Remarks to the New York State United Teachers Conference

Washington, DC, April 4, 2003

MR. DEAN: (Applause.) Thank you. I want to particularly thank those of you who are holding signs. I don't know how you smuggled those in; this is not a political meeting. I'm sure this is nonpartisan, right? (Laughter.)

Secondly, I do have to do a little geographic rewarding. Would the folks from the Plattsburgh area please stand up and wave their hands? (Cheers, wave hands.) Thank you very much. (Applause.) That's the only area outside my state that I have any advantage in, because Plattsburgh gets all the Burlington media. (Laughter.) So all the delegates from New York are going to be from Plattsburgh, signing -- may sign up shortly.

Let me start off on a more serious note. I think you know that I'm the only major candidate that did not support -- and does not support -- the president's policy in Iraq. (Cheers, applause.) But I also think that it's very, very important that those of us who do not support this policy don't -- not make the mistake that we made during the Vietnam war, and we do need to be very clear that we support our troops. (Applause.) Our troops did not make the decision to go there. They are simply serving their country. And I think we do need to make it clear that these young men and women who are in harm's way are people that we care about and we want them home soon and safely. (Cheers, applause.)

I want to talk for a couple of minutes about some of the things we've done in Vermont, because as you're going to find out, it has a lot to do with education.

I have a lot of differences of opinion with the president's administration. Foreign policy is one of them, which we're not going to get into today. But budgets are the other ones. You cannot continue to run budget deficit after budget deficit after budget deficit and somehow expect us to meet our responsibilities in health care, and education, and transportation and job creation. (Applause.) Now, we have here a group of folks that came in a little over two years ago who have managed the extraordinary miracle of turning the largest surplus in the history of the United States to the largest deficit in the history of the United States in only two years. Why is that a problem? You know why it's a problem.

That's why we're meeting in Albany on May 3rd. (Cheers, applause.)

Let me tell you how I like to run things. In our state, I served as governor long enough, 11-1/2 years, to actually go through both Bush recessions, not just one of them. (Laughter.) And the first one -- we came in, there was a big deficit, and we had the highest marginal income tax in the country. We had to pay off the deficit, we had to level-fund all kinds of things, and we had to even cut taxes, because you can't get jobs to come to your state if you have the highest marginal income tax in the country.

But during the '90s, when lots of money was coming in, we set money aside in a rainy day fund, we never let the legislature spend more than the rate of growth of the economy, and we paid off almost a quarter of our debt between 1996 and 2003. And as a result, today, two years into the recession, we have a balanced budget, we are not cutting K-through-12 education, we are not cutting higher education, and we're not cutting health care for kids. (Applause.)

If you care about social justice, you've got to stand for a balanced budget, and you have to mean it, because at the very time when revenues go down for the state, as they have with my state, at that very time is when the folks who depend on state government the most need the most help.

And we're not just talking about poor people. How many middle- class kids are not going to be able to go to the state university system in New York because of the enormous tuition hikes that are going on there because the budget's not balanced? (Light applause.) It is middle-class kids and middle-class families that suffer as well. In fact, it's everybody except for those people who got those enormous tax cuts, who make more than a million dollars a year.

What this president has done has taken $1.7 trillion out of the Social Security trust fund to give tax cuts -- to give people tax cuts who make more than a million dollars a year. It seems to me that we need a change in Washington. (Applause.)

And while we were balancing the budget and limiting spending, we did some other things as well. The first thing we did is to make sure every kid in Vermont had health insurance. If you make $54,000 a year or less in our state, your kids under 18 are entitled to health insurance.

Now we charge something at the top end of that.

We charge 50 bucks a month. Fifty bucks a month includes and insures everybody in your house under 18. If we can do that in a small, rural state which is 26th in income in the country, surely the most wealthy and powerful society on the face of the Earth can do what every other industrialized country does, which is make sure that all its citizens have health insurance. (Applause.) And I intend to do that.

There are three promises that I make for the first year of a Dean administration. First, we're going to set our path back towards a balanced budget. Secondly, I'm going to submit a plan to insure every single American. And thirdly, we're going to fully fund special education in the first year of my administration. (Cheers, applause.)

Let me be very clear about this. I hate unfunded mandates. When we -- (interrupted by applause). Now, of course, having said that, somebody from the press is going to go and dig through my record and find out that I signed a few as governor, and I'm sure I did. But when we required high standards in our state, with the New Standards Reference Exam, we told the local folks 'We want you to test kids in reading in the second grade, fourth, eighth and 10th grade, the New Standards Reference Exam, and we're going to pay for every dime of it.' And we have. We don't require any tests in Vermont that we don't pay for. (Applause.)

