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Radio Address on the Federal Responsibility to Education

October 25, 1972

Good afternoon:

I want to talk to you today about an issue that has tremendous impact on present-day America and that will play a decisive role in shaping the America of the future--education.

Americans today are the freest, best educated people in the world. We must keep it that way, and one of the surest means is to keep our educational system strong and free.

Money, of course, is part of the answer. Under this Administration the Federal Government has increased its contribution to education by over 70 percent, from $9 billion in fiscal year 1969 to $15.7 billion in the budget for fiscal year 1973.

But money is only part of the answer. Too often over the years, the American taxpayer has seen millions of tax dollars poured into education programs that did not work because not enough thought and planning went into them. Much of the resistance to the imposition of more taxes today is the result of rightful dissatisfaction at the way present tax revenues are being spent.

The roots of the taxpayer revolt lie not in selfishness, but in a sensible refusal to pay more for Government programs that have failed to meet the needs and wishes of the people in an effective way.

It is very easy for politicians to call for new millions of dollars to be allocated for every new education spending proposal that spins out of an ivory tower. The myth that all problems can be solved by throwing money at them is not easily dispelled. But the President of the United States must carefully weigh the cost of new proposals against their merits.

And there are times when he must have the strength to say "no" for the sake of the American taxpayer. Three times I have said "no" to excessive education spending legislation. In each case I did so because I believe the added tax burden would have far outweighed the benefits to be derived by the program.

In each case, the question was not whether to increase worthwhile spending on education, but how much to increase it. I believe that in those three cases the amounts proposed by the Congress were more than the public could afford to pay, and the amounts I proposed were in balance with both our educational needs and the economic well-being of the American taxpayer.

Now, here are some of the important achievements which have resulted during this Administration, following the philosophy I have just outlined: For younger children:

--We have increased funding for early childhood education projects to over a half billion dollars.

--We have more than doubled aid to elementary and secondary schools.

--We have improved the education of disadvantaged preschool children in their first 5 years of life through the efforts of the new Office of Child Development and a twenty-fold increase in food assistance program funding.

--And we have given greater support and encouragement to successful educational innovation, including television programs like "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company."

For high school students:

--In addition to increasing Federal aid, we have given top priority to the development of career education, vocational education, so that students leaving school have a choice of entering the job market with a salable skill or continuing their education, if they prefer, at a higher level.

For college students:

--We have more than doubled loan and grant amounts, so that today $4 billion in Federal student assistance is available.

And for all Americans:

--We have launched a Right to Read program that should soon make illiteracy a thing of the past in the United States. Thanks to this effort, we can reasonably hope that by the end of this decade nearly every American reaching young adulthood will have basic reading skills.

Under this Administration the Federal Government is also attempting to fulfill its responsibility to the Nation's black colleges. I have requested over $200 million in assistance to these institutions for fiscal year 1973. That is more than double the funding level of fiscal year 1969 when I came into office.

As a result of our initiatives, a good education is no longer a remote dream for millions of young Americans who would not have had this chance a few short years ago. The ceiling on opportunity and achievement in America today is almost unlimited.

One part of the educational community that has contributed to America from the very beginnings of our history faces special needs today, and they are urgent. I refer to our nonpublic schools.

Were these nonpublic schools to fail, the loss of diversity, the elimination of freedom of choice for millions of parents, and the new burden on the already crowded public school system would be but part of the cost.

Lost, as well, would be an irreplaceable and precious national asset--schools that have provided millions of American children with a moral code and religious principles by which to live. Nonpublic schools have served this Nation and people faithfully and well by maintaining and continuing the religious traditions and beliefs that are so integral a part of our American heritage. I believe that parents of school-age children should be provided the freedom to choose a religious-centered education for their children, if they desire--and I am determined to help guarantee that freedom of choice.

Therefore, just as in the last Congress this Administration supported a tax credit for parents of children attending nonpublic schools, so I am irrevocably committed to seeking tax credit legislation in the next Congress, since the last Congress did not act.

In my judgment, the Constitution does not prohibit tax inducements to encourage and maintain diversity in American education--and I am prepared to fight to guarantee that that diversity remains in America.

