Well, I feel like I'm among friends. It's a great honor for me and for my family to have you here in the White House. It's a place where you belong, and it belongs to you. Every one of the Presidents since George Washington have lived here. And the problems and opportunities faced by us have been exactly the ones that were faced on a much more personal and daily basis by the teachers of our Nation for the last 200 years.
There's an inherent partnership between those who serve in government at all levels and those who teach our students, both young and old.
I'm very delighted that the NEA chose to take an active role in politics- [laughter] —at that very propitious time. I felt at that moment that Fritz Mondale and I had formed an alliance or a friendship and a sense of mutual trust that would stand us in good stead as we deal with national problems. And I hope that as we progress through our own administration, that that realization might grow in your mind if you have friends here in the White House as well.
We do have a good program going. Our emphasis this year will be on basic educational quality, and we're trying in a special way to make opportunities available for high school graduates to go on to college.
I've just increased the proposed allocation of funds for education, which brings the increase in 1 year above 15 percent to about 20 percent. We want this trend to continue.
My own background, as many of you know, before I got involved in elective politics, was in the administration of the public school system. I've been dedicated to it.
We started our married life and had our second son born in Hawaii. So I wear the beautiful flowers with pride. And we've always had our sons and our daughter in the public schools.
When I first found that I would be moving to Washington, Rosalynn and I had some very sincere and quiet talks between us about Amy's own education. We had heard bad reports about the public school system in the District of Columbia. But I felt rather than move away from the schools, that we ought to get ourselves more deeply involved in the public school system, thinking at that time that there might be some sacrifice on the part of Amy to demonstrate the First Family's interest and commitment to the public school system.
That has not been the case. It has not been a sacrifice. I think Amy has benefited greatly from what she has derived in the public school system in the District. And I hope that our own involvement in it now and in the future will help to strengthen the interest of parents in the public school system throughout the country.
We have learned a lot in this first year. We had never lived nor served in Washington. I had never been part of the Federal Government at all, except as a naval officer. And I think the progress has already been very good. And I hope that you, in the experience of the 1976 election .campaign and also in your experiences in politics at the State level, will not narrowly restrict your interests just to matters that relate to schoolteachers or school programs or even students, because the thrust of our Nation, what it stands for, what it is, what it can be, is your responsibility, not only as a private citizen but also, I think, as one who helps to mold opinion.
You're respected not only as individual teachers and administrators but also because you have a position of leadership among your own peer group. And I hope that you'll be vigorous and forceful when you take on a project in helping to shape our country for the better. I trust your judgment. I've learned since I've been in Washington that sometimes the interest groups can be very selfish. But my own experience with you is that your motives are basically the same as mine. And that's a compliment, I think, to me when I say it, not a compliment to you.
We have a group of good Members of Congress. I think their commitment to education is superb. I've gotten to know those leaders very well in recent months.
I hope that you would help me, for instance, with the Panama Canal treaties. This is a matter where the Nation's public posture is at stake. It's a pure example of a bipartisan approach to a difficult political issue but a crucial issue involving statesmanship.
And many of the Members of the Senate tell me privately that they know that it's a right and a proper and decent thing to do, but they are fearful about the political consequences at home. And I think if they knew with a personal letter from you or even an organizational expression that you would give them your support and appreciation, it would help me in that crucial issue.
There are many others where the interest of our own country might very well be at stake that I hope that you will help me.
I would like to say in closing that I believe that we need and I believe that we will get a separate department of education. This is a matter that I considered very carefully before I promised your officers before the election that I would do.
Since I've been in the White House, I've had the need for this separate department impressed even more vividly on my mind. When I was Governor for 4 years, I would guess at least 20 or 25 percent of my time was spent in dealing with issues directly related to public education at the elementary, secondary, preschool, or the college level. This is a subject that rarely arises at a Cabinet meeting of your Government in Washington.
The only time it does arise is when there's a legal question involving civil rights or the allocation of funds. And I would say that the Attorney General really has more of a problem to bring to the Cabinet meeting than does the Secretary of HEW. Joe Califano is a superb man. He's dedicated to a finer education in our country. But the point is that as long as the educational function is buried within a large department with welfare and health, I don't think that education will ever get the visibility that it deserves.
And so, my own experience, where maybe 2 or 3 percent of my time as President, even among domestic issues, is devoted to education, compared to 10 times that much as Governor, shows me that it doesn't have the visibility and the importance that it warrants in our democratic and free society.
I could talk to you a lot about our national image around the world and the need to emphasize basic human rights. But I won't emphasize those points specifically. I would like to say that I recognize in you a kind of cutting edge for social change that sometimes is quite onerous for you.
When politicians like myself have been fearful to address difficult changes in our attitudes and social structures, our educators have had to bear the brunt of criticism and have had to take courageous action.
I've seen it at first hand. And the results of your courage and your dedication and sometimes your sacrifice have been a profound benefit to our country.
I have a great admiration for you all and a great appreciation for what you have meant for our country and a great awareness and confidence in what you will mean to our country even more in the future. It's an honor to have you here.