THANKS to the hard work of the American people, the fiscal discipline of the government, and the wise investments we have made as a country, we are beginning the 21st century from a position of unprecedented prosperity. With that prosperity comes unprecedented opportunity and significant responsibility. One of the most important responsibilities that we face is that of educating our people. I believe that education must remain a state and local responsibility, with those closest to our children making daily decisions, but I also know that education must be a national priority, with bold national leadership and ample national investment.
Over the last eight years, the Clinton/Gore Administration has fought to ensure that every American has access to the resources that he or she needs to prepare for success in the 21st century. As President, I would continue my commitment to this mission by fighting for an education agenda that would enable all Americans to reach their full potential, through a reasonable balance of investment in education and accountability from educators and students.
Over the next 10 years, I would create an Education Reform Trust Fund. This fund would set aside resources to bring revolutionary improvements to our public schools, because ensuring all children the education they need to succeed should not be a year-to-year decision. The trust fund would finance programs that are key to student achievement and the centerpieces of my education agenda: universal preschool, smaller class sizes, and high-quality teachers.
Ninety percent of American students attend public schools. Our public schools are a cornerstone of our democracy, and they are critical to ensuring a chance at the American Dream for generations to come. That's why it is imperative that we implement education policies that fundamentally make sense - that ask a lot of our people, but provide them with the means to accomplish much, as well.
The foundation of a good education is laid in the earliest years of life. That's why as President, $50 billion of my proposed education spending would go toward ensuring that every 4-year-old in America whose family chooses it can attend preschool. Preschools could be provided in community-based settings, such as public schools, community centers, and Head Start centers, and they would be required to identify developmentally appropriate curricula that would prepare children to learn to read.
As I worked to expand early childhood learning and care, I would also work to ensure that the quality of that care is high. My Ready-to-Learn Fund would help finance background checks for child-care workers and regular, unannounced quality checks on child-care facilities. My tax plan would make the child-care tax credit refundable - meaning that families with no tax liabilities could get money back to help defray the expenses of caring for their children. I would also fight for expanded after-school programs - so our children can learn in safe environments at the time of day when young people are at the greatest risk.
After providing early childhood education to get children environments where they can learn, I believe the most critical step we can take to help every child learn to read by the end of the third grade is to reduce class size. In addition to offering children more individual attention and learning time, smaller classes have also been shown to lead to better attendance records, lower dropout rates, and fewer discipline problems. In order to provide these smaller classes, we must do two things: hire more teachers and build more schools.
My plan would invest $8 billion over the next 10 years to aggressively recruit new teachers, providing up to $10,000 in college aid to those who commit to teach in high-need schools after graduation, and as much in signing bonuses for professionals who switch careers to teach. I would also ensure loan forgiveness for 300,000 students who agree to teach in schools or subject areas that are particularly underserved. …