|The American Presidency Project|
|• Richard Nixon|
|Special Message to the Congress on Equal Educational Opportunities and School Busing.|
|March 17, 1972|
To the Congress of the United States:
In this message, I wish to discuss a question which divides many Americans. That is the question of busing.
I want to do so in a way that will enable us to focus our attention on a question which unites all Americans. That is the question of how to ensure a better education for all of our children.
In the furor over busing, it has become all too easy to forget what busing is supposed to be designed to achieve: equality of educational opportunity. for all Americans.
Conscience and the Constitution both require that no child should be denied equal educational opportunity. That Constitutional mandate was laid down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The years since have been ones of dismantling the old dual school system in those areas where it existed--a process that has now been substantially completed.
As we look to the future, it is clear that the efforts to provide equal educational opportunity must now focus much more specifically on education: on assuring that the opportunity is not only equal, but adequate, and that in those remaining cases in which desegregation has not yet been completed it be achieved with a greater sensitivity to educational needs.
Acting within the present framework of Constitutional and case law, the lower Federal courts have ordered a wide variety of remedies for the equal protection violations they have found. These remedies have included such plans as redrawing attendance zones, pairing, clustering and consolidation of school districts. Some of these plans have not required extensive additional transportation of pupils. But some have required that pupils be bused long distances, at great inconvenience. In some cases plans have required that children be bused away from their neighborhoods to schools that are inferior or even unsafe.
The maze of differing and sometimes inconsistent orders by the various lower courts has led to contradiction and uncertainty, and often to vastly unequal treatment among regions, States and local school districts. In the absence of statutory guidelines, many lower court decisions have gone far beyond what most people would consider reasonable, and beyond what the Supreme Court has said is necessary, in the requirements they have imposed for the reorganization of school districts and the transportation of school pupils.
All too often, the result has been a classic case of the remedy for one evil creating another evil. In this case, a remedy for the historic evil of racial discrimination has often created a new evil of disrupting communities and imposing hardship on children--both black and white--who are themselves wholly innocent of the wrongs that the plan seeks to set right.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution-under which the school desegregation cases have arisen--provides that "The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
Until now, enforcement has been left largely to the courts--which have operated within a limited range of available remedies, and in the limited context of case law rather than of statutory law. I propose that the Congress now accept the responsibility and use the authority given to it under the 14th Amendment to clear up the confusion which contradictory court orders have created, and to establish reasonable national standards.
The legislation I propose today would accomplish this.
It would put an immediate stop to further new busing orders by the Federal courts.
It would establish uniform national criteria, to ensure that the Federal courts in all sections and all States would have a common set of standards to guide them.
These measures would protect the right of a community to maintain neighborhood schools--while also establishing a shared local and Federal responsibility to raise the level of education in the neediest neighborhoods, with special programs for those disadvantaged children who need special attention.
At the same time, these measures would not roll back the Constitution, or undo the great advances that have been made in ending school segregation, or undermine the continuing drive for equal rights.
Specifically, I propose that the Congress enact two measures which together would shift the focus from more transportation to better education, and would curb busing while expanding educational opportunity. They are:
1. The Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1972. This would: --Require that no State or locality could deny equal educational opportunity to any person on account of race, color or national origin.
--Provide for the concentration of Federal school-aid funds specifically on the areas of greatest educational need, in a way and in sufficient quantities so they can have a real and substantial impact in terms of improving the education of children from poor families.
2. The Student Transportation Moratorium Act of 1972.
Together, these two measures would provide an immediate stop to new busing in the short run, and constructive alternatives to busing in the long run--and they would give the Congress the time it needs to consider fully and fairly one of the most complex and difficult issues to confront the Nation in modern times.
BUSING: THE FEARS AND CONCERNS
Before discussing the specifics of these proposals, let me deal candidly with the controversy surrounding busing itself.
There are some people who fear any curbs on busing because they fear that it would break the momentum of the drive for equal rights for blacks and other minorities. Some fear it would go further, and that it would set in motion a chain of reversals that would undo all the advances so painfully achieved in the past generation.
It is essential that whatever we do to curb busing be done in a way that plainly will not have these other consequences. It is vitally important that the Nation's continued commitment to equal rights and equal opportunities be clear and concrete.
On the other hand, it is equally important that we not allow emotionalism to crowd out reason, or get so lost in symbols that words lose their meaning.
