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Special Message to the Congress on Education Priorities.

January 24, 1974

To the Congress of the United States:

The Congress returns to Washington this week at a time when America faces many difficult challenges. Each of them will spark honest differences of opinion and generate spirited debates during the coming year.

But one goal which unites all of our people is to provide each of our children with a sound basic education. No matter what race, faith or family circumstance, each child should have equal access to a good education.

We have made substantial progress toward this goal, but we can maintain that momentum only if we commit ourselves to improve our educational system tional process. During the coming legislative year, there are many proposals which I believe the Congress should enact to improve our educational system. Among the highest priorities which I would urge upon the 93rd Congress are these:

--Consolidating major grant programs for elementary and secondary, vocational and adult education and increasing decision-making authority for State and local education agencies.

--Providing advanced funding so that State and local school authorities can plan their programs with greater certainty--a new and important concept in the financing of education.

--Targeting Federal funds so that students who have the greatest need--the truly disadvantaged--are the major recipients of funds.

--Expanding the grant and loan programs for students faced with the rapidly increasing costs of postsecondary education.

--And increasing support for organizations such as the National Institute of Education, which are searching for better ways to educate more than 60 million students in the United States.


This Administration has worked hard to expand educational opportunity for every child and we have made substantial progress:

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

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

--We have created a National Institute of Education to marshall our research skill systematically so that we can 'better understand how students learn and 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.

In taking these and other steps over the past five years, we have increased Federal spending for education from $5.1 billion in fiscal year 1970 to an estimated $7.6 billion in the budget I will propose next month for fiscal year 1975.

This support has helped enrich the diverse educational system and has contributed greatly to our national strength and vitality.


While real progress has been made, there are additional problems which must be addressed if we are to make the promise of a quality education a reality for all Americans. Americans have never been complacent about their educational system, but today they are increasingly concerned-and with reason.

--Parents of children who are not learning to read know it is becoming more difficult to lead a satisfying and productive life without this basic skill.

--Parents often see their children moving through elementary and high school without acquiring an understanding of what careers are open to them and what skills will enable them to obtain a rewarding job.

--Many families do not see how they will be able to meet the rising costs of their children's college education.

--Teachers who want to try something new or make old methods work better too often have no place to turn for reliable information about what works and why.

--Local school administrators must plan their budgets without knowing, until the last moment, what Federal aid will be available.

We all want to commit our energies to solving these problems and to making our schools better. We must now find ways to focus these energies.

To do so, I believe, we should adhere to five basic principles of constructive action:

--First, the Federal Government should continue to support national priorities in education without seeking to control and direct State and local responses to those priorities. Schools which must respond to detailed and elaborate Federal red tape will be hindered in responding to the demands of students, teachers and parents. A concrete application of this principle is the consolidated education grants legislation which the Congress is now considering. I again urge that this legislation be framed to achieve the maximum possible consolidation of funding authorities, so that State and local agencies can use Federal funds to meet national priorities
in their own ways.

--Second, the Federal Government must make it possible for citizens, students, parents and administrators to plan ahead. The request I will be making in my budget for advanced funding of the consolidated education grants reflects this principle.

--Third, to the maximum extent possible we should put the important choices in the hands of students and parents themselves. A concrete example of this principle is the Basic Opportunity grant program which permits students to apply funds toward an education at the school of their choice.

--Fourth, the Federal Government must play a more responsive role in funding research to find out what works in education. My proposal for the establishment of a National Institute of Education in 1970, and the funding for the institute I will recommend in my new budget show how I believe this principle can be carried out.

--Fifth, we must firmly insist that all Americans have an equal opportunity for education. The legislation I am supporting, the new budget, and the enforcement of non-discrimination to which I am committed all reflect this principle.


Traditionally State and local governments have exercised primary responsibility for education in this country. States and localities provide more than 90 percent of the money for elementary and secondary education while the Federal Government provides less than 10 percent. But in the last decade the tail has wagged the dog. Federal laws, rules and regulations have imposed an elaborate set of "do's" and "don'ts." They often prevent State and local agencies from using Federal funds to best meet their needs.


As if the Federal red tape were not confusing enough, the Federal funding process has created a situation in which school districts develop future budgets with a diminished degree of confidence or accuracy. School districts, for instance, have been faced with three entirely different allocations of funds just since July of 1973. As one school board member put it: "When we put our budget together, we don't know what we'll get from the Federal Government, so we have to be gamblers." School districts across the Nation will begin putting their annual budgets together next month, but unless we soon enact reforms they will not know how much their Federal funds will be until late fall.

