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Letter to Senator Byrd Following House Reductions in the District of Columbia Budget.

April 01, 1965

[ Released April 1, 1965. Dated March 30, 1965 ]

Dear Senator:

I am seriously concerned with the action of the House of Representatives on the education budget for the District of Columbia. The budget which I proposed to the Congress, as I stated in my accompanying message, was intended as a major effort to remedy educational shortcomings in the District, both in physical plant and in operating staff and facilities. It did not propose to overcome all the deficiencies at once, but it did propose a substantial start. As reduced by the House of Representatives, however, it will barely allow the schools to hold their own in the face of increasing enrollments.

Most serious, in my judgment, are the reductions in counselors, libraries, and library books, on the operating side, and the postponement of a large number of projects for expanding and improving the school plant. It seems to me plain that education--good education, in adequate buildings, and with adequate supporting facilities such as libraries--is basic to all the other programs that are being undertaken to improve the city, including the reduction of its rate of crime. The Congress, in many instances over the past few years, has demonstrated its concern for the education of young people throughout the Nation; we cannot do less for the Youngsters of the District.

I appreciate, of course, that until the Congress acts on my requests for a larger authorization for Federal payments to the District, and on the District Commissioners' proposals for new taxes, the Committee on Appropriations cannot restore all of the educational items that were eliminated by the House. There are, however, in the existing authorizations for the Federal payment as well as in the possibilities of additional borrowing for capital outlay, means by which many of the needs can be met. I know you will do what you can.

I am also concerned at the unfortunate public controversy about the John F. Kennedy Playground that has appeared in the Washington papers, culminating in the elimination by the House of Representatives from the District of Columbia budget of funds both for the operation of the playground and for the site of a new Shaw Junior High School. I hope very much that you will do whatever you can to have these budget items restored.

The Kennedy Playground, which is located in a part of Washington that has long suffered from a serious lack of recreational facilities--and which, probably not by coincidence, has a high rate of juvenile delinquency-has been amazingly popular. Since it opened in June 1964, it has been visited by almost a million children. You will recall that in my message to the Congress on the District on February 15 I commented on the success of this largely community-financed project, and suggested that equally desirable facilities should be provided in other parts of the District which were also lacking in adequate play space. The Kennedy Playground, of course, is so attractive to children of all ages that it is virtually a city-wide facility, even though the greatest benefit is to the immediate neighborhood.

The Washington community, it seems to me, should receive full support from the Congress for what it has done. The organizers of this project took a piece of ground that was being used as a dump for abandoned automobiles, and made it into a facility of which Washington can be--and I am sure is--proud. The effort was so successful as to lead the School Board and the District Commissioners to recommend that it be permanent rather than temporary.

There are other aspects of this of which I am sure you are aware. Since 1951, when the playground site was acquired by the District as a site for a new Shaw Junior High School, the projected size of the school has almost doubled--from 800 to 1500 students. The playground site, by any standard, is too small for a junior high school of that size, and the School Board is quite properly seeking a larger site for the larger school, which continues to be one of those most urgently needed. In addition, were the playground to be closed, it would clearly be necessary in the near future to purchase a site for a playground to replace it. The cost of the additional land which is required for Shaw is probably no more than the cost of the additional land which would have to be acquired for another playground, and with land values increasing as they are it could be even less.

It is my hope that the controversy over the amount that was to be provided by the private individuals for operation of the playground during its first year will be resolved soon. Irrespective of that, however, and of such amounts as may be necessary for maintenance due to heavy and continued use, it would be intolerable to have the playground padlocked on June 30. All of us are concerned with juvenile delinquency in the District, and I can think of no more regressive step we could take than to force all of these children back onto the streets and into the alleys. This simply must not be allowed to happen.



[Honorable Robert C. Byrd, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Note: For the President's statement on the education needs of the District of Columbia contained in his message to the Congress on the District Budget, see p. 187; for his comments on the John F. Kennedy Playground in his February 15 message to the Congress, see p. 190.

As passed by the House on March 23, 1965, the District of Columbia appropriation bill (H.R. 6453) provided $74,740,000 for education, a decrease of $3,244,000 from the Budget estimate. The bill, as enacted, after Senate amendment, conference action, and House and Senate agreement to the conference report, provided a total of $75,457,600 for education, an increase of $717,600 over that passed by the House. The conference report provided for funds for the continued operation of the John F. Kennedy Playground, but did not include a new site for the Shaw Junior High School.

The District of Columbia Appropriation Act, 1966, was approved by the President on July 16, 1965 (see Item 366).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to Senator Byrd Following House Reductions in the District of Columbia Budget. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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