And I have to say that all those folks that I'm running against for president were happy to pay for the 'No School Board Left Standing' bill. (Laughter.) There wasn't any money in it, and there was an awful lot of power that was taken away from local folks. And it seems to me that some of the things in that bill ought to be pretty worrisome. And one of the things that I can't get over is all the Democrats that voted for it.

Because here's what's in that bill. There's some money for Title I and those things, and those are good things, but the bill says that every school has to sign off and assure the government -- the federal government that they offer, quote-unquote, 'constitutionally protected school prayer,' whatever that might be. The bill says that the Boy Scouts have to be allowed to meet in every school building in the country, and you have to sign off. The bill says that we have to send the names of every rising junior and senior to every higher-education establishment and the military.

Now, it seems to me that these may be good policies and they may be bad policies, but those are the kinds of policies that ought to be resolved by the local school board, local administrations and local teachers, not by the federal government. (Applause.)

I have a few regrets about not running for a sixth term for governor. One of them is that had I run and been reelected, we would have refused the money from No Child Left Behind because we would have been better off without the small amount of money and still being able to run our own school system. (Applause.)

But we need an overhaul of American education, and in my view, an overhaul of American education starts with making the public schools stronger and not starting to talk about voucher programs. (Applause.) I don't think that putting taxpayers' money into private schools is the right thing for America. Let me tell you why. America is the most diverse country on the face of the earth, and American public schools are far from perfect. We can do better. But the truth is, American public schools are where people learn about each other. The education that goes on in schools is not just about what goes on in the classrooms, it's about how we get along with each other, what we know about each other.

Diversity is not something that comes naturally to people. When I was governor, my chief of staff was a woman, and chiefs of staff do the hiring, not governors. So about two or three years into my governorship, I noticed that my office was a matriarchy. (Laughter.) It's true. (Cheers, applause, laughter.) You needn't applaud quite so loudly! And so one day the chief of staff came in and said, 'Well, governor, one of the policy analysts left, I'll be hiring somebody else. Just wanted to let you know.' And I said, 'Well, now, it's none of my business, I don't do the hiring around here, but I've noticed there's kind of a gender imbalance in the office. I wonder if you could find a man.' (Laughter.) And she looked at me -- she wasn't kidding around -- and she said, 'Governor, you're absolutely right, there is a gender imbalance in the office, and we really should hire a man, but it's really hard to find a qualified man.' (Cheers, laughter, applause.)

Now, there's a reason I tell this story. (Laughter.)

There is a reason I tell this story. We all tend to hire people like ourselves. It ain't just 50 year old WASPs like me that do it; everybody does it, right? We're all more comfortable with the people we grew up with or the people we have things in common with, people we're comfortable with. Diversity is not something that comes normally to human beings. That's why you need affirmative action.

The low point of this president's -- (applause) -- the low point of this president's presidency of many low points was his using the word 'quota' five or six times on the evening news when he came out against the University of Michigan affirmative action program, because the University of Michigan does not now have quotas, it has never had quotas and quotas is a race-loaded word designed to appeal to people who are afraid they may lose their jobs or their place in university. (Applause.)

The truth is, we need affirmative action in this country because in 50 years, as is the case now in California, there will be no such thing as a majority, there will be lots of minorities; and that we had better in this country learn to take advantage of that which the public schools do better than any other institutions; that is, learn about each other, do our best to be with each other so we become comfortable with each other, so we get along together, because this country will not survive if we don't. And the public schools are a key piece of that. (Applause.)

In our state during the first recession -- I was governor in the early 1990s -- the prison budget went up 14 percent the first year. I was furious. We had a level-funded budget. So we started a program for 20 years later. We started a program called Success by Six. We hospital visit every mother who gives birth in our state, whether she's the richest or the poorest woman in the state. We ask them if they'd like a home visit; 91 percent say yes. So we visit 91 percent of all the newborn kids within two or three weeks of their birth. Most of those families don't need any help, but the ones that do get child care, health care, parenting skills, job training skills and programs to try to keep the dads interested in the kids. (Applause.)

Ten years later, our child abuse rate is down 43 percent, and child sexual abuse is down 70 percent in the state of Vermont. (Applause.)

What does this have to do with teaching? The first goal of the National Education Goals Panel is every child arrives at school ready to learn. We have gone too far expecting 5-year-olds to get to the schoolhouse door and expecting you all to turn them around between the time they're 5 and 10. School systems aren't made to do that. (Light applause.) We have a responsibility to really be serious about every child arriving at the schoolhouse door ready to learn, and in Vermont, we've done that. (Extended applause.)

The 43 percent drop in child abuse in the first 10 years, I hope very much, is going to lead to a big drop in our incarceration rate, because I am tired of having a country that has almost as many people in the jail system as it does in the higher-education system. (Applause.) We can do better. But we have got to stop thinking that the school system is the way around that and give you all a hand by making sure that kids get preschool education, which ought to be something we do nationally, all over the country -- (applause) -- by making sure that kids between the ages of 0 and 3 have adequate child care. In our state, we subsidize child care up to $39,000 a year for a family, because we want working people to make sure that really no child is left behind. (Scattered applause.)