To overcome this deficiency, which has plagued school boards in recent years, I plan to ask for supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year of $2.85 billion. The money will be used by schools in the school year beginning this fall. If the Congress acts on this request swiftly, those who run our elementary and secondary schools as well as vocational and adult education programs would for the first time know how much Federal money they would have before the school year begins, not several months after the year has begun.

The supplemental appropriations request will be formally transmitted to the Congress as soon as acceptable authorizing legislation is enacted. It is therefore important for that authorizing legislation to be passed early this spring, so that we can provide forward funding at the earliest possible date.


In 1971 I asked the Congress to consolidate and simplify numerous Federal aid programs for education. I again urged this in 1972.

Last year, I proposed this reform under the label of the Better Schools Act. The label itself, unfortunately, became a controversial matter within the Congress. It is not the label that should concern us, however, but the children and the structure of the programs designed to help them. I am pleased that during the last session of the Congress, the executive branch and the appropriate authorizing committees began to deal more seriously with an improved program structure, and I am persuaded that with hard work and careful thought, a bill acceptable to both branches can result.

The appropriate committees of both Houses have written steps to simplify existing programs for innovation and support services into the measures they are now considering. The Senate Subcommittee on Education has initiated a further consolidation of various discretionary and categorical programs into a special projects authority, with provisions for gifted and talented children. But further consolidation is still needed. I am therefore proposing consolidation of present programs of vocational education and a merger of existing authorities in adult education.


Another issue of continuing concern is the development of a better way to distribute Federal funds for disadvantaged children. The current system of reimbursement often results in school districts being paid for children who are no longer there.

A new formula for distribution of these vital funds must be adopted, targeting the available money on the greatest concentrations of disadvantaged children and on the development of basic skills. That formula should also take into account the differing costs for education in different locales. We must also adopt a definition of poverty which more accurately reflects today's conditions.


There is growing awareness in the Nation of the special educational needs of handicapped children. In 90 demonstration projects we are seeking to learn how to identify handicapped children earlier and give them the help they need to enter regular school when other children do.

I am now proposing that eight discretionary authorities be consolidated into four broad programs for the education of the handicapped. One of these new programs, Resource Implementation, would help teachers identify learning problems; the Professional Development program would provide teachers with special skills to overcome barriers to learning; Innovation and Development would provide new methods and materials for teaching; and Special Centers and Services would accelerate progress in aiding severely handicapped children.


Another program affecting many school districts throughout the Nation is School Assistance in Federally Affected Areas-aid to districts where Federal installations bring significant enrollment increases. I am proposing 100 percent Federal funding of the program for school districts where enrollment consists of 25 percent or more of children whose parents both live and work on Federal property, and 90 percent funding for school districts where these children comprise less than 25 percent.

In the past we have also funded programs for children whose parents work on Federal property but do not live on Federal installations. Since parents of such children already contribute substantially to State and local governments to help pay educational costs, I see no reason for all American taxpayers to continue subsidizing this special group of school districts. However, a transition period is needed for districts which have depended heavily on these Federal funds. I will therefore propose that no local school district whose subsidy is being terminated will lose more than 5 percent of its total operating budget in the first year that we phase out the program. It is only fair to give school districts as much notice as possible to plan and conform their budgets to Federal financing policies.


In coming weeks, I will send to the Congress a proposal for a new project grant program to aid school districts undergoing voluntary or court-ordered desegregation. This program should replace the current Emergency School Aid Act when the act expires this June.

A national formula program is no longer needed to handle this problem. What is needed is a targeted approach to solve specific problems.

As opposed to the national formula now employed under the Emergency School Aid Act, the new project grant program would target desegregation aid to solve specific programs. In addition, we will continue to provide technical assistance to local districts, helping them to meet problems relating to desegregation.


A targeted approach is also needed to deal more effectively with the needs of Indian children. There is a special Federal responsibility to provide educational services to Indian tribes and communities, and we propose to place emphasis on project grants for this purpose.


Because of the great diversity of our Nation, we must also provide special assistance to children of families whose native language is other than English. I ask the Congress to continue support for demonstration projects which help develop better ways to provide bilingual education.


This Administration is committed to the goal that no qualified student should be denied a college education because of a lack of funds. Today we are in a position to accomplish a major expansion of student opportunities and choice.

An education beyond high school is a major goal of many young Americans today. In recent years, however, the cost of college or other training has threatened to price this dream beyond the means of many families.

