Jimmy Carter photo

Response to Questions in "American Teacher Magazine"

October 01, 1976

Q. Do you feel that the Office of President of the United States can have an impact on public education in America? How?

Carter. Yes, I do. The President is the only person in this country who can speak with a clear voice, set a standard of excellence, root out injustice and carry out bold programs. In the absence of that leadership from the White House, the country drifts, as we have seen since the beginning of the Nixon-Ford Administrations in 1968.

My personal commitment to education is reflected in my career as a public official. My first position was the chairmanship of a local school board. I ran for the State Senate because of my concern for public education in Georgia and I successfully sponsored there our first overhaul of education financing. Ten years later, during my term as governor, a second even broader reform was successfully completed after 2 years of hard work.

As President, my priorities will not change. I will remain committed to quality education for all citizens and I will treat public education as a top budgetary priority. As one of my early, major priorities in the White House, I will initiate a full-scale review of all federal education programs with an eye to making them meet the goals they had when they were envisioned.

Q. If you could wave a magic wand and produce your ultimate vision of what schools and education ought to be, how would you describe them?

Carter. America's commitment to education has facilitated equality of opportunity, yet we still do not provide all citizens with the education necessary to develop their natural potential and participate meaningfully in the decisions of their government. My basic goal is quality7 education for every child, with individualized instruction so that all our children are encouraged to progress at the fastest possible rate. Each child must be treated as an individual with separate problems and unique talents and should receive the education which will enable him or her to develop their full potential.

That was my objective in Georgia, as a school board member, as a member of the state legislature and as governor. As President, I will work for the same goal on a nationwide basis.

Q. What do you feel are the essential requirements for improving education in the United States?

Carter. America's educational institutions and methods are being seriously undermined by today's fiscal pressures. The average cost per student in public schools has approximately doubled in the last 10 years, but unfortunately most of the increased expenditure pays for inflation rather than qualitative improvements. Two-thirds of our institutions of higher education, according to the Carnegie Commission, are likely to be facing financial difficulties either now or in the near future. Private colleges which in the 1950's served 50 percent of all students have now shrunk to 25 percent.

Meanwhile, we are graduating teachers each year who will be unable to find jobs, and students are facing tuition increases at the very same time that grants and loans are difficult to acquire. When they graduate, they confront a ceiling in job demand.

Reform must begin with methods of financing. My early predictions that revenue sharing would be used as an excuse to steal funds from a wide range of social programs, including education, have proven true. A major overhaul of the revenue sharing concept is needed. Funds for local governments should be increased, and the prohibition against using this money for education 1 should be eliminated.

The federal share of public education costs was 10 percent in 1974. If existing inequalities are to be eliminated and American teachers provided with a decent standard of living, this portion must be increased. But most of the funding for public education will continue to come from state and local sources. Unfortunately, regressive and haphazard methods of local financing produce severe inequalities. As governor, I successfully sponsored a major reform of education financing in Georgia to help eliminate disparities based on the relative wealth of the area in which a child lives.

As President, I will initiate a comprehensive attack upon the basic problems of education in America. In addition to the measures I have already mentioned, the following steps are necessary:

• The creation of a Cabinet level post to specifically represent education.

• Expanded vocational and career opportunities. Although the number of students enrolled in career education has more than doubled within the last 6 years, 2/z million leave the educational system without adequate vocational training. It is estimated that 750,000 untrained young enter the unemployment pool annually. By 1980, 80 percent of all jobs are expected to require education beyond high school but less than a 4 year degree. Community colleges and other existing programs must be strengthened and extended.

• The expansion of educational rights of the handicapped.

Of our 6 million school age handicapped children, only 3 million are now receiving the attention they need. Recent federal court decisions have guaranteed the handicapped their right to an education. Since such an education costs five to six times that of nonhandicapped children, increased federal expenditures is necessary in this sphere.

• Imaginative reforms to strengthen colleges and universities in times of financial difficulties.

Basic tax reform proposals should give proper consideration to the role of private philanthropy in education.

Q. At present, the federal government provides roughly 7 to 8 percent of the cost of the nation's schools. Many people feel that if the schools are going to be improved there must be a larger commitment from Washington. How do you feel about this? What do you think would be a reasonable federal commitment?

Carter. I have already stated that as President I will be committed to an increase in the proportion of education costs to be financed by the federal government. Without studying the whole budgetary process and assessing multipriorities, it would be hard for me to give an exact figure at this point. Money for this increased federal commitment will come from the extra revenues generated by the growth of our economy, as it moves back to full productive capacity with the fall in unemployment resulting from the measures I shall introduce.

Q. Do you feel teachers have been adequately involved in decisions about education at various levels of government?

Carter. No; I do not. As President I will remedy this state of affairs by appointing more people with practical experience of teaching and running our school systems to administrative positions at the national level. 1 believe that for me to try to evolve national education policies without calling on the help of professionals, the people who have devoted their lives to education, would be a very serious mistake. I will, of course, continue to consult with leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and other educational organizations. As you know, your president, Albert Shanker, serves on my educational task force.

Q. The cost of welfare programs and public medical care have seriously reduced the funding available from state and local sources for other public services such as education. The Democratic Platform calls for federalization of welfare and a national health insurance program. Would you press for action on this front?

Carter. For the 90 percent of our welfare recipients who are not considered to be employable, we need an efficient and compassionate welfare system. What we have now is a massive bureaucracy in which hundreds of thousands of employees struggle to administer over a hundred different assistance programs. That system needs to be simplified to enable an adequate, fairly uniform, nationwide allocation of funds to these people so that they can meet the necessities of life. Also, over a period of time there should be a shifting of responsibilities for financing welfare away from state governments toward the federal government. The resulting savings to state governments would hopefully free funds for education and other important social programs.

