Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony for the Department of Education Organization Act

October 17, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. The first thing I want to do is to invite into the room the real beneficiaries of the new Department of Education, a group of fourth grade students from Brent Elementary School. This morning they can stand where they want to. [Laughter]

In 1962 I was serving on a local school board in the Deep South and had been for 7 years. We were going through a time of sociological change, when public, elected officials, and churches, business leaders stood mute while children suffered because of ancient policies of racial discrimination. That situation changed because of schoolteachers and the courage of educators, who saw the devastating effect of continued racial policies in the South and throughout the country.

I decided to rim for the State Senate to see if I could help in Georgia, based on my own experiences matter those trying circumstances. And when I got to Atlanta as a newly elected senator, I had one request and that was that I be put on the education committee. And I was.

I later ran for Governor, and my prime campaign commitment was to improve education in Georgia. And we did. I spent probably 25 percent of my time as Governor trying to deal with better education for our students.

When I became President, that situation was drastically different. There has not been in the Federal Government an adequate mechanism by which we can improve the quality of education in the United States, and I say that not in criticism of those who've served under such difficult circumstances. But I think you could interrogate local elementary and high school principals and classroom teachers, county school board members, State school superintendents, college professors, university presidents, governors, and you would find an almost complete negative attitude toward how ranch support is given from the Federal Government for better education, compared with the tremendous potential that exists.

As Fritz 1 pointed out, we have increased tremendously the Federal financial contribution to educational, 60 percent in 2 1/2 years, with the help of the Congress. This has obviously been focused in a very fine way, but the interrelationship between local people—public and private education—and State officials, who are directly responsible and ought to have control over the policy of the schools—relationship between them on the one hand and the Federal bureaucracy on the other one has been a very poor record.

I don't know what history will show, but my guess is that the best move for the quality of life in America in the future might very well be this establishment of this new Department of Education, because it will open up for the first time some very substantial benefits for our country.

There is a growing concern in our Nation about the decrease of the measurement of the quality of education through testing, through the achievement levels of our students. And it's not the students' fault, it's not the teachers' fault that there have been obstacles placed in the way of better education because of bureaucracy, too much redtape, too much confusion, an inadequate consultative process.

When I was a Governor, I didn't know where to go in Washington to get the answer to a question about education in my State. And I'll bet you very few—I'll bet you not more than two or three Governors in this Nation know who, specifically, is responsible for the educational programs in Washington. I'll bet you not 10 percent of the Members of the House and Senate know, specifically, who is responsible. In the future I hope that everyone will know—who's interested in education-this is the Secretary of Education. and that's the person that I'll go to to get the answer to a question or to resolve a problem or to overcome a difficulty. That is a great step in the right direction.

Also, I hope and I pray and I'm determined that we're going to cut out unnecessary forms, applications, redtape, regulations that have been an obstacle in the past.

It's important for us to remember that education is the biggest single national investment in the United States. Sixty million Americans are directly involved in the educational process; that is 3 Americans out of 10 who work in a direct or indirect way in education, $120 billion spent in our country every year on education. And I want to see that investment of human and financial resources pay rich dividends in the future. It hasn't in the past, not nearly up to the potential. We're going to change that.

I believe that we can have, in the future, the acknowledgement that policy, curriculum, personnel decisions should be made at the local level, as close as possible to the parents and to the students in private and public education, and that the Federal Government is there, eager to help, to bridge gaps, to consult, to remove problems. And I hope the prime focus will be on the quality of the knowledge and the future life of each student.

I think this can be a fairly narrowly focused commitment. It's not possible to have that focusing of attention in Health, Education, and Welfare, where education is buried under the enormous responsibilities of welfare, health, and other related subjects.

There can also be a substantial saving in administrative costs, and that's built into the legislation in a mandatory fashion. I won't go into details about it.

And I believe that in the future we can have a much more responsive Federal Government, where, if a problem should arise in an embryonic way, an educator can know exactly where to go to get an answer, and where there can be a bridging of a chasm that quite often in the past has separated educators from the Federal Government. It's not going to be a panacea which can resolve every problem immediately, but I'm determined to make it work.

