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Remarks By Vice President Al Gore
Morgan State University

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Dr. Richardson, faculty, students, and friends: it's an honor to be here at this institution, which is a leading force in higher education in America.

And I'm so pleased to be here with Governor Parris Glendening and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who have made education the hallmark of their administration;

Senator Barbara Mikulski, a true leader in this nation's efforts to close the digital divide;

Senator Paul Sarbanes, who fights so hard to ensure that we leave no one out of our prosperity;

Congressman Elijah Cummings, a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus; and Congressman Ben Cardin, who works so hard for the people of Baltimore and Maryland.

Throughout your history, Morgan State has educated ministers and teachers, business leaders and thinkers, computer scientists and engineers—even one of the top advisers in the Clinton-Gore White House, Assistant to the President Terry Edmonds.

Having worked with so many of your alumni, I can't imagine what Maryland or America would do without their leadership. We would be worse off without former Congressman Parren Mitchell—fighting for justice and equality in marches, in the courtroom, and in the halls of Congress. Or Kweisi Mfume, leading the NAACP into the 21st Century. Or Earl Graves, serving as a guiding light for so many young entrepreneurs.

And we would have been worse off without Judge Harry Cole, who led a life of firsts—first African-American to be elected to the Maryland State Senate, first African-American to serve on Maryland's highest court, and the first Morgan alumnus to chair the University's governing board. He left us one year ago yesterday, but his legacy lives on.

For all of Morgan State's 133 years, you have stood for a simple principle; a principle that America was founded on, and that sometimes America has forgotten—but one that Morgan State has always upheld, even in the hardest hours:

Opportunity for all—regardless of race, regardless of family income.

So I come here today to speak not only of what we have achieved, but of the job we have to finish—to bring all our people into the circle of prosperity and opportunity.

In the past seven years, we have registered unprecedented economic gains, here in Maryland and across America. This month, America marks the longest period of economic growth in our entire history. We can measure the gains:

Instead of the highest budget deficits in history, we now have the biggest budget surpluses in American history.

Instead of losing nearly 12,000 jobs a year in the Bush years, Maryland has created 43,000 jobs a year in the Clinton-Gore years. Across America, we now have 20 million new jobs.

African-American and Hispanic unemployment have fallen to the lowest levels in history. African-American and Hispanic home-ownership have risen to an all-time high. We have seen the largest five-year drop in child poverty in three decades.

Even more importantly, last week we learned that we are finally reversing a 20-year trend toward income inequality and income stagnation in America.

We have not finished the job. But in the last seven years, the bottom fifth of family incomes grew faster than the top fifth.

Our work must go on, because the journey of equality is far from completed. But for the first time in two decades, America is growing together, instead of growing apart.

So our progress is not an excuse to rest or be complacent—but a summons to go even further, and do even more. We stand at a mountaintop moment in American history. Because of the prosperity we have won, we in this day and in this decade have a chance greater than any generation before us—to fulfill at long last the abiding dream and the repeated pledge of liberty and justice for all.

I believe our prosperity gives us not just an opportunity, but a great obligation. We must make sure that no one is consigned to be left out or left behind.

This purpose is morally right—and economically essential.

If we don't prepare all our people for the new economy, then we will never be able to fill the good new jobs that are opening up.

If we don't close the education and technology gaps that remain—at a time when a new economy is sweeping across the globe—then the opportunity gaps of today will become the opportunity canyons in the 21st Century.

Here is the truth of our history, and the foundation of our future: social progress and economic growth do go hand-in-hand. And if we bring more people into our prosperity, we will all be more prosperous.

The next great step forward—our new era of progress—begins with a firm resolve to defend and extend the gains we have already made.

We must heed the lesson of the past seven years: we can and must invest in people, while maintaining strict fiscal discipline and paying down the national debt. Every proposal I am making in this campaign is consistent with a balanced budget, and policies to sustain a strong economy.

Right now, Republicans want to spend the entire budget surplus on a giant tax giveaway for the wealthy—even though that would force deep cuts in education and health care, and could bring us back to endless deficits and repeated recessions. I'm not about to let that happen.

My primary opponent, Senator Bradley, is a good man. But he wants to spend the entire budget surplus on a single proposal, done the wrong way, which could send us back into deficit. That's why he doesn't have the money to pay for critical new investments in education. And just three weeks before the voting starts here in Maryland, he still has not offered an economic plan for this country.

The experience of these seven years has taught us that if we do things right, we don't have to choose between our prosperity and our ideals. We don't have to choose between economic growth and economic opportunity. America can and must have both.

So let me tell you what I believe we must do:

First, we must close the digital divide in this country. I believe that every child in America—regardless of income, geography, race, or disability—should be able to reach across a computer keyboard, and reach the vast new worlds of knowledge, commerce, and communication that are available at the touch of a fingertip.

It's been estimated that in the past decade, America's Internet economy grew by 68 percent—with e-commerce growing by an astounding 127 percent. And some have estimated that within seven years, almost half our workforce will be employed by industries that are major producers or users of information technology.

We can all see that innovation and technology are fueling faster growth, and new jobs. I see a future where they also widen the circle of opportunity.

We have a long way to go. For there is still too wide of a digital divide—between rich and poor, and between urban and rural America. Low-income families are far less likely to have access to the Internet and computers. Black and Hispanic families at home are now only two-fifths as likely to have Internet access as white families.

