The president visited an elementary school in Olney, Md., where he called for increased education spending while warning that the GOP tax cut would hurt school funding.
The White House points to polls that show Americans are more worried about school conditions than they are about taxes. The president has said he will veto that $792 billion tax-cut plan as soon as it reaches his desk.
"Education must be America's priority," said the president. "We now have in our schools... the biggest group since the Baby Boom and it's also the most diverse. Our diversity in a global economy can be enormous asset only if we give every one of our children a world-class education."
The president said schools need to lower class sizes in the early grades.
"Students learn better, especially early, in smaller classes," he said in Olney. "This is not theory. We have academic research, evidence that we have no excuse not to act on.
"Average class size is 37," he said. "That is wrong. We can do better."
Mr. Clinton said it's time to hire more teachers, perhaps as many as 100,000.
"We have waited a lifetime for the kind of economics we have today," he said. "We have some money; what are we going to do with our prosperity?"
This fall, Congress considers a 34-year old law that governs the bulk of federal education spending. The White House is expecting a fight over Mr. Clinton's bond proposal for school modernization, which would provide $24.8 billion in tax-credit bonds over two years. The Clinton administration claims that amount would make it cheaper for local school districts to modernize up to 6,000 schools.
The administration also claims Republicans' $792 billion tax-cut program almost ignores school needs in favor of tax breaks for the wealthy, such as eliminating the estate tax.
Arguing against a tax cut now, President Clinton said "we need to decide whether to invest in the things critical for our children's future: the environment, education. Then we can give what's left over to you.
"Don't put the cart before the horse and then figure out what in the wide world to do," he said.
Mr. Clinton announced the administration is making $33 million available for teacher partnerships. "We have to have quality teachers.
"It's basic arithmetic: When 2 million teachers are about to retire, you need more teachers especially in the early grades.
"We must invest more, not less, in education," he said.
Mr. Clinton has promised to veto the GOP tax cut this fall.