One emotional undercurrent that has done much to make this so difficult an issue is the feeling some people have that to oppose busing is to be anti-black. This is closely related to the arguments often put forward that resistance to any move, no matter what, that may be advanced in the name of desegregation is "racist." This is dangerous nonsense.
There is no escaping the fact that some people oppose busing because of racial prejudice. But to go on from this to conclude that "anti-busing" is simply a code word for prejudice is an exercise in arrant unreason. There are right reasons for opposing busing, and there are wrong reasons-and most people, including large and increasing numbers of blacks and other minorities, oppose it for reasons that have little or nothing to do with race. It would compound an injustice to persist in massive busing simply because some people oppose it for the wrong reasons.
For most Americans, the school bus used to be a symbol of hope--of better education. In too many communities today, it has become a symbol of helplessness, frustration and outrage--of a wrenching of children away from their families, and from the schools their families may have moved to be near, and sending them arbitrarily to others far distant.
It has become a symbol of social engineering on the basis of abstractions, with too little regard for the desires and the feelings of those most directly concerned: the children, and their families.
Schools exist to serve the children, not to bear the burden of social change. As I put it in my policy statement on school desegregation 2 years ago (on March 24, 1970):
"One of the mistakes of past policy has been to demand too much of our schools: They have been expected not only to educate, but also to accomplish a social transformation. Children in many instances have not been served, but used--in what all too often has proved a tragically futile effort to achieve in the schools the kind of multiracial society which the adult community has failed to achieve for itself.
"If we are to be realists, we must recognize that in a free society there are limits to the amount of Government coercion that can reasonably be used; that in achieving desegregation we must proceed with the least possible disruption of the education of the Nation's children; and that our children are highly sensitive to conflict, and highly vulnerable to lasting psychic injury.
"Failing to recognize these factors, past policies have placed on the schools and the children too great a share of the burden of eliminating racial disparities throughout our society. A major part of this task falls to the schools. But they cannot do it all or even most of it by themselves. Other institutions can share the burden of breaking down racial barriers, but only the schools can perform the task of education itself. If our schools fail to educate, then whatever they may achieve in integrating the races will turn out to be only a Pyrrhic victory."
The Supreme Court has also recognized this problem. Writing for a unanimous Court in the Swarm case last April, Chief Justice Burger said:
"The constant theme and thrust of every holding from Brown I to date is that state-enforced separation of races in public schools is discrimination that violates the Equal Protection Clause. The remedy commanded was to dismantle dual school systems.
"We are concerned in these cases with the elimination of the discrimination inherent in the dual school systems, not with myriad factors of human existence which can cause discrimination in a multitude of ways on racial, religious, or ethnic grounds. The target of the cases from Brown I to the present was the dual school system. The elimination of racial discrimination in public schools is a large task and one that should not be retarded by efforts to achieve broader purposes lying beyond the jurisdiction of school authorities. One vehicle can carry only a limited amount of baggage....
"Our objective in dealing with the issues presented by these cases is to see that school authorities exclude no pupil of a racial minority from any school, directly or indirectly, on account of race; it does not and cannot embrace all the problems of racial prejudice, even when those problems contribute to disproportionate racial concentrations in some schools."
In addressing the busing question, it is important that we do so in historical perspective.
Busing for the purpose of desegregation was begun--mostly on a modest scale-as one of a mix of remedies to meet the requirements laid down by various lower Federal courts for achieving the difficult transition from the old dual school system to a new, unitary system.
At the time, the problems of transition that loomed ahead were massive, the old habits deeply entrenched, community resistance often extremely strong. As the years wore on, the courts grew increasingly impatient with what they sometimes saw as delay or evasion, and increasingly insistent that, as the Supreme Court put it in the Green decision in 1968, desegregation plans must promise "realistically to work, and...to work now."
But in the past 3 years, progress toward eliminating the vestiges of the dual system has been phenomenal--and so too has been the shift in public attitudes in those areas where dual systems were formerly operated. In State after State and community after community, local civic, business and educational leaders of all races have come forward to help make the transition peacefully and successfully. Few voices are now raised urging a return to the old patterns of enforced segregation.
This new climate of acceptance of the basic Constitutional doctrine is a new element of great importance: for the greater the elements of basic good faith, of desire to make the system work, the less need or justification there is for extreme remedies rooted in coercion.
