But 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. (Applause.)
Now, as we demand more from our schools, we should also invest more in our schools. (Applause.) Let's double our investment to help states and districts turn around their worst-performing schools, or shut them down. Let's double our investments in after-school and summer school programs, which boost achievement and keep people off the streets and out of trouble. (Applause.) If we do this, we can give every single child in every failing school in America -- everyone -- the chance to meet high standards.
Since 1993, we've nearly doubled our investment in Head Start and improved its quality. Tonight, I ask you for another $1 billion for Head Start, the largest increase in the history of the program. (Applause.)
We know that children learn best in smaller classes with good teachers. For two years in a row, Congress has supported my plan to hire 100,000 new qualified teachers to lower class size in the early grades. I thank you for that, and I ask you to make it three in a row. (Applause.) And to make sure all teachers know the subjects they teach, tonight I propose a new teacher quality initiative -- to recruit more talented people into the classroom, reward good teachers for staying there, and give all teachers the training they need. (Applause.)
We know charter schools provide real public school choice. When I became President, there was just one independent public charter school in all America. Today, thanks to you, there are 1,700. I ask you now to help us meet our goal of 3,000 charter schools by next year. (Applause.)
We know we must connect all our classrooms to the Internet, and we're getting there. In 1994, only 3 percent of our classrooms were connected. Today, with the help of the Vice President's E-rate program, more than half of them are. And 90 percent of our schools have at least one Internet connection. (Applause.)
But we cannot finish the job when a third of all our schools are in serious disrepair. Many of them have walls and wires so old, they're too old for the Internet. So tonight, I propose to help 5,000 schools a year make immediate and urgent repairs; and again, to help build or modernize 6,000 more, to get students out of trailers and into high-tech classrooms. (Applause.)
I ask all of you to help me double our bipartisan Gear-Up program, which provides mentors for disadvantaged young people. If we double it, we can provide mentors for 1.4 million of them. (Applause.) Let's also offer these kids from disadvantaged backgrounds the same chance to take the same college test-prep courses wealthier students use to boost their test scores. (Applause.)
To make the American Dream achievable for all, we must make college affordable for all. For seven years, on a bipartisan basis, we have taken action toward that goal: larger Pell grants, more affordable student loans, education IRAs, and our HOPE scholarships, which have already benefitted 5 million young people.
Now, 67 percent of high school graduates are going on to college. That's up 10 percent since 1993. Yet millions of families still strain to pay college tuition. They need help. (Applause.) So I propose a landmark $30-billion college opportunity tax cut -- a middle class tax deduction for up to $10,000 in college tuition costs. (Applause.) The previous actions of this Congress have already made two years of college affordable for all. It's time to make four years of college affordable for all. (Applause.) If we take all these steps, we'll move a long way toward making sure every child starts school ready to learn and graduates ready to succeed.
We need a 21st century revolution to reward work and strengthen families, by giving every parent the tools to succeed at work and at the most important work of all -- raising children. That means making sure every family has health care and the support to care for aging parents, the tools to bring their children up right, and that no child grows up in poverty.
From my first days as President, we've worked to give families better access to better health care. In 1997, we passed the Children's Health Insurance Program -- CHIP -- so that workers who don't have coverage through their employers at least can get it for their children. So far, we've enrolled 2 million children; we're well on our way to our goal of 5 million.
But there are still more than 40 million of our fellow Americans without health insurance -- more than there were in 1993. Tonight I propose that we follow Vice President Gore's suggestion to make low income parents eligible for the insurance that covers their children. (Applause.) Together with our children's initiative -- think of this -- together with our children's initiative, this action would enable us to cover nearly a quarter of all the uninsured people in America.
Again, I want to ask you to let people between the ages of 55 and 65 -- the fastest growing group of uninsured -- buy into Medicare. (Applause.) And this year I propose to give them a tax credit to make that choice an affordable one. I hope you will support that, as well. (Applause.)
When the baby boomers retire, Medicare will be faced with caring for twice as many of our citizens; yet, it is far from ready to do so. My generation must not ask our children's generation to shoulder our burden. We simply must act now to strengthen and modernize Medicare.
My budget includes a comprehensive plan to reform Medicare, to make it more efficient and competitive. And it dedicates nearly $400 billion of our budget surplus to keep Medicare solvent past 2025. (Applause.) And, at long last, it also provides funds to give every senior a voluntary choice of affordable coverage for prescription drugs. (Applause.)
Lifesaving drugs are an indispensable part of modern medicine. No one creating a Medicare program today would even think of excluding coverage for prescription drugs. Yet more than three in five of our seniors now lack dependable drug coverage which can lengthen and enrich their lives. Millions of older Americans who need prescription drugs the most pay the highest prices for them. In good conscience, we cannot let another year pass without extending to all our seniors this lifeline of affordable prescription drugs. (Applause.)
Record numbers of Americans are providing for aging or ailing loved ones at home. It's a loving, but a difficult and often very expensive choice. Last year, I proposed a $1,000 tax credit for long-term care. Frankly, it wasn't enough. This year, let's triple it, to $3,000. (Applause.) But this year, let's pass it. (Applause.)
We also have to make needed investments to expand access to mental health care. I want to take a moment to thank the person who led our first White House Conference on Mental Health last year, and who for seven years has led all our efforts to break down the barriers to decent treatment of people with mental illness. Thank you, Tipper Gore. (Applause.)
Taken together, these proposals would mark the largest investment in health care in the 35 years since Medicare was created -- the largest investment in 35 years. That would be a big step toward assuring quality health care for all Americans, young and old. And I ask you to embrace them and pass them. (Applause.)
We must also make investments that reward work and support families. Nothing does that better than the Earned Income Tax Credit -- the EITC. (Applause.) The "E" in the EITC is about earning, working, taking responsibility and being rewarded for it. In my very first address to you, I asked Congress to greatly expand this credit; and you did. As a result, in 1998 alone, the EITC helped more than 4.3 million Americans work their way out of poverty toward the middle class. That's double the number in 1993.
Tonight, I propose another major expansion of the EITC: to reduce the marriage penalty, to make sure it rewards marriage as it rewards work -- (applause) -- and also, to expand the tax credit for families that have more than two children. It punishes people with more than two children today. (Applause.) Our proposal would allow families with three or more children to get up to $1,100 more in tax relief. These are working families; their children should not be in poverty. (Applause.)
We also can't reward work and family unless men and women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) Today, the female unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in 46 years. Yet, women still only earn about 75 cents for every dollar men earn. We must do better, by providing the resources to enforce present equal pay laws; training more women for high-paying, high-tech jobs; and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. (Applause.)
Read Part III here.