NEARLY 3 years ago, at a little wooden schoolhouse a half mile down the road from here, I signed the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I considered that moment one of the greatest victories of my life--because passing that law was one of the hardest battles of my life.
Federal aid to education has been argued for 20 years. It had divided some good friends into hostile, opposing factions.
But we got it passed. I felt then and I feel now that if the word "historic" has any meaning at all, this law deserved to be called historic.
Today we renew our investment in America's future by extending the Education Act.
This law has brought new help to all American schoolchildren--especially the poorest.
It has brought special educational and health services to 9 million of our poorest children.
It has created 3,600 new school libraries. Almost nine out of ten schoolchildren were helped by new teaching materials purchased during the first year of its library program.
It has launched, all over the Nation, more than 2,200 exciting new education projects outside the classroom. Nearly 17 million children are being made richer.
It has established 20 new regional laboratories for basic research in education: to explore the ways children learn and to improve the ways teachers teach.
This bill authorizes a new effort to prevent dropouts, new programs for handicapped children, new planning help for rural schools. It also contains a special provision establishing bilingual education programs for children whose first language is not English. Thousands of children of Latin descent, young Indians, and others will get a better start---a better chance--in school.
Today we celebrate not only the renewal and extension and improvement of this law--not only 3 years of progress in education; we also celebrate the fact that the great programs passed by the 89th Congress have come of age. They have been tested in practice. They are working. They have begun to improve life for millions of Americans. And they have survived the trials and battles of Congress.
When the 90th Congress convened last year, there were some who predicted that the programs launched by the 89th Congress would be stopped in their tracks, turned back, and destroyed.
Some prophets feared that would happen-and others hoped it would happen!
Well, both of those views have been proven wrong. The 90th Congress was not as productive as I urged it to be. It left an agenda of unfinished business. But it did not turn back or halt or destroy the progress we have begun--not one single Great Society measure was repealed. The American people have spoken up on behalf of health and education and conservation and social progress. Their voices will not be ignored.
Medicare is a fact--and an unchallenged success.
The War on Poverty, the Model Cities Act, a whole range of consumer laws, dozens of measures which 3 years ago were only ideas; these programs live, and their promise lives.
The greatest of these is education--without which no other progress is possible.
We can cite educational statistics. We can publish reports and columns of numbers. But there is only one way, really, to measure the full scope and meaning of this law, and that is in the lives of children.
What this law means is that we are now giving every child in America a better chance to touch his outermost limits--to reach the farthest edge of his talents and his dreams. We have begun a campaign to unlock the full potential of every boy and girl--regardless of his race or his region or his father's income.
That is what we started 32 months ago out in front of the Junction School and that is what we are going to continue, even though we will be somewhat restricted in the next year because of our international and fiscal problems.
So today, as I sign this bill, I repeat what I told those who were there that day: "No law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America."