President unveils initiative for teaching children to read $2.75 billion literacy drive to enlist army of 1 million

Democratic Convention

Campaign 1996

August 28, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WYANDOTTE, Mich. -- President Clinton unveiled a $2.75 billion children's literacy initiative yesterday, telling an audience here that only those who read can "build the future of their dreams."

Citing evidence showing that children who can't read by the third grade are unlikely to graduate from high school, the president left his campaign train to make his announcement at a public school library where he was flanked by dozens of smiling school children.

"We know that without reading, the history books are closed, the Internet is turned off, the promise of America is much harder to reach," the president said.

To ensure that the nation's children are afforded that opportunity, the president is proposing hiring 30,000 reading specialists -- and using the AmeriCorps program and other volunteer organizations to eventually have a million adults and teen-agers teaching young people to read.

"This is important because all the evidence shows that from first to third grade, you are learning to read," said Gene Sperling, a Clinton economic adviser. "For the rest of your life, you are learning from reading."

Sperling, who is from Michigan, told reporters traveling with the president that an important "fact-checker" was in the audience -- his mother, a former third-grade teacher.

To give the announcement a human touch, campaign officials tapped the talents -- and small-town charm -- of two local elementary school students, 7-year-old Justin Whitney and 9-year-old Elizabeth Schweye. They read the president the story "The Little Engine that Could."

The president responded enthusiastically -- and so did the audience.

As he makes his way ever closer to the Democrats in Chicago, Clinton is drawing huge crowds as well as basking in the laudatory words of Democrats from the mountains of West Virginia to the industrial factories of Michigan.

Yesterday morning, in Toledo, Ohio, an audience of United Auto Workers set aside their 1993 anger over Clinton's push for the North American Free Trade agreement to give him a warm reception.

On the first day of the trip, Kentucky's Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat, assured the president that his anti-smoking crusade was not an insurmountable problem -- even in his tobacco state.

"My wife sometimes disagrees with me, but she doesn't divorce me," said Patton. "She loves me. Mr. President, many of us disagree with you on tobacco, but we love you. We love you!"

White House officials assert that the support Clinton has rallied from traditional Democratic groups -- and Democratic elected officials -- is a good omen as he heads to Chicago.

"It's a sign of what a strong position the president is in," said White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

"Even those who disagree with him want to set aside those vTC differences and be part of the excitement of this convention and his candidacy."

White House aides believe that with Clinton's approval rating as high as it's been in his presidency, his fellow Democrats believe it's in their own interest to support him.

But another factor is that each day along his 500-mile train trip to Chicago, Clinton is outlining new positions that appeal to the liberal groups that still form the core of the Democratic Party.

On Monday, Clinton came out for expanding the Brady handgun control law. Yesterday, he proposed the child literacy program push.

Today, he is to unveil a $1.8 billion environmental cleanup initiative and his acceptance speech will include a $3.4 billion tax credit plan for businesses who hire people from off the welfare rolls.

The initiatives Clinton is proposing this week add up to $8.45 billion through 2002.

To offset the costs, Clinton aides announced several measures, including a $5.3 billion tax increase on export sales by multinational corporations.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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