John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Meadowdale Shopping Center, Carpentersville, IL - (Advance Release Text)

October 25, 1960

We live in the midst of a population explosion that is remaking the face of America. The country is filling up, recreation areas are overcrowded, our cities are jammed, our highways are clogged, and on the edges of our great cities the shopping center and ranchhouse have replaced the silo and the haystack until today more than a fourth of all Americans live in suburbs.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: What kind of children, what kind of future men and women, are we raising in our new American homes?

I think the answer will depend to a great extent on the kind of education we provide for them. And I say that today our children's schools are not good enough.

I am concerned, and deeply concerned, because too many children are attending double-shift schools, too many children are not given the incentive to finish high school, too many classrooms are overcrowded, too few teachers are at work in our school systems and too many teachers are underpaid.

Today the United States is short 132,000 classrooms, 135,000 teachers, and according to Health, Education, and Welfare Secretary Flemming these shortages directly or indirectly affect 10 million American children.

In 1960 we are scheduled to build 62,700 classrooms. But we need to build 64,500 classrooms just to keep pace with deteriorating classrooms and skyrocketing enrollment just to hold our own. Instead, we are falling further and further behind.

Some 200,000 teachers are underpaid. And some 95,000 teachers are now teaching on an emergency basis with substandard certificates.

It is inevitable that this all will vitally affect our children's future and our Nation's future.

But we have to ask ourselves the sober question: How can we pay for the schools our children need?

The budgets of the Nation's school districts, taken as a whole, have not been balanced since 1948. Last year they went $2½ billion deeper in debt. The property tax is already overburdened.

It seems perfectly clear that the State and local method of school financing is not equal to today's task.

It may have been - indeed, it was - in 1930 or 1940 or even 1950. But it is not today. And the reason why is also clear. It lies in the simple arithmetic of our exploding population.

Consider these astonishing figures:

In 1930, 25,678,015 children were enrolled in public schools.

By 1940, that number had actually declined - to 25,433,542.

And by 1950, the number enrolled had declined still further - to 25,111,427.

But look what has happened since. By 1958, the last year figures are available, the number of children enrolled in public schools has skyrocketed to 33,528,591. This is an increase of over 8 million, about a third again as many children as were in school only 8 years earlier.

What has happened is that the postwar baby crop has gone off to school and the schoolrooms just are not there. And this many new classrooms simply cannot be financed solely by State and local methods.

The property tax which supports our schools has about reached the breaking point. It has thrust an almost insupportable burden on the homeowner.

Right around here a man who owns a house worth between $16,000 and $20,000 is paying a property tax bill of from $400 to $500 a year.

Such taxes, together with the artificially high interest rate that has prohibitively raised the cost of financing a home, have actually put a penalty on home ownership and suburban living, the fastest growing way of American life.

Moreover, the need for more schools will continue to rise by 2 or 3 million every 2 years.

Their needs must be met. They can only be met with help from the Federal Government. The school crisis has gotten out of control. It is time we stopped talking about it and did something about it.

I favor Federal aid to education. I have spoken for it, worked for it, and most important of all I have voted for it in the U.S. Senate.

What about Mr. Nixon? At the well-publicized White House Conference on Education in 1955, Mr. Nixon said:

No one questions the critical need for new classroom construction * * * but an even more critical need is that of getting and keeping qualified teachers * * * the salaries paid to teachers * * * are nothing short of a national disgrace and if the situation is not corrected it could lead to a national disaster.

That is what Mr. Nixon said. But how did he vote?

More than 4 years later - 4 wasted years of conferences and studies and reports - Mr. Nixon had a chance to vote. On February 3, 1960, the Senate tied 44 to 44 on a measure to authorize the expenditure of $25 per school-age child for school construction and teachers' salaries. Mr. Nixon could have passed that measure by casting a vote.

But he did not vote. And then he made his position clear. He voted to break another tie and prevent reconsideration of the measure.

He said he favored raising teachers' pay. He said he favored building schools. But he voted against it.

His explanation was that he feared Federal control.

I say this is a false issue.

I say Mr. Nixon has deliberately raised a false issue, has created a political bogeyman to defeat Federal aid to education and mislead the people. And I'll tell you why it's a false issue.

The proposal to help pay teachers' salaries is nothing new. The Federal Government has been doing it for years.

In recent years, 3,300 local public school districts in areas affected by Federal activities around the Nation have received over $1 billion in Federal funds to help operate and maintain their schools - and no one has made a single complaint that Federal controls resulted.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided that the 16th section of each township of public lands be granted to the States for the benefit of common schools - and no one complained that Federal controls resulted.

The Merrill Act of 1862 gave Federal lands to the States to aid in establishing agricultural colleges, and they were established in every State - and no one complained that Federal controls resulted.

Moreover, today, if safeguards are needed they are easy to provide; the Congress can appropriate funds to be distributed to local school boards and used by the local boards to meet their own local needs, whether for teachers' salaries or school construction. Finally, in appropriating funds, Congress can explicitly declare that the Federal Government shall exercise no control whatsoever over textbook content, curriculum, teaching methods, the selection and tenure of teachers and administrators, and so on; it can specifically declare that authority over such matters is to remain in the hands of local boards.

This is a simple matter, and Mr. Nixon, with all his experience in the legislative process, knows it very well. And that is why I say he has raised an artificial, misleading false issue.

Last February when he cast his vote against the education bill, he vetoed $25 in school aid for every child in the Nation.

I predict that if he were elected President, he would veto it again.

And I also predict he won't get another chance.

We don't want our children going to school half time. We don't want our children half educated. We owe it to each individual child to give him the best education he is capable of absorbing. And we owe it to our Nation to educate our children, for the bedrock of democracy is a constantly rising level of the education of its citizens. And the cause of freedom around the world depends upon the strength of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Two weeks from today you will vote. I urge you to vote for the party that is pledged to insure your children's education.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Meadowdale Shopping Center, Carpentersville, IL - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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