At the same time, there has been a marked shift in the focus of concerns by blacks and members of other minorities. Minority parents have long had a deep and special concern with improving the quality of their children's education. For a number of years, the principal emphasis of this concern--and of the Nation's attention-was on desegregating the schools. Now that the dismantling of the old dual system has been substantially completed there is once again a far greater balance of emphasis on improving schools, on convenience, on the chance for parental involvement--in short, on the same concerns that motivate white parents--and, in many communities, on securing a greater measure of control over schools that serve primarily minority-group communities. Moving forward on desegregation is still important but the principal concern is with preserving the principle, and with ensuring that the great gains made since Brown, and particularly in recent years, are not rolled back in a reaction against excessive busing. Many black leaders now express private concern, moreover, that a reckless extension of busing requirements could bring about precisely the results they fear most: a reaction that would undo those gains, and that would begin the unraveling of advances in other areas that also are based on newly expanded interpretations of basic Constitutional rights.
Also, it has not escaped their notice that those who insist on system-wide racial balance insist on a condition in which, in most communities, every school would be run by whites and dominated by whites, with blacks in a permanent minority-and without escape from that minority status. The result would be to deny blacks the right to have schools in which they are the majority.
In short, this is not the simple black-white issue that some simplistically present it as being. There are deep divisions of opinion among people of all races---with recent surveys showing strong opposition to busing among black parents as well as among white parents--not because they are against desegregation but because they are for better education.
In the process of school desegregation, we all have been learning; perceptions have been changing. Those who once said "no" to racial integration have accepted the concept, and believe in equality before the law. Those who once thought massive busing was the answer have also been changing their minds in the light of experience.
As we cut through the clouds of emotionalism that surround the busing question, we can begin to identify the legitimate issues.
Concern for the quality of education a child gets is legitimate.
Concern that there be no retreat from the principle of ending racial discrimination is legitimate.
Concern for the distance a child has to travel to get to school is legitimate.
Concern over requiring that a child attend a more distant school when one is available near his home is legitimate.
Concern for the obligation of government to assure, as nearly as possible, that all the children of a given district have equal educational opportunity is legitimate.
Concern for the way educational resources are allocated among the schools of a district is legitimate.
Concern for the degree of control parents and local school boards should have over their schools is legitimate.
In the long, difficult effort to give life to what is in the law, to desegregate the Nation's schools and enforce the principle of equal opportunity, many experiments have been tried. Some have worked, and some have not. We now have the benefit of a fuller fund of experience than we had 18 years ago, or even e years ago. It has also become apparent that community resistance-black as well as white--to plans that massively disrupt education and separate parents from their children's schools, makes those plans unacceptable to communities on which they are imposed.
Against this background, the objectives of the reforms I propose are: --to give practical meaning to the concept of equal educational opportunity.
THE EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ACT
In the historic effort since 1954 to end the system of State-enforced segregation in the public schools, all three branches of Government have had important functions and responsibilities. Their roles, however, have been unequal.
If some of the Federal courts have lately tended toward extreme remedies in school desegregation cases--and some have-this has been in considerable part because the work has largely gone forward in the courts, case-by-case, and because the courts have carried a heavy share of the burden while having to operate within a limited framework of reference and remedies. The efforts have therefore frequently been disconnected, and the result has been not only great progress but also the creation of problems severe enough to threaten the immense achievement of these 18 difficult years.
If we are to consolidate our gains and move ahead on our problems--both the old and the new--we must undertake now to bring the leaven of experience to the logic of the law.
Drawing on the lessons of experience, we must provide the courts with a new framework of reference and remedies.
The angry debate over busing has at one and the same time both illuminated and obscured a number of broad areas in which realism and shared concern in fact unite most American parents, whatever their race. Knowledge of such shared concerns is the most precious product of experience; it also is the soundest foundation of law. The time is at hand for the legislative, executive and judicial branches of Government to act on this knowledge, and by so doing to lift the sense of crisis that threatens the education of our children and the peace of our people.
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act that I propose today draws on that experience, and is designed to give the courts a new and broader base on which to decide future cases, and to place the emphasis where it belongs: on better education for all of our children.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: THE CRITERIA
The act I propose undertakes, in the light of experience, both to prohibit and to define the denial of equal educational opportunity. In essence, it provides that:
--Subject to the other provisions of the act, the assignment of students to their neighborhood schools would not be considered a denial of equal educational opportunity unless the schools were located or the assignment made for the purpose of racial segregation.