And I can tell you that the president may have passed a bill called "No Child Left Behind," but his welfare reform, which requires 40 hours a work week for single moms, is "Every Child Left Behind," because there's no child-care money in there. And we're going to do better with that, too. (Applause.)

We can do this. In our state, we give bonuses in child care. When we pay out child-care subsidy, we give a 20 percent bonus to any center or home that's certified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, because we don't want them parked in front of televisions. What -- that's not child care. We want them intellectually stimulated with an educational component, so when they get to you, you can do your job in the classroom and not be turned into social workers. (Applause.)

Let me close by something that I mentioned briefly early on. I said I wanted full funding of special education. In our state -- and I want to thank Rick Mills for this -- I don't -- here he is, our former commissioner, who's now your commissioner. (Laughter.) Well! Guess things didn't go quite as well in New York as they did in Vermont! (Laughs; laughter, cheers, applause.)

Let me tell you what we did -- and this is going to scare some of you, this is going to scare some of you, so don't get nervous, because our teachers didn't like it much at first, either. In our state, we believe in inclusion in special ed, so we included 82 percent of all our kids who are special ed with IEPs in mainstream classrooms. Now, that scares a lot of teachers, and it scared a lot of our teachers. There was a lot of nervousness about how in the world a classroom teacher was going to handle a big influx of kids with disabilities. I think today they wouldn't trade it for anything, because what we did, of course, is have those kids go in with adequate funding and with paraprofessionals. (Cheers, applause.)

And let me tell you what that meant. It means that teachers have other adults in the classroom. They're not certified teachers, but they are adults, and it always -- because there's very few disabled kids with paraprofessionals that need 100 percent all the time, so that frees up the paraprofessionals to help once in a while some of the teaching duties. Kids make more progress who require special ed. But let me talk to you about what I think is the most important thing about this, and for me it's very personal.

I have two kids, neither of whom require special education. When we made this change in Vermont, my daughter was in the sixth grade, my son was in the fourth grade. My daughter is now a freshman in college, my son's a junior in high school. My daughter was too far advanced for this to affect her; we phased it in. But my son was affected. He had a child in his fourth-grade class that couldn't speak and, of course, didn't have any other skills in terms of communication, other than very, very basic ones.

That child, when he got to the eighth grade, was still included. And one day, I asked him, "How is Patrick doing?" He said, "He's doing pretty well. He talks and he writes." The effect it had on Patrick was extraordinary, but the effect that it had on my son was more extraordinary. Because we have a whole generation of kids who are now growing up understanding that people with disabilities are just people who have some differences like every other person has differences, but they are people. That is an exceptional and an extraordinary thing. (Applause.)

And one of the greatest shames of the federal government, not just in this administration but in all administrations since IDEA was passed, was underfunding of special education. (Applause.) It is an unfunded mandate. It sets the parents of kids with disabilities against the parents of kids without disabilities every time there's budget crunches. We have to fund it one way or the other because the courts and the Congress say so.

There's never enough money for the other things that need to be done, whether it's arts, whether it's languages, whether it's enrichment, whether it's sports. We've got to stop that. That is why one of the first three things I'm going to do is in the first year, $27 billion is all it costs -- 2 percent of all our budget in this country at the federal level goes to K through 12 education -- $27 billion dollars, one quarter of the money that we're spending in Iraq, one tenth of 1 percent of our federal budget -- we can afford that and we don't have to phase it in; we want to do it in the first year and stop fooling around and call it like it is. No more unfunded mandates. It is so hard for our public school systems to do that. (Applause.)

Let me close by saying this: First, I want you to go to your e- mail or your website and look us up -- Secondly, I want you to e-mail us so you're on our e-mail list. Thirdly, I want to tell you that I, at this time two years from now, intend to be president of the United States -- (cheers, applause.) -- and I'm going to be. And I'll tell you why -- I'm going to tell you why.

We cannot win the presidency if our program is "Let's vote with the most conservative president in our lifetime 85 percent of the time." We need a different message in the Democratic Party.

We need to stand up for traditional Democratic ideals, like health insurance for everybody -- (applause begins, and continues throughout, doesn't stop until the end of the remarks) -- like balanced budgets, like fully funding special education, like supporting public education and stop giving taxpayers' money to private education, like standing up for our kids early on, early essential education. (Cheers, applause.)

We can do those things, but we need a Democrat from a Democratic wing of a Democratic Party to do it! Thank you very much! (Cheers, applause.)

Thank you.

Transcript: Federal News Service Copyright 2003 Federal News Service, Inc.  

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