KC Johnson

February 21: The Great Society

Hugh Davis Graham article, “Short-circuiting the Bureaucracy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly

Jerome Murphy, “Title I of ESEA,” Harvard Journal of Education

Kennedy education message, 1961

To the Congress of the United States:

Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American’s capacity.

The human mind is our fundamental resource. A balanced Federal program must go well beyond incentives for investment in plant and equipment. It must include equally determined measures to invest in human beings–both in their basic education and training and in their more advanced preparation for professional work. Without such measures, the Federal Government will not be carrying out its responsibilities for expanding the base of our economic and military strength.

Our progress in education over the last generation has been substantial. We are educating a greater proportion of our youth to a higher degree of competency than any other country on earth. One-fourth of our total population is enrolled in our schools and colleges. This year 26 billion dollars will be spent on education alone.

But the needs of the next generation–the needs of the next decade and the next school year–will not be met at this level of effort. More effort will be required–on the part of students, teachers, schools, colleges and all 50 states–and on the part of the Federal Government.

Education must remain a matter of state and local control, and higher education a matter of individual choice. But education is increasingly expensive. Too many state and local governments lack the resources to assure an adequate education for every child. Too many classrooms are overcrowded. Too many teachers are underpaid. Too many talented individuals cannot afford the benefits of higher education. Too many academic institutions cannot afford the cost of, or find room for, the growing numbers of students seeking admission in the 60’s.

Our twin goals must be: a new standard of excellence in education–and the availability of such excellence to all who are willing and able to pursue it.


A successful educational system requires the proper balance, in terms of both quality and quantity, of three elements: students, teachers and facilities. The quality of the students depends in large measure on both the quality and the relative quantity of teachers and facilities.

Throughout the 1960’s there will be no lack in the quantity of students. An average net gain of nearly one million pupils a year during the next ten years will overburden a school system already strained by well over a half-million pupils in curtailed or half-day sessions, a school system financed largely by a property tax incapable of bearing such an increased load in most communities.

But providing the quality and quantity of teachers and facilities to meet this demand will be major problems. Even today, there are some 90,000 teachers who fall short of full certification standards. Tens of thousands of others must attempt to cope with classes of unwieldy size because there are insufficient teachers available.

We cannot obtain more and better teachers-and our- children should have the best– unless steps are taken to increase teachers’ salaries. At present salary levels, the classroom cannot compete in financial rewards with other professional work that requires similar academic background.

It is equally clear that we do not have enough classrooms. In order to meet current needs and accommodate increasing enrollments, if every child is to have the opportunity of a full-day education in an adequate classroom, a total of 600,000 classrooms must be constructed during the next ten years.

These problems are common to all states. They are particularly severe in those states which lack the financial resources to provide a better education, regardless of their own efforts. Additional difficulties, too often overlooked, are encountered in areas of special educational need, where economic or social circumstances impose special burdens and opportunities on the public school. These areas of special educational need include our depressed areas of chronic unemployment and the slum neighborhoods of our larger cities, where underprivileged children are overcrowded into substandard housing. A recent survey of a very large elementary school in one of our major cities, for example, found 91% of the children coming to class with poor diets, 87% in need of dental care, 21% in need of visual correction and 19% with speech disorders. In some depressed areas roughly one-third of the children must rely on surplus foods for their basic sustenance. Older pupils in these schools lack proper recreational and job guidance. The proportion of drop-outs, delinquency and classroom disorders in such areas in alarmingly high.

I recommend to the Congress a three-year program of general Federal assistance for public elementary and secondary classroom construction and teachers’ salaries.

Based essentially on the bill which passed the Senate last year (S. 8), although beginning at a more modest level of expenditures, this program would assure every state of no less than $15 for every public school student in average daily attendance, with the total amount appropriated (666 million dollars being authorized in the first year, rising to $866 million over a three-year period) distributed according to the equalization formula contained in the last year’s Senate bill, and already familiar to the Congress by virtue of its similarity to the formulas contained in the Hill-Burton Hospital Construction and other acts. Ten percent of the funds allocated to each state in the first year, and an equal amount thereafter, is to be used to help meet the unique problems of each state’s “areas of special educational need”–depressed areas, slum neighborhoods and others.

This is a modest program with ambitious goals. The sums involved are relatively small when we think in terms of more than 36 million public school children, and the billions of dollars necessary to educate them properly. Nevertheless, a limited beginning now–consistent with our obligations in other areas of responsibility–will encourage all states to expand their facilities to meet the increasing demand and enrich the quality of education offered, and gradually assist our relatively low-income states in the elevation of their educational standards to a national level.