--Through Federal financial assistance and incentives, school districts would be strongly encouraged not only to avoid shortchanging the schools that serve their neediest children, but beyond this to establish and maintain special learning programs in those schools that would help children who were behind to catch up. These incentives would also encourage school authorities to provide for voluntary transfers of students that would reduce racial concentrations.
Thus, the act would set standards for all school districts throughout the Nation, as the basic requirements for carrying out, in the field of public education, the Constitutional guarantee that each person shall have equal protection of the laws. It would establish broad-based and specific criteria to ensure against racial discrimination in school assignments, to establish the equal educational rights of Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and others starting with language handicaps, to protect the principle of the neighborhood school. It would also provide money and incentives to help ensure for schools in poor neighborhoods the fair treatment they have too often been denied in the past, and to provide the special learning and extra attention that children in those neighborhoods so often need.
DENIAL OF EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: THE
In the past, the courts have largely been left to their own devices in determining appropriate remedies in school desegregation cases. The results have been sometimes sound, sometimes bizarre--but certainly uneven. The time has come for the Congress, on the basis of experience, to provide guidance. Where a violation exists, the act I propose would provide that:
--Additional busing must not be required unless no other remedy can be found to correct the particular violation that exists.
(1) Assigning students to the schools closest to their homes that provide the appropriate level and type of education, taking into account school capacities and natural physical barriers;
(2) Assigning students to the schools closest to their homes that provide the appropriate level and type of education, considering only school capacities;
(3) Permitting students to transfer from a school in which their race is a majority to one in which it is a minority;
(4)Creation or revision of attendance zones or grade structures without necessitating increased student transportation;
(5) Construction of new schools or the closing of inferior schools;
(6) The use of magnet schools or educational parks to promote integration;
(7) Any other plan which is educationally sound and administratively feasible. However, such a plan could not require increased busing of students in the sixth grade or below. If a plan involved additional busing of older children, then: (a) It could not be ordered unless there was clear and convincing evidence that no other method would work; (b) in no case could it be ordered on other than a temporary basis; (c) it could not pose a risk to health, or significantly impinge on the educational process; (d) the school district could be granted a stay until the order had been passed on by the court of appeals.
--Beginning with the effective date of the act, time limits would be placed on desegregation orders. They would be limited to 10 years' duration--or 5 years if they called for student transportation--provided that during that period the school authorities had been in good-faith compliance. New orders could then be entered only if there had been new violations.
These rules would thus clearly define what the Federal courts could and could not require; however, the States and localities would remain free to carry out voluntary school integration plans that might go substantially beyond the Federal requirements.
This is an important distinction. Where busing would provide educational advantages for the community's children, and where the community wants to undertake it, the community should--and will--have that choice. What is objectionable is an arbitrary Federal requirement-whether administrative or judicial-that the community must undertake massive additional busing as a matter of Federal law. The essence of a free society is to restrict the range of what must be done, and broaden the range of what may be done.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: BROADENING THE
If we were simply to place curbs on busing and do nothing more, then we would not have kept faith with the hopes, the needs--or the rights--of the neediest of our children.
Even adding the many protections built into the rights and remedies sections of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, we would not by this alone provide what their special needs require.
Busing helps some poor children; it poses a hardship for others; but there are many more, and in many areas the great majority--in the heart of New York, and in South Chicago, for example--whom it could never reach.
If we were to treat busing as some sort of magic panacea, and to concentrate our efforts and resources on that as the principal means of achieving quality education for blacks and other minorities, then in these areas of dense minority concentration a whole generation could be lost.
If we hold massive busing to be, in any event, an unacceptable remedy for the inequalities of educational opportunity that exist, then we must do more to improve the schools where poor families live.
Rather than require the spending of scarce resources on ever-longer bus rides for those who happen to live where busing is possible, we should encourage the putting of those resources directly into education--serving all the disadvantaged children, not merely those on the bus routes.
In order to reach the great majority of the children who most need extra help, I propose a new approach to financing the extra efforts required: one that puts the money where the needs are, drawing on the funds I have requested for this and the next fiscal year under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and under the Emergency School Aid Act now pending before the Congress.