The 10 percent of recipients who are able to work should be separated from this 90 percent and treated as part of the unemployed work force. The private and public training and educational programs should be marshaled to prepare them for employment commensurate with their abilities and talents.

I also support the concept of national health insurance. I favor a system of comprehensive national health insurance which guarantees to every person as a right as much care as he or she needs with minimum or no deductibles of coinsurance and with cost and quality controls. However, this pressing need cannot be met as long as the economy is mismanaged. When our economy is restored to health, we will have the strength and the capacity to deal with this need, with a balanced budget and without inflation.

Q. The Democratic Party platform calls for federal support of early childhood education and day care services. How will you implement this plank?

Carter. We need to develop an accessible national child care program that allows parents the freedom to choose between or combine employment and home responsibilities. The government should not interfere with decisions concerning child rearing, nor should it dictate any certain pattern of child care. Today 80 percent of all child care is provided in family settings by friends or relatives. These choices deserve to be respected by government. We need to insure that the welfare, health, and safety of the children who are cared for in government supported institutions are fully safeguarded, and that the families of these children decide how they are to be cared for.

Q. Can you comment on school violence, discipline, drug abuse, and alcoholism—What do you think can be done in these areas?

Carter. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and the emotional and psychological problems that lie behind school violence are steadily increasing among our young people. Other social trends among young Americans concern me. For example, suicide is now the second most common cause of death among young people aged 15 to 18. The number of gonorrhea cases has tripled in the last 10 years among children under 14. One million young Americans run away from home each year. The average American 16 year old spends more hours watching television than attending school.

These are all symptoms of the breakdown of the family unit in America. And where there is no discipline at home, schools and teachers take the strain. Only by remedying the problems which contribute to family breakdown—among which are unemployment, poorly designed tax and welfare policies, and many others—can we let our teachers resume their proper place as educators, instead of being forced to waste valuable classroom time in the role of disciplinarians.

Because of the importance of this issue for America, I have called for a White House conference on the American family to be held next year, whether I am President or not. A White House conference can be a first step in focusing federal agencies on the need for policies that help families, not hinder them, and can also begin a long overdue dialogue between government and the private agencies that work with families.

Q. There are now hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers unable to find teaching jobs, even though schools desperately need their skills. How would your administration put them back to work?

Carter. There are only 115,000 new jobs for our 164,500 newly graduating teachers this year, and the job situation is even more bleak for Ph.D. students. The financial problems of our education institutions are partly responsible. Another cause is the decreasing enrollment in elementary schools with the decline in the birth rate, a trend which will affect other areas of education, with high school enrollment reaching its peak this year and college enrollment expected to be in decline by 1980.

But this is no justification for the unemployment of teachers, since cutbacks in numbers of teachers and course offerings are harming the quality of education our students are receiving. This year's drop in mean SAT scores was the greatest in two decades. Top American high school students ranked only seventh in scientific knowledge when compared with similar students from 19 other advanced nations. More tragically, 14 million citizens of this, the wealthiest nation in the world, are judged functionally illiterate.

American teachers still have a big job to do. As a nation, we cannot afford to waste their talents. The necessary reforms to put them back to work must begin with methods of financing, with an increase in the federal share of public education costs, as I have already outlined.

Q. Should there be a permanent GI bill type of program for funding postsecondary education for all Americans?

Carter. The traditional federal role in education has been to respond to those members of our population who have special needs. I believe that we should continue to operate within this framework. I believe our long range goal should be to insure that no deserving student is denied access to postsecondary education because of financial need.

Q. Most teachers feel that class size is critical in the quality of education. How do you feel about this question?

Carter. I have already described the importance I place on individualized instruction for every child. Class size is obviously crucial to this. The new education program passed in Georgia while I was governor reduced the pupil/teacher ratio. Particular groups of students needing extra or concentrated teaching were given up to one-and-a-half times the usual allotment of teachers. In addition, we tried to increase the numbers of librarians, student counselors, and administrators, in line with the increase in the numbers of classroom teachers. We also tried to provide an increased allotment of teachers at the first three levels of school and extra remedial teachers. We added a thousand new special education teachers each year for children with learning difficulties in particular subjects and we established special programs outside the school system for retarded children. I would like to see these kinds of measures encouraged on a nationwide basis.

Q. There is widespread agreement that penal institutions do not do much of a job of rehabilitation. Do you believe that an educational program available in such institutions would be of value? How about other institutions such as nursing homes and hospitals?

Carter. I note with interest that the Educational Amendments of 1976 which were recently passed by the Congress provide for a national strategy' for lifelong training. Many Americans today lack the kinds of skills that would enable them to find productive employment. I think there must be greater emphasis on adult education and retraining, not only in our institutions but available to all segments of our society. The lifelong learning bill is a step in that direction.

APP NOTE: The APP used October 1 as the date for this document. The original source stated that this appeared in the "October 1976" issue.

A few weeks before the General Election on November 2, 1976, interviews with Mr. Carter by specialized publications and questionnaires on special interest issues were printed in magazines and journals dated October or November, 1976, but circulated in late September or early October. The interviews reprinted here focus on matters of concern to teachers and educators, the construction industry, farmers and the agricultural community, professional engineers and scientists, those concerned with health care, and members of the Armed Forces and veterans.

Jimmy Carter, Response to Questions in "American Teacher Magazine" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353887

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