Since 1970 I have been urging the Congress to enact and fund student aid programs that would reduce to manageable size the problem of financing higher education for all families.


In 1972 the Congress responded by enacting the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program, the primary vehicle for reaching the neediest students. The current program provides for an average grant of only $260 and limits eligibility to entering freshmen. The program I propose for FY 1975--totaling $1.3 billion-- would provide a grant of up to $1,400 depending on need.

Supplementing this Basic Grant program is a Guaranteed Student Loan program designed to increase access to loans. This program is both for needy students receiving Basic Grants, and for students who are not eligible for Basic Grants but who need or wish to spread the costs of postsecondary education over time.

Over the past year, some students who have sought loans have found it difficult or impossible to locate lenders willing to make federally guaranteed loans.

To remedy this problem I have instructed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Treasury Department to contact the major lending institutions and to request that they reaffirm their commitment to our Nation's educational needs by making adequate funds available for student loans. If, as the progress of this program is reviewed, additional changes appear to be necessary, I will propose them.

The Basic Grant and Guaranteed Student Loan programs, supplemented by the College Work Study program, expand opportunities for postsecondary education. My budget request for these programs would provide more such opportunities than ever before. Building on Basic Grants, students can rely on work, loans, and family resources, plus State, local and private forms of assistance to meet the remainder of their financial needs.


I will request funding of the full authorization for the Developing Institutions program--an authorization that is four times the funding level when I took office.
This program helps to strengthen the capabilities of colleges which are serving Black, Spanish-American, and American Indian students as well as students from economically disadvantaged back- grounds--a special concern of my Administration.


An essential element in our effort to provide every American an equal and increasing opportunity for education is the development and dissemination of alternative educational approaches through research. For too long we threw money at educational problems, feeling that bigger would mean better.

To strengthen support for education research and development, the National Institute of Education was created with strong bipartisan support. The institute is now beginning to provide the leadership in educational research and development that is needed.

In 1975 it will continue to concentrate on several major tasks:

--finding answers to the problems that students have in learning essential skills such as reading and mathematics;

--improving State and local capability to solve the educational problems of their youth;

--increasing the educational benefits to students through improving the productivity of our schools;

--and assisting students to better understand the relationship between the school and the world of work. Through this latter activity, the National Institute of Education has taken on the responsibility to carry out the Career Education objectives I set forth in my 1972 message. The institute is developing new ways to introduce young people to various career opportunities and is experimenting with new methods of preparing them to get and keep jobs that pay well and offer opportunities for advancement.

Education research is not a luxury but a necessity if Americans are to get the education they want for their children at a sensible cost. Accordingly, I would like to emphasize most strongly the need for adequate funding of the institute.


The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education constitutes another important new Federal initiative to achieve needed innovation and reform. The fund was created to support exemplary activities and new directions which promise to increase the quality, effectiveness, and diversity of postsecondary educational opportunities. The fund is now providing support for the development and demonstration of more effective approaches to college education.


The Right to Read effort is well on its way to becoming a prime example of the way that a Federal, State and local partnership can achieve positive results. Under this program, we are now on the way toward achieving a 1980 goal of eliminating functional illiteracy among 90 percent of those 16 years and older and 99 percent of the youth of America. I ask the Congress to continue giving this program its full support.


While I continue to believe that State and local authorities bear the primary responsibility for the maintenance of public libraries, I also believe that the Federal Government has a responsible role to play. One of my new initiatives for 1975 is the Library Partnership Act. This legislation would encourage the establishment of reference and information services on a demonstration basis and could lead to significant improvements in public library services across the United States.


During 1975, the Head Start program will reach 282,000 children on a year-round basis and some 78,000 pre-schoolers in the summer. It will also extend its activities to include handicapped students. My 1975 budget will increase operating funds for this program and will provide funds to ensure that all children participating in Head Start can obtain a nourishing breakfast and lunch.


The proposals I have outlined above are designed to address the educational challenges of tomorrow. They are designed to enhance the effectiveness of the Federal dollar. They are designed to facilitate the operations of our State and local school systems.

For the necessary reforms and rejuvenation of our schools to occur, however, it will take more than Federal programs and more than Federal money. It will require that each of us commit ourselves, with money, time and attention, to that process. Only with individual commitment, with the commitment of State and local school administrators and teachers, with the commitment of parents and students, and with the commitment of the Federal Government, can we obtain a revitalized and rewarding American educational system.

The White House,
January 24, 1974.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on Education Priorities. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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