Education is our most important national investment. It commands the time and attention of 60 million Americans—3 citizens in 10. It consumes an annual public and private expenditure in excess of $120 billion. Every citizen has a vital, personal stake in this investment. Our ability to advance both economically and technologically, our country's entire intellectual and cultural life depend on the success of our great educational enterprise.
At no time in our history has our Nation's commitment to education been more justified. At no time in our history has it been more obvious that our Nation's great educational challenges cannot be met with increased resources alone.
I came to the office of the Presidency determined that the American people should receive a better return on their investment in education. I came equally determined that our Nation's formidable educational challenges should be brought to the forefront of national discussion where they belong.
Primary responsibility for education should rest with those States, localities, and private institutions that have made our Nation's educational system the best in the world, but the Federal Government has for too long failed to play its own supporting role in education as effectively as it could. Instead of assisting school officials at the local level, it has too often added to their burden. Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing. Instead of simulating needed debate of educational issues, the Federal Government has confused its role of junior partner in American education with that of silent partner.
The time has passed when the Federal Government can afford to give second-level, part-time attention to its responsibilities in American education. If our Nation is to meet the great challenges of the 1980's, we need a full-time commitment to education at every level of government—Federal, State, and local.
The Department of Education bill will allow the Federal Government to meet its responsibilities in education more effectively, more efficiently, and more responsively.
First, it will increase the Nation's attention to education. Instead of being buried in a $200 billion-a-year bureaucracy, educational issues will receive the top-level priority they deserve. For the first time, there will be a Cabinet-level leader in education, someone with the status and the resources to stir national discussion of critical education concerns.
Second, it will make Federal education programs more accountable. For the first time there will be a single Cabinet Secretary, responsible full-time for the effective conduct of Federal education programs.
Third, it will streamline administration of aid-to-education programs. Separating education programs from HEW will eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, cut red tape, and promote better service for local school systems. For the first time there will be a direct, unobstructed relationship between those who administer aid-to-education programs and those who actually provide education in our country.
Fourth, a Department of Education will save tax dollars. By eliminating bureaucratic layers, the reorganization will permit direct, substantial personnel reductions. By enhancing top-level management attention to education programs, it will earn improved educational services at less cost.
Fifth, it will make Federal education programs more responsive. Placing education in a highly visible department of its own gives the American people a much clearer perspective on what the Federal Government is doing in education and who is responsible for these activities. It allows people to better decide what the Government should and should not be doing in education.
Sixth, a Department of Education will ensure that local communities retain control of their schools and education programs. That is essential if our schools are to serve their students properly, and the Department of Education will, therefore, not permit the Federal Government to begin making decisions on education policy that are best made at the local level.
The Department of Education bill will permit improved administration of the Government's health and human service programs, whose functions are closely related. It will allow the Government to focus greater attention to the needs of those Americans who need it most—the poor, the disabled, and the elderly.
Today's signing fulfills a longstanding personal commitment on my part. My first public office was as a county school board member. As a State senator and Governor I devoted much of my time to education issues. I remain convinced that education is one of the noblest enterprises a person or a society can undertake.
I would like to thank the leadership of both houses of Congress for bringing this historic measure to final passage. I would like to pay particular tribute to the leadership role of Chairman Jack Brooks, Senator Abe Ribicoff, Senator Chuck Percy, and Congressman Frank Horton. Your relentless dedication to this legislation has earned you the gratitude of every citizen.
I would like also to salute the active participation in this legislative struggle by a strong coalition of groups devoted to educational quality and equal educational opportunity. You refused to believe that education is a part-time responsibility, for the Federal Government or for yourselves.