And I'm very ,grateful to all of those who've been instrumental in reaching this goal after I don't know how many years of frustrated efforts. Sometimes it didn't look as though we were going to make it, and Fritz has already thanked those who have helped. Educators, local officials of all kinds, interested parents, students helped, and I think in the House and Senate, as Fritz has already said, we bad superb bipartisan leadership.

I'd like to introduce now, to speak for the House, Jack Brooks, who's a formidable ally to have in a tough fight. He hates to lose, and he rarely does. [Laughter] And I'm very grateful to Jack Brooks, because there were times when the outcome was in doubt, and had it not been for him, we would not have prevailed. And I think what he's done for me as President, for our government, and for the children and other students in our country is a notable achievement, and I'm deeply grateful to Jack.

I might point out that [Representative] Frank Horton and the Republicans helped enormously to make sure that the Nation knew, and the votes indicated, that this is not a partisan issue, as Fritz has already pointed out.

But I would like to introduce to you my friend, with a great deal of gratitude, Jack Brooks.

REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS. Mr. President, I want to thank you. It gives me a great pleasure to be here on this occasion. We weren't always sure we'd make this trip. [Laughter]

But an educated citizenry is essential to the survival of a democratic form of government, to the promotion of justice and equality, and to our country's economic progress. And for the first time, our $14 billion education program will be receiving Presidential attention, and the managers can be held accountable for achieving maximum results.

So, I want to congratulate you, Mr. President, for your insight, your leadership in the field of education. This bill is a result of cooperation and teamwork between the White House and the Congress, and we're just pleased to join you bore in finalizing that successful effort.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know if [Representative] Carl Perkins is here. Is he? I wanted particularly to thank him. Well, Jack, you tell him that we missed him, and thank him especially.

And now I'd like to turn to Abe Ribicoff, who had a similar responsibility and achievement in the Senate. He, contrary to Jack Brooks, made an extremely difficult issue look easy. [Laughter] But I was involved in both fights on both sides, and they are great allies to have.

But I'd like to call now on Abe Ribicoff to come and say a word, if he will. Abe?

SENATOR RIBICOFF. Mr. President, in 1960 President-elect Kennedy asked me what job I'd like in the Cabinet, and I told him I'd like to go to HEW. And the basic reason for that was education. When I got in the Cabinet, I realized that the problems of health and welfare were so overriding that education was relegated to the back burner.

When I came to the Senate in 1963, the first measure I placed in the hopper was the creation of a department of education. I felt then that it was absolutely essential. If we were to take care of children such as this, we needed the organization to put into effect the huge expenditures of money that we have been appropriating. And I'm so pleased that President Carter was the first President during that interim period who realized the absolute necessity for a department of education.

So, now it's become a reality—organization is policy, the policies that we have been adopting can be put into effect. And I want to take this opportunity of thanking my colleagues in the Congress and especially you, Mr. President, for making it possible for this Nation to move forward for all its people with a Department of Education.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think Senator Percy is here, but he was a strong right arm for Abe Ribicoff.

Is Dr. Benjamin Mays here? I've been looking around to see if I could find him. Dr. Mays, would you come here, please?

Dr. Mays probably personifies the dedication of educators as well or perhaps better than anyone I know in this country. He's been involved in education under the most trying circumstances for more than 50 years, as a teacher, as a president of a great university, as a leader in the extremely difficult sociological changes that took place under the aegis of education, which required great courage and his personal influence over many Americans, including myself. I think he personifies—just to repeat myself—the finest elements of education.

And I just thought it might be good for me to get one of the fourth graders from Brent and for Dr. Mays to stand here, just to show you how important it is to bridge the generation gap and how the beneficial effect of distinguished and dedicated educators, many of whom cannot be recognized—how their impact on the life of a child can be so beneficial to our country. So, I just want to get these two tip here with me.

And now I'd like to sign the bill.

1 Vice President Walter F. Mondale.

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

As enacted, S. 210 is Public Law 96-88, approved October 17.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony for the Department of Education Organization Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248016

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