The bill which will follow this message has been carefully drawn to eliminate disproportionately large or small inequities, and to make the maximum use of a limited number of dollars. In accordance with the clear prohibition of the Constitution, no elementary or secondary school funds are allocated for constructing church schools or paying church school teachers’ salaries; and thus non-public school children are rightfully not counted in determining the funds each state will receive for its public schools. Each state will be expected to maintain its own effort or contribution; and every state whose effort is below the national average will be expected to increase that proportion of its income which is devoted to public elementary and secondary education.

This investment will pay rich dividends in the years ahead–in increased economic growth, in enlightened citizens, in national excellence. For some 40 years, the Congress has wrestled with this problem and searched for a workable solution. I believe that we now have such a solution; and that this Congress in this year will make a land-mark contribution to American education.


Our colleges and universities represent our ultimate educational resource. In these institutions are produced the leaders and other trained persons whom we need to carry forward our highly developed civilization. If the colleges and universities fail to do their job, there is no substitute to fulfill their responsibility. The threat of opposing military and ideological forces in the world lends urgency to their task. But that task would exist in any case.

The burden of increased enrollments–imposed upon our elementary and secondary schools already in the fifties–will fall heavily upon our colleges and universities during the sixties. By the autumn of 1966, an estimated one million more students will be in attendance at institutions of higher learning than enrolled last fall–for a total more than twice as high as the total college enrollment of 1950. Our colleges, already hard-pressed to meet rising enrollments since 1950 during a period of rising costs, will be in critical straits merely to provide the necessary facilities, much less the cost of quality education.

The country as a whole is already spending nearly $1 billion a year on academic and residential facilities for higher education-some 20 percent of the total spent for higher education. Even with increased contributions from state, local and private sources, a gap of $2.9 billion between aggregate needs and expenditures is anticipated by 1965, and a gap of $5.2 billion by 1970.

The national interest requires an educational system on the college level sufficiently financed and equipped to provide every student with adequate physical facilities to meet his instructional, research, and residential needs.

I therefore recommend legislation which will:

(1) Extend the current College Housing Loan Program with a five year $250 million a year program designed to meet the Federal Government’s appropriate share of residential housing for students and faculty. As a start, additional lending authority is necessary to speed action during fiscal 1961 on approvable loan applications already at hand.

(2) Establish a new, though similar, long-term, low-interest rate loan program for academic facilities, authorizing $300 million in loans each year for five years to assist in the construction of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and related structures-sufficient to enable public and private higher institutions to accommodate the expanding enrollments they anticipate over the next five years; and also to assist in the renovation, rehabilitation, and modernization of such facilities.


This nation a century or so ago established as a basic objective the provision of a good elementary and secondary school education to every child, regardless of means.In 1961, patterns of occupation, citizenship and world affairs have so changed that we must set a higher goal. We must assure ourselves that every talented young person who has the ability to pursue a program of higher education will be able to do so if he chooses, regardless of his financial means.

Today private and public scholarship and loan programs established by numerous states, private sources, and the Student Loan Program under the National Defense Education Act are making substantial contributions to the financial needs of many who attend our colleges. But they still fall short of doing the job that must be done. An estimated one-third of our brightest high school graduates are unable to go on to college principally for financial reasons.

While I shall subsequently ask the Congress to amend and expand the Student Loan and other provisions of the National Defense Education Act, it is dear that even with this program many talented but needy students are unable to assume further indebtedness in order to continue their education.

I therefore recommend the establishment of a five-year program with an initial authorization of $26,250,000 Of state-administered scholarships for talented and needy young people which will supplement but not supplant those programs of financial assistance to students which are now in operation.

Funds would be allocated to the states during the first year for a total of twenty-five thousand scholarships averaging $700 each, 37,500 scholarships the second year, and 50,000 for each succeeding year thereafter. These scholarships, which would range according to need up to a maximum stipend of $1000, would be open to all young persons, without regard to sex, race, creed, or color, solely on the basis of their ability–as determined on a competitive basis–and their financial need. They would be permitted to attend the college of their choice, and free to select their own program of study. Inasmuch as tuition and fees do not normally cover the institution’s actual expenses in educating the student, additional allowances to the college or university attended should accompany each scholarship to enable these institutions to accept the additional students without charging an undue increase in fees or suffering an undue financial loss.


The National Vocational Education Acts, first enacted by the Congress in 1917 and subsequently amended, have provided a program of training for industry, agriculture, and other occupational areas. The basic purpose of our vocational education effort is sound and sufficiently broad to provide a basis for meeting future needs. However, the technological changes which have occurred in all occupations call for a review and re-evaluation of these Acts, with a view toward their modernization.