As part of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, I propose to broaden the uses of the funds under the Emergency School Aid Act, and to provide the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare with additional authority to encourage effective special learning programs in those schools where the needs are greatest.
Detailed program criteria would be spelled out in administrative guidelines-but the intent of this program is to use a major portion of the $1.5 billion Emergency School Aid money as, in effect, incentive grants to encourage eligible districts to design educational programs that would do three things:
--Assure (as a condition of getting the grant) that the district's expenditures on its poorest schools were at least comparable to those on its other schools.
--Provide, above this, a compensatory education grant of approximately $300 per low-income pupil for schools in which substantial numbers of the students are from poor families, if the concentration of poor students exceeds specified limits.
--Require that this compensatory grant be spent entirely on basic instructional programs for language skills and mathematics, and on basic supportive services such as health and nutrition.
--Provide a "bonus" to the receiving school for each pupil transferring from a poor school to a non-poor school where his race is in the minority, without reducing the grant to the transferring school.
Priority would be given to those districts that are desegregating either voluntarily or under court order, and to those that are addressing problems of both racial and economic impaction.
Under this plan, the remaining portion of the $1.5 billion available under the Emergency School Aid Act for this and the next fiscal year would go toward the other kinds of aid originally envisaged under it.
This partial shift of funds is now possible for two reasons: First, in the nearly 2 years since I first proposed the Emergency School Aid Act, much of what it was designed to help with has already been done. Second, to the extent that the standards set forth in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act would relieve desegregating districts of some of the more expensive requirements that might otherwise be laid upon them, a part of the money originally intended to help meet those expenses can logically be diverted to these other, closely related needs. I would stress once again, in this connection, the importance I attach to final passage of the Emergency School Aid Act: those districts that are now desegregating still need its help, and the funds to be made available for these new purposes are an essential element of a balanced equal opportunity package.
I also propose that instead of being terminated at the end of fiscal 1973, as presently scheduled, the Emergency School Aid Act continue to be authorized at a $1 billion annual leveler which I would expect the greatest part to be used for the purposes I have outlined here. At the current level of funding of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, this would provide a total approaching $2.5 billion annually for compensatory education purposes.
For some years now, there has been a running debate about the effectiveness of added spending for programs of compensatory or remedial education. Some have maintained there is virtually no correlation between dollar input and learning output; others have maintained there is a direct correlation; experience has been mixed.
What does now seem clear is that while many Title I experiments have failed, many others have succeeded substantially and even dramatically; and what also is clear is that without the extra efforts such extra funding would make possible, there is little chance of breaking the cycle of deprivation.
A case can be made that Title I has fallen short of expectations, and that in some respects it has failed. In many cases, pupils in the programs funded by it have shown no improvement whatever, and funds have frequently been misused or squandered foolishly. Federal audits of State Title I efforts have found instances where naivete, inexperience, confusion, despair, and even clear violations of the law have thwarted the act's effectiveness. In some instances, Title I funds have been illegally spent on unauthorized materials and facilities, or used to fund local services other than those intended by the act, such as paying salaries not directly related to the act's purposes.
The most prevalent failing has been the spending of Title I funds as general revenue. Out of 40 States audited between 1966 and 1970, 14 were found to have spent Title I funds as general revenue.
Too often, one result has been that instead of actually being concentrated in the areas of critical need, Title I moneys have been diffused throughout the system; and they have not reached the targeted schools--and targeted children--in sufficient amounts to have a real impact.
On the positive side, Title I has effected some important changes of benefit to disadvantaged children.
First, Title I has encouraged some States to expand considerably the contributions from State and local funds for compensatory education. In the 1965-66 school year, the States spent only $2.7 million of their own revenues, but by the 1968-69 school year--largely due to major efforts by California and New York---they were contributing $198 million.
Second, Title I has better focused attention on pupils who previously were too often ignored. About 8 million children are in schools receiving some compensatory funds. In 46 States programs have been established to aid almost a quarter of a million children of migratory workers. As an added dividend, many States have begun to focus educational attention on the early childhood years which are so important to the learning process.
Finally, local schools have been encouraged by Title I to experiment and innovate. Given our highly decentralized national educational system and the relatively minor role one Federal program usually plays, there have been encouraging examples of programs fostered by Title I which have worked.
