In my State of the Union address Tuesday night, I issued a call to action to all Americans to prepare our people for the 21st century. The very heart of this mission -- and my number one priority these next four years -- is to give our children the best education in the world.
Education is about opportunity and about giving our children the tools to make the most of their God-given potential. This is a goal every American must share -- for every other American. That's why I'm calling for a new, nonpartisan commitment to education. During the Cold War, America had a bipartisan commitment to foreign policy, and politics stopped at the water's edge. Today, education is a critical national security issue for our future, and our politics must stop at the schoolhouse door.
My plan calls for world-class standards for students, teachers and schools. It calls for expanding Head Start, rebuilding crumbling schools, opening the doors of college wider than ever before, and ensuring that workers can learn and earn for a lifetime.
To give our children the best education we must help them to harness the powerful forces of technology. That's why we've challenged America to connect every classroom and library to the Internet by the year 2000. For the first time in history, children in the most isolated rural towns, the most comfortable suburbs, and the poorest inner-city schools will have the same access to the same universe of knowledge.
We've come a long way toward meeting that goal -- and we owe much of that progress to the leadership of the Vice President who will now say a few words about our efforts.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. A year ago today, you signed the historic Telecommunications Act, to help move America into the Information Age. And in this past year a lot has happened. Broadcasters have agreed to air three hours of quality educational programming for children every week. The television industry is assigning ratings to its programs, so that parents can make smart choices about what their children watch. Soon parents will have a V-chip to block out shows they deem to be unfit for tender minds.
Last year, more than 40 states held NetDays, when Americans came together to actually pull cable, hook up computers, and install software to connect local schools to the Information Superhighway. Last March, you and I participated in California's NetDay, joining 20,000 volunteers who connected 4,000 schools in just one single day.
And now, today, on the one-year anniversary of this Telecommunications Act, your Department of Education is awarding $14.3 million to Illinois, Mississippi, and New Mexico, in the first of what will be a total of $200 million in Technology Literacy Challenge grants. Communities will use these funds to equip classrooms with computers, link schools to the Internet, and train teachers in new information technologies. Altogether, this is an unprecedented effort to connect the children of this century to the technology of the next.
May I say thank you, Mr. President, for leading the way.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. We are making a lot of progress. Today, we're issuing a report prepared by Secretary Riley and the Department of Education that shows that 65 percent of our schools are now connected to the Internet -- almost double the number of schools connected in 1994. But it's not enough to connect every school; we must connect every classroom and every library as well. Since 1994, we have more than quadrupled the number of classrooms with a direct link to the Internet. But the vast majority still do not have access. That's why we're now launching an aggressive, three-part plan to finish the job.
First, my balanced budget plan makes an unprecedented commitment to education technology -- doubling the Technology Literacy initiative the Vice President just mentioned and providing a total of $500 million for computers, teacher training, and educational software for our schools.
Second, we're working to ensure that every school and library can afford the Internet. Under the Telecommunications Act, the Federal Communications Commission is now developing a plan to give schools and libraries access to the Internet at a dramatically discounted rate. Fees for most schools will be cut in half. Fees for our poorest schools will be almost free. I urge the FCC to act quickly. And I call upon the telecommunications industry to support this effort.
Third, this April 19th, parents, teachers, business people, and volunteers from all walks of life will answer our call and hold NetDays in all 50 states, connecting tens of thousands of schools, classrooms, and libraries to the Internet.
By doubling our investment in education technology, by dramatically lowering the Internet rates for schools and libraries, by mobilizing Americans all across the country to help wire our schools, we will meet our goal of connecting every classroom and library to the Information Superhighway by the year 2000. That's how we must prepare our children for the 21st century, with the full promise of the Information Age at their fingertips. And it's an important way to give our children the world's best education and the chance to make the most of their own lives.
Thanks for listening.