To that end, I am requesting the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to convene an advisory body drawn from the educational profession, labor-industry, and agriculture as well as the lay public, together with representation from the Departments of Agriculture and Labor, to be charged with the responsibility of reviewing and evaluating the current National Vocational Education Acts, and making recommendations for improving and redirecting the program.


These stimulatory measures represent an essential though modest contribution which the Federal Government must make to American education at every level. One-sided aid is not enough. We must give attention to both teachers’ salaries and classrooms, both college academic facilities and dormitories, both scholarships and loans, both vocational and general education.

We do not undertake to meet our growing educational problems merely to compare our achievements with those of our adversaries. These measures are justified on their own merits–in times of peace as well as peril, to educate better citizens as well as better scientists and soldiers. The Federal Government’s responsibility in this area has been established since the earliest days of the Republic–it is time now to act decisively to fulfill that responsibility for the sixties.


Johnson announcing the Head Start program, 1965

Mr. Shriver, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests:

On this beautiful spring day it is good to be outside in the Rose Garden. Of course, the White House is a place where when you go outside you are still inside.

In that same vein, I would note that the Rose Garden is a garden without roses today, and the Fish Room is now a room without fish. But there is one compensation–open nearly any door here in the West Wing and you are liable to run into Sargent Shriver, and sometimes you will find him in more than one room at the same time.

This is a very proud occasion for him and for us today, because it was less than 3 months ago that we opened a new war front on poverty. We set out to make certain that poverty’s children would not be forevermore poverty’s captives. We called our program Project Head Start.

The program was conceived not so much as a Federal effort but really as a neighborhood effort, and the response we have received from the neighborhoods and the communities has been most stirring and the most enthusiastic of any peacetime program that I can remember.

Today we are able to announce that we will have open, and we believe operating this summer, coast-to-coast, some 2,000 child development centers serving as many as possibly a half million children.

This means that nearly half the preschool children of poverty will get a head start on their future. These children will receive preschool training to prepare them for regular school in September. They will get medical and dental attention that they badly need, and parents will receive counseling on improving the home environment.

This is a most remarkable accomplishment and it has been done in a very short time. It would not be possible except for the willing and the enthusiastic cooperation of Americans throughout the country.

I believe this response reflects a realistic and a wholesome awakening in America. It shows that we are recognizing that poverty perpetuates itself.

Five and six year old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators. Unless we act these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.

This program this year means that 30 million man-years–the combined life span of these youngsters–will be spent productively and rewardingly, rather than wasted in tax-supported institutions or in welfare-supported lethargy.

I believe that this is one of the most constructive, and one of the most sensible, and also one of the most exciting programs that this Nation has ever undertaken. I don’t say that just because the most ardent and most active and most enthusiastic supporter of this program happens to be the honorary national chairman, Mrs. Johnson.

We have taken up the age-old challenge of poverty and we don’t intend to lose generations of our children to this enemy of the human race.

This program, like so many others, will succeed in proportion as it is supported by voluntary assistance and understanding from all of our people. So we are going to need a million good neighbors–volunteers–who will give their time for a few hours each week caring for these children, helping in a hundred ways to draw out their potentials. We need housewives and coeds. We need teachers and doctors. We need men and women of all walks and all interests to lend their talents, their warmth, their hands, and their hearts.

The bread that is cast upon these waters will surely return many thousandfold.

What a sense of achievement, and what great pride, and how happy that will make all of us who love America feel about this undertaking.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:20 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

On the same day the White House made the following announcement:

“President Johnson announced today that 2,500 Head Start projects which will reach about 530,000 children of the poor this summer in 11,000 Child Development Centers will be operated as part of the War on Poverty in every state in the Union. The program will cost $112 million.

“The President made public the first 1,676 projects approved. They involve 9,508 centers at which 375,842 children will be given special training at a total cost of $65,686,741. The remainder will be announced within two weeks.

“The centers will provide pre-school training to prepare youngsters to enter regular school in the Fall.

“President Johnson said the program will ‘rescue these children from the poverty which otherwise could pursue them all their lives. The project is designed to put them on an even footing with their classmates as they enter school.’

“The Project will use the services of 41,000 professionals, including teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, etc. More than 47,000 poor will be employed. As many as 500,000 part-time volunteers will be needed. Local contributions will be $16 million.

“President Johnson emphasized that the program–administered by Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity–is aimed to achieve the following:

“–Include one-half of all the children of the poor reaching school age this Fall.

“–Strike at the basic cause of poverty.

“–Assist the parents as well as the children.

“–Assist children to face life.

“–Treat known defects among the half million children, including 100,000 with eye difficulties; 50,000 with partial deafness; 30,000 with nutritional deficiencies; 75,000 with no immunizations.

