Presidential Radio Address - 12 March 1983
My fellow Americans:
I'd like to talk to you today about one of the most important issues that touches our lives and shapes our future: the education of America's children. We've always had a love affair with learning in this country. America is a melting pot, and education has been a mainspring for our democracy and freedom, a means of providing gifts of knowledge and opportunity to all citizens, no matter how humble their background, so they could climb higher, help build the American dream, and leave a better life for those who follow.
Broad educational opportunity not only secured our role as the pathbreaker to progress, it also protected and strengthened our freedom. We were wise enough to heed Thomas Jefferson's warning that "any nation which expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be."
But in recent years, our traditions of opportunity and excellence in education have been under siege. We've witnessed the growth of a huge education bureaucracy. Parents have often been reduced to the role of outsiders. Government-manufactured inflation made private schools and higher education too expensive for too many families. Even God, source of all knowledge, was expelled from classrooms.
It's time to face the truth. Advocates of more and more government interference in education have had ample time to make their case, and they've failed. Look at the record. Federal spending on education soared eightfold in the last 20 years, rising much faster than inflation. But during the same period, scholastic aptitude test scores went down, down, and down.
The classroom should be an entrance to life, not an escape from it.
As the leader of the free world, the United States must strengthen its defenses, modernize its industries, and move confidently into a new era of high technology. To do this, we need a smart and highly skilled work force. Yet, only one-sixth of our high school graduates have taken junior and senior level courses in science and math. And many U.S. high schools do not offer sufficient