school and mentoring programs. Best of all, they engage the entire community to meet the challenge of building safer schools.
I'm particularly glad that two of these grants are going to communities that have suffered much, one to Jonesboro, Arkansas, in my home State, whose plan includes in-home counseling for at-risk families; and one to Springfield, Oregon, whose plan will build on the strong partnership the schools developed with law enforcement after the tragic shooting there last year.
In the face of terrible loss, the good people of these towns have pulled together to protect their children, and they're an inspiration for all of us. All over America, people are doing their part to fight youth violence. But there are some things only Congress can do. I have called repeatedly on Congress to pass a commonsense juvenile crime bill to prevent youth violence and keep guns out of the wrong hands, with measures that include provisions to require child safety locks on guns, to ban the import of large-ammunition clips, and to really close the gun show loophole.
For months now, the American people have waited for Congress to act. Meanwhile, our children have returned to school in ever greater numbers. So I say again, it shouldn't take another tragedy to make this a priority. It's time for Congress to put politics aside and send me a bill that puts our children's safety first. Let's make this school year the safest yet.
Thanks for listening.