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Radio Address About American Education.

March 23, 1974

Good afternoon:

The Congress is rapidly approaching the time when it must make decisions that will significantly affect the future of American education.

Today I want to share with you my thoughts on those decisions and urge your support for the choices that I believe would be best for our schools and for our children. During the last several decades, as we all know too well, there has been a tendency to concentrate more and more power in Washington in many areas, including education.

Today we have come to realize that this trend does not make good sense.

Bureaucrats in Washington cannot educate your children. Your children can only be educated by you in your homes and by their teachers in their schools. You understand their needs, and you understand their special problems and desires. Above all, you understand better than any Federal official what is best for your children.

For example, parents know that the education of their children can most effectively be carried out in neighborhood schools. They are naturally concerned when the courts, acting on the basis of complicated plans drawn up by faraway officials in Washington, D.C., order children bused out of their neighborhoods.

In 1972, I proposed legislation designed to limit forced busing. Today I urge favorable consideration of antibusing amendments, such as the amendment currently being sponsored by Representative Marvin Esch of Michigan.

During the past 5 years, dual school systems have been dismantled in much of the Nation with minimal forced busing. Parents, students, and school officials are entitled to a major share of the credit for this accomplishment, an accomplishment which demonstrates that excessive forced busing is neither necessary nor desirable.

A belief in the wisdom of the local communities and the parents of our schoolchildren has been the guiding educational philosophy of this Administration since we took office. That is why I have also proposed legislation which would streamline our tangled programs of Federal aid to elementary and secondary education and return control over those programs to the States and to the local communities.

With the cooperation of the Congress, I believe we can turn our hopes for more local control over education into reality within a matter of weeks.

The House of Representatives is now considering a bill that represents a step in the right direction toward more community and State control over their elementary and secondary schools. The House committee has favorably reported on this bill, and a vote is scheduled next week. This bill, H.R. 69, does not incorporate all the revisions I have suggested, but it is an important first step. I urge its passage.

I regret that the Senate, on the other hand, is giving serious consideration to a bill that will move us in precisely the wrong direction. Instead of simplifying the Federal process for funding, many provisions of the proposed Senate bill would complicate it immeasurably. The result would be a bureaucratic nightmare, built on good intentions, but hopelessly bound up in miles of red tape.

On March 5, I sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare stating my intention to veto any bill that complicates the funding process and hinders the return of control to States and communities. I repeat that intention today.

The Federal Government has a role to play in education, but that role must never place Federal employees--your employees-in the role of master social planners. Instead, Washington should use its resources to help you and your teachers do a better job of educating your children. It is you, as parents and teachers, who should decide how that job can be done better.

Let me illustrate the problem we face in our current Federal programs in education. Suppose you were buying furniture for your house, and you were borrowing in order to do so. It would be absurd for you to have to take out a different loan for each piece of furniture. It would be even more absurd if you were not allowed to choose whether to have one sofa and two armchairs or two armchairs and a dining room table. But that is how some of our most important Federal education programs work today.

To get Federal money--your tax money--for teachers or books or equipment, your school board has to sort out over 50 Federal educational programs to find the one that comes closest to matching its needs. Next, your school board and officials have to check a stock of Office of Education publications to discover the right way to apply for the available money. And finally, they have to wait for a decision from Washington to find out whether they get any money. All of this can take from 3 to 9 months, depending on the Washington timetable--not the timetable of the school year, which, of course, is the important one to you.

Your school district will probably be putting together its budget for the coming school year during this month and next. If past history is the rule, your school board will not know what Federal funds it can count on until the school year is half over.

Here is how the kind of legislation I support could chop through this mass of red tape and cut out the delays:

First, it would consolidate funding for our current fragmented programs. State and local school districts could then draw upon the consolidated funds and would make the basic decision on how that money shall be spent. The bill now before the House of Representatives would represent progress in this direction.

Second, the legislation I have proposed would provide Federal money to schools a year in advance. This would enable your school board to plan ahead, knowing how much it can count on from the Federal Government.

I intend to request almost $3 billion in supplemental funds to enable us to get Federal funds to the schools this spring so that for the first time, they will be able to plan ahead, knowing the size and extent of the Federal contribution.

But unless the Congress quickly passes an education bill that serves the best interests of the American people, we cannot send the funds to the schools this spring, and this is when they need it.

Let me now turn to the problem of financing an education beyond high school. We have made a big step forward by starting the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants program.

This program is designed to insure that every qualified student in America has an opportunity for post-secondary education, whether in college or vocational school. This program, fully funded, would offer every eligible student a maximum grant of $1,400 per year. He would receive less to the extent that his family could reasonably be expected to contribute toward his expenses.

The law establishing this program is now on the books, but the Congress has not vet responded to my request of 1973 that we provide the money it takes to do the job. I again urge the Congress to provide these funds--$1.3 billion in the budget I submitted earlier in February.

This program will not provide total financing of education beyond high school. American parents are not asking for Government to do the whole job of enabling their children to continue their education. But it will provide significant assistance to eligible students.

An important companion to the Basic Grant program is the Guaranteed Student Loan program. During the coming year, this program will provide almost 1 million students with loans averaging $1,250 each. At my direction, the Secretaries of HEW and the Treasury will soon be contacting the Nation's lending institutions to urge them to increase the funds which they make available for student loans. In addition, we have proposed to the Congress several measures designed to increase the availability of loan funds-including an increase in loan ceilings.

I intend to take every step that is necessary to make sure that student loan funds are as widely available as the need--both for students who will be qualifying for Basic Grants and for students from families who do not need a grant but want to spread the cost of education over several years by borrowing funds.

The programs I have discussed today and our other programs in education are designed for one basic purpose--to provide a chance for every American child to realize the full benefits of a great education system. During the past 5 years, we have made significant progress toward that goal.

We have established a new program of Basic Educational Opportunity Grants to further our goal that no qualified student be denied access to education after high school for lack of money.

We have provided special aid for local school districts to help them deal with problems of desegregation.

We have created a National Institute of Education to marshal our research skill systematically so that we can better understand how students learn, how they can be taught more effectively.

We have provided support to develop new ways of helping children learn to read.

We have substantially increased support to colleges serving minorities and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

We have done well. But we can do better.

A century ago, the great British statesman Benjamin Disraeli said of his own nation: "Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends." Precisely the same is true of the United States.

We have, in less than 200 years, developed the finest system of education that the world has seen. In large part because of that system of education, in terms of prosperity, progress and opportunity, America has become the envy of the world.

Our educational system is not perfect. But I am confident that by working together, we will insure that the future of our system of education, which is so closely bound up with the future of our Nation, amply fulfills the promise of its past.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Note: The President spoke at 12:07 p.m. from Camp David, Md. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio.

On March 21, 1974, the President met with Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Caspar W. Weinberger to discuss the education bills pending in Congress.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address About American Education. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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