“The President noted that the response of the communities to the invitation to submit proposals was so great the size of the program had been multiplied. At the outset, local projects involving $17 million and 100,000 children were anticipated.

“Forty-nine percent of all applications are from rural areas. In West Virginia every county will be represented in the program. Of the 300 counties in the Nation having the largest number of poor families, 261 will operate projects under the program.

“The President congratulated the many thousands of civic leaders, businessmen, educators, housewives, labor leaders, welfare workers, minority group leaders and representatives of the poor who together developed the local projects to meet the high standards imposed by national planning groups.”




392 U.S. 236

Board of Education v. Allen

No. 660 Argued: April 22, 1968 — Decided: June 10, 1968

New York’s Education Law requires local public school authorities to lend textbooks free of charge to all students in grades seven to 12, including those in private schools. Appellant school boards sought a declaration that the statutory requirement was invalid as violative of the State and Federal Constitutions, an order barring appellee Commissioner of Education from removing appellants’ members from office for failing to comply with it, and an order preventing the use of state funds for the purchase of textbooks to be lent to parochial students. The trial court held the law unconstitutional under the First andFourteenth Amendments and entered summary judgment for appellants on the pleadings; the Appellate Division reversed and ordered the complaint dismissed since appellant school boards had no standing to attack the statute, and the New York Court of Appeals held that appellants did have standing, but that the statute did not violate the State or Federal Constitution. The Court of Appeals said that the law was to benefit all school children, without regard to the type of school attended, that only textbooks approved by school authorities could be loaned, and therefore the statute was “completely neutral with respect to religion.”

Held: The statute does not violate the Establishment or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

A law of the State of New York requires local public school authorities to lend textbooks free of charge to all students in grades seven through 12; students attending private schools are included. This case presents the question whether this statute is a “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and so in conflict with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, because it authorizes the loan of textbooks to students attending parochial schools. We hold that the law is not in violation of the Constitution.

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), is the case decided by this Court that is most nearly in point for today’s problem. New Jersey reimbursed parents for expenses incurred in busing their children to parochial schools. The Court stated that the Establishment Clause bars a State from passing “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another,” and bars too any tax in any amount, large or small . . . levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Nevertheless, said the Court, the Establishment Clause does not prevent a State from extending the benefits of state laws to all citizens without regard for their religious affiliation and does not prohibit New Jersey from spending tax raised funds to pay the bus fares of parochial school pupils as a part of a general program under which it pays the fares of pupils attending public and other schools…

Everson and later cases have shown that the line between state neutrality to religion and state support of religion is not easy to locate. The constitutional standard is the separation of Church and State. The problem, like many problems in constitutional law, is one of degree…

The major reason offered by appellants for distinguishing free textbooks from free bus fares is that books, but not buses, are critical to the teaching process, and, in a sectarian school, that process is employed to teach religion. However. this Court has long recognized that religious schools pursue two goals, religious instruction and secular education. In the leading case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, (1925), the Court held that, although it would not question Oregon’s power to compel school attendance or require that the attendance be at an institution meeting State-imposed requirements as to quality and nature of curriculum, Oregon had not shown that its interest in secular education required that all children attend publicly operated schools. A premise of this holding was the view that the State’s interest in education would be served sufficiently by reliance on the secular teaching that accompanied religious training in the schools maintained by the Society of Sisters…

Underlying these cases, and underlying also the legislative judgments that have preceded the court decisions, has been a recognition that private education has played and is playing a significant and valuable role in raising national levels of knowledge, competence, and experience. Americans care about the quality of the secular education available to their children. They have considered high quality education to be an indispensable ingredient for achieving the kind of nation, and the kind of citizenry, that they have desired to create. Considering this attitude, the continued willingness to rely on private school systems, including parochial systems, strongly suggests that a wide segment of informed opinion, legislative and otherwise, has found that those schools do an acceptable job of providing secular education to their students. This judgment is further evidence that parochial schools are performing, in addition to their sectarian function, the task of secular education.

The judgment is affirmed.

Justice Black, dissent:

I still subscribe to the belief that tax raised funds cannot constitutionally be used to support religious schools, buy their school books, erect their buildings, pay their teachers, or pay any other of their maintenance expenses, even to the extent of one penny. The First Amendment‘s prohibition against governmental establishment of religion was written on the assumption that state aid to religion and religious schools generates discord, disharmony, hatred, and strife among our people, and that any government that supplies such aids is, to that extent, a tyranny. And I still believe that the only way to protect minority religious groups from majority groups in this country is to keep the wall of separation between church and state high and impregnable as the First and Fourteenth Amendments provide. The Court’s affirmance here bodes nothing but evil to religious peace in this country.

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