In designing compensatory programs, it is difficult to know exactly what will work. The circumstances of one locality may differ dramatically from those of other localities. What helps one group of children may not be of particular benefit to others. In these experimental years, local educational agencies and the schools have had to start from scratch, and to learn for themselves how to educate those who in the past had too often simply been left to fall further behind.
In the process, some schools did well and others did not. Some districts benefited by active leadership and community involvement, while others were slow to innovate and to break new ground.
While there is a great deal yet to be learned about the design of successful compensatory programs, the experience so far does point in one crucial direction: to the importance of providing sufficiently concentrated funding to establish the educational equivalent of a "critical mass," or threshold level. Where funds have been spread too thinly, they have been wasted or dissipated with little to show for their expenditure. Where they have been concentrated, the results have been frequently encouraging and sometimes dramatic.
In a sample of some 10,000 disadvantaged pupils in California, 82 percent of those in projects spending less than $150 extra per pupil showed little or no achievement gain. of those students in projects spending over $250 extra per pupil, 94 percent gained more than one year per year of exposure; 58 percent gained between 1.4 and 1.9 years per year of exposure. Throughout the country States as widely separated as Connecticut and Florida have recognized a correlation between a "critical mass" expenditure and marked effectiveness.
Of late, several important studies have supported the idea of a "critical mass" compensatory expenditure to afford disadvantaged pupils equal educational opportunity. The New York State Commission on the Quality, Cost, and Financing of Elementary and Secondary Education, the National Educational Finance Project, and the President's Commission on School Finance have all cited the importance of such a substantial additional per pupil expenditure for disadvantaged pupils.
The program which I propose aims to assure schools with substantial concentrations of poor children of receiving an average $300 compensatory education grant for each child.
In order to encourage voluntary transfers, under circumstances where they would reduce both racial isolation and low-income concentration, any school accepting such transfers would receive the extra $300 allotted for the transferring student plus a bonus payment depending on the proportion of poor children in that school.
One key to the success of this new approach would be the "critical mass" achieved by both increasing and concentrating the funds made available; another would be vigorous administrative follow-through to ensure that the funds are used in the intended schools and for the intended purposes.
THE STUDENT TRANSPORTATION
In times of rapid and even headlong change, there occasionally is an urgent need for reflection and reassessment. This is especially true when powerful, historic forces are moving the Nation toward a conflict of fundamental principles--a conflict that can be avoided if each of us does his share, and if all branches of Government will join in helping to redefine the questions before us.
Like any comprehensive legislative recommendation, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act that I have proposed today is offered as a framework for Congressional debate and action.
The Congress has both the Constitutional authority and a special capability to debate and define new methods for implementing Constitutional principles. And the educational, financial and social complexities of this issue are not, and are not properly, susceptible of solution by individual courts alone or even by the Supreme Court alone.
This is a moment of considerable conflict and uncertainty; but it is also a moment of great opportunity.
This is not a time for the courts to plunge ahead at full speed.
If we are to set a course that enables us to act together, and not simply to do more but to do better, then we must do all in our power to create an atmosphere that permits a calm and thoughtful assessment of the issues, choices and consequences.
I propose, therefore, that the Congress act to impose a temporary freeze on new busing orders by the Federal courts--to establish a waiting period while the Congress considers alternative means of enforcing 14th Amendment rights. I propose that this freeze be effective immediately on enactment, and that it remain in effect until July 1, 1973, or until' passage of the appropriate legislation, whichever is sooner.
This freeze would not put a stop to desegregation cases; it would only bar new orders during its effective period, to the extent that they ordered new busing.
This, I recognize, is an unusual procedure. But I am persuaded that the Congress has the Constitutional power to enact such a stay, and I believe the unusual nature of the conflicts and pressures that confront both the courts and the country at this particular time requires it.
It has become abundantly clear, from the debates in the Congress and from the upwelling of sentiment throughout the country, that some action will be taken to limit the scope of busing orders. It is in the interest of everyone--black and white, children and parents, school administrators and local officials, the courts, the Congress and the executive branch, and not least in the interest of consistency in Federal policy, that while this matter is being considered by the Congress we not speed further along a course that is likely to be changed.
The legislation I have proposed would provide the courts with a new set of standards and criteria that would enable them to enforce the basic Constitutional guarantees in different ways.