Those who live in rural areas are far less likely to own computers and be connected to the Internet—even though they stand to benefit from it more.

I believe it is time to set clear, national goals to close the digital divide.

America was the pioneer of universal education; now America must become the pioneer of universal computer literacy. We know that civil rights ring hollow without economic opportunity. And so we must recognize that in the Information Age, computer literacy is a fundamental civil right.

We cannot be satisfied until every American has the ABC's of the Internet: Access, Basic skills, and high-quality Content.

In the first term of the next President, we must finish connecting every classroom and library in America to the Internet.

Then we must launch a new crusade—calling on the resources of both government and the private sector—to move toward full Internet access in every home, for every family, all across the United States. Already, the high tech community is forming creative new partnerships to provide low-cost Internet access—because it is in their clear self-interest. Together, we must make sure that no family or community is left out. So I say to you: we must not rest until Internet access is as common as telephone access in every American household.

To help us reach that goal, we must make affordable Internet access a national priority. We must make major new investments in high-speed and satellite technologies, to make the Internet more affordable in the hardest-to-reach urban and rural communities.

And in the meantime, we must follow Congresswoman Maxine Waters's leadership, and make sure every low-income community has a technology center that serves not just young people, but adults as well.

We must also launch a new national effort to provide basic skills in the newest technology.

I propose a major initiative to set and achieve a national goal of computer literacy for every child by the time they finish the eighth grade.

And we must do more than merely teaching technology in the classroom. We must dramatically expand teacher training in how to use the power of the Internet. And we should use our AmeriCorps national service corps members to teach and promote the Internet in the schools, libraries, and technology centers that need them the most.

We should realize that the technological revolution makes possible a revolution throughout every aspect of our society—from our classrooms, where educational software can tailor learning to the pace of each child; to our businesses, where the World Wide Web gives even the newest entrepreneur a worldwide reach; to our families, where new technology can open new doors of opportunity to the homebound elderly, people with disabilities, people who are too far away from the nearest hospital or job training program.

We must make it a national priority to find and develop the best educational software—and make it available to every school, rich or poor.

We must move more critical government services on-line—from job-training courses, to help with Medicare and Social Security, to help for new entrepreneurs.

And we need a special commitment to bring people with disabilities, so often locked out in the past, into the economy of the future. As President, I will make tax cuts available to companies that develop new technology, to help people with disabilities make the very most of their abilities.

Second, we must realize what all of you at Morgan State know so well: that education is the greatest anti-poverty program, the most powerful anti-discrimination strategy we could ever have. We must make our public schools the best in the world.

I've proposed a comprehensive education plan, to bring revolutionary improvements to our public schools—with new teachers and smaller class sizes. Higher standards and accountability. High-quality pre-school, made universally available across this country.

We need a national crusade to turn around failing schools. Parents should have more choice in their children's public schools—especially those whose children are stuck in low-performing schools.

I call for the creation of a new 21st Century Teachers Corps—to provide college scholarships to young people who commit to teaching in the schools that need them the most. It is time to challenge a new generation to join a teacher corps here at home—to carry hope and learning to the most neglected places in our own land.

We must challenge every state and school district to dramatically reduce the achievement gap between rich and poor, and between racial and ethnic groups in the next decade.

And we must give more young Americans the chance that you have had—to go to college. I'm proud that this year, nearly 55,000 students in Maryland will receive Pell Grants—and more than 120,000 will receive our HOPE Scholarship tax credits to help pay for college.

Now I propose new tax cuts to help working families save for college and job training. And just last week, I announced the details of a National Tuition Savings Plan that would guarantee the cost of tuition at any participating college, by enabling parents to save tax-free and inflation-free. Higher education is essential to America's new economy, and we need to make it more affordable, not less, in the years ahead.

Third, we must fight to close the gap between the aspirations and the realities of this society.

We must work with American business, to channel investment and jobs to every neglected community—large and small, urban and rural—until opportunity knows no borders in America. And that is why I propose a significant expansion of Empowerment Zones—everywhere in this country.

For the majority who are women, we must assure an equal day's pay for an equal work. And that is why I propose to strengthen and enforce equal pay rules—everywhere in our economy.

We must raise the minimum wage, so that work always pays more than welfare—and so that all those who work will have greater hope, and greater rewards—everywhere in our prosperity.

We must preserve and enforce affirmative action—because we will never have a truly equal nation until we knock down the color barriers and the gender barriers that wall people off from the fullness of America's opportunity.

This is a time of great abundance, for much of America.

But we will never fulfill the American ideal until we knock down the barriers of race and gender that remain.

We will never achieve our full promise if we don't put high skills and high technology in the hands of all Americans.

We will never build a shared prosperity if some of our people can embrace the future, but others are trapped in the past.

With your help, I'll do more than fight to keep our prosperity going. I'll fight to bring in all who stand outside it today. I'll fight for an America in which the doors of opportunity are truly and finally open to all our people.

That is the America we must create, together.

I ask for your support on March 7th. I ask you to stand with me to win the Maryland primary—to win the Democratic nomination—and then to win the Presidency in November.

And if you entrust me with the Presidency, I will march with you in the years ahead—to make great new strides for justice, opportunity, and equality.

If you entrust me with the Presidency, I will fight for you, and for the students who someday soon will sit where you are now, in the classrooms of this campus—so that at long last, the founding dream of Morgan State will become a living reality—not only for you and for them, but for all Americans.


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