Another fundamental element of American education which goes back to our beginnings is the neighborhood school. The neighborhood school is the focal point of community involvement. It binds together students, parents, and school administrators. It brings out the best in all of them.

No one profits by the confusion and resentment that is generated when whole school systems are disrupted by the forced busing of schoolchildren away from their neighborhoods. The answer to inequities in our educational system is to spend more money on learning and less money on forced busing.

Quality education for all and an end to racial discrimination are goals that we seek, and we seek them both. The way to achieve them is to eliminate unlawful discrimination, and to make a special effort to improve the quality of education in the disadvantaged areas.

That is the policy that I am committed to as President. The emergency school aid act, recently enacted, authorizes $2 billion of new money to help meet the special problems of desegregating the Nation's schools.

This Administration's equal educational opportunities act of 1972, had the Congress approved it, would have concentrated funds for the improvement of education for underprivileged children, and would have legislated an end to arbitrary, court-ordered busing of children out of their neighborhoods. However, as you know, after passing the House of Representatives, this measure was filibustered to death in the Senate by pro-busing Senators. I will once again press the next Congress for the passage of this legislation.

The question of neighborhood schools is part of a greater issue--that of where the real decisionmaking power in the field of education should lie; whether it should lie in the hands of appointed judges or officials in Washington or in the hands of people themselves. I believe that the people themselves deserve the greatest voice in our educational system.

That is one reason why I have proposed an education special revenue sharing program to be spent on education in the way the local people and their locally elected leaders deem best, without Federal controls or Federal domination.

This is the best way I know to get American education back on the track, to relate it to the needs of our people instead of the whims of Federal bureaucrats. I will keep on working for this program until it is enacted.

Looking further ahead, the whole education process needs to be reexamined. We need to put American know-how to work analyzing the learning process itself.

The Government should never dictate to the people what kind of education is best, but it has an obligation to provide the people with the research and the information they need to decide these matters for themselves. In a changing age, education must keep pace. It must not fall behind.

To meet this challenge, we have created a National Institute of Education-not to turn out Federal regulations and quotas, but to put some of the best minds in this country to work learning more about the learning process itself. Their findings will help parents and local educators to provide our children with more effective, more useful teaching in the years ahead.

Each of these achievements and goals that I have outlined this afternoon is important. Each can help to make our education system even better than it is, and can extend the American dream to more of our people. But there is another crucial ingredient which no President, no administration, no Congress can supply. That is respect for education and for teaching, respect that must lie in the hearts of the people.

Most of us can probably think back to a teacher who opened up our minds to learning and helped plant the seeds of hope and enthusiasm in our hearts. I think, for example, of a wonderful teacher I had in the fifth grade. In those days you had only one teacher for the whole class-she had to handle all subjects. Miss Burum did that, and she did it very well, but her favorite subject was geography. I can still remember how she communicated her enthusiasm, her love of learning, her fascination with geography and with the different countries of the world to her pupils. And although she will probably never appear in the history books, you might say that in a way Miss Burum was one of the people responsible for my trips to Russia and to the People's Republic of China and for the new beginnings for peace that those trips have helped to usher in.

I mention this because I think it illustrates an important point about education today. We can spend all of the money we want. We can buy all the books, build all the classrooms, fancy new schools. We can do all that, but at the heart of any good school system, we must have talented, dedicated teachers. They are the indispensable ingredient that brings the whole combination to life. To have teachers like that, parents and students must give teachers the respect that is their due, and the standing in the community they deserve.

It was Henry Adams who wrote, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

The same thing is true of our education system in general. The kind of schooling we provide for our young people today will play a major role in determining the kind of country we will have well into the next century.

And so I pledge to you this afternoon that I will continue to work to make the Federal Government's role in education a positive, productive one, and to give to the people and their locally elected representatives the means with which they can play a larger role in improving education.

By seeking this basic goal together, we can build a system that brings a quality education and full opportunity to all Americans.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

Note: The President spoke at 12:07 p.m. from the Library at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The President spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his address was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address on the Federal Responsibility to Education Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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