A stay would relieve the pressure on the Congress to act on the long-range legislation without full and adequate consideration. By providing immediate relief from a course that increasing millions of Americans are finding intolerable, it would allow the debate on permanent solutions to proceed with less emotion and more reason.
For these reasons--and also for the sake of the additional children faced with busing now--I urge that the Congress quickly give its approval to the Student Transportation Moratorium Act.
No message to the Congress on school desegregation would be complete unless it addressed the question of a Constitutional amendment.
There are now a number of proposals before the Congress, with strong support, to amend the Constitution in ways designed to abolish busing or to bar the courts from ordering it.
These proposals should continue to receive the particularly thoughtful and careful consideration by the Congress that any proposal to amend the Constitution merits.
It is important to recognize, however, that a Constitutional amendment--even if it could secure the necessary two-thirds support in both Houses of the Congress-has a serious flaw: it would have no impact this year; it would not come into effect until after the long process of ratification by three-fourths of the State legislatures. What is needed is action now; a Constitutional amendment fails to meet this immediate need.
Legislation meets the problem now. Therefore, I recommend that as its first priority the Congress go forward immediately on the legislative route. Legislation can also treat the question with far greater precision and detail than could the necessarily generalized language of a Constitutional amendment, while making possible a balanced, comprehensive approach to equal educational opportunity.
These measures I have proposed would place firm and effective curbs on busing-and they would do so in a Constitutional way, aiding rather than challenging the courts, respecting the mandate of the 14th Amendment, and exercising the responsibility of the Congress to enforce that Amendment.
Beyond making these proposals, I am directing the Executive departments to follow policies consistent with the principles on which they are based--which will include intervention by the Justice Department in selected cases before the courts, both to implement the stay and to resolve some of those questions on which the lower courts have gone beyond the Supreme Court.
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act I have proposed reflects a serious and wide-ranging process of consultation-drawing upon the knowledge and experience of legislators, Constitutional scholars, educators and government administrators, and of men and women from all races and regions of the country who shared with us the views and feelings of their communities.
Its design is in large measure the product of that collaboration. When enacted it would, for the first time, furnish a framework for collaborative action by the various branches of Federal and local government, enabling courts and communities to shape effective educational solutions which are responsive not only to Constitutional standards but also to the physical and human reality of diverse educational situations.
It will create more local choice and more options to choose from; and it will marshal and target Federal resources more effectively in support of each particular community's effort.
Most importantly, however, these proposals undertake to address the problem that really lies at the heart of the issue at this time: the inherent inability of the courts, acting alone, to deal effectively and acceptably with the new magnitude of educational and social problems generated by the desegregation process.
If these proposals are adopted, those few who want an arbitrary racial balance to be imposed on the schools by Federal fiat will not get their way.
Those few who want a return to segregated schools will not get their way.
Those few who want a rolling back of the basic protections black and other minority Americans have won in recent years will not get their way.
This Administration means what it says about dismantling racial barriers, about opening up jobs and housing and schools and opportunity to all Americans.
It is not merely rhetoric, but our record, that demonstrates our determination.
We have achieved more school desegregation in the last 3 years than was achieved in the previous 15.
We have taken the lead in opening up high-paying jobs to minority workers.
We have taken unprecedented measures to spur business ownership by members of minorities.
We have brought more members of minorities into the middle and upper levels of the Federal service than ever before.
We have provided more support to black colleges than ever before.
We have put more money and muscle into enforcement of the equal opportunity laws than ever before.
These efforts will all go forward--with vigor and with conviction. Making up for the years of past discrimination is not simply something that white Americans owe to black Americans it is something the entire Nation owes to itself.
I submit these proposals to the Congress mindful of the profound importance and special complexity of the issues they address. It is in that spirit that I have undertaken to weigh and respect the conflicting interests; to strike a balance which is thoughtful and just; and to search for answers that will best serve all of the Nation's children. I urge the Congress to consider them in the same spirit.
The great majority of Americans, of all races, want their Government--the Congress, the Judiciary and the Executive--to follow the course of deliberation, not confrontation. To do this we must act calmly and creatively, and we must act together.
The great majority of Americans, of all races, want schools that educate and rules that are fair. That is what these proposals attempt to provide.
|Citation: Richard Nixon: "Special Message to the Congress on Equal Educational Opportunities and School Busing.", March 17, 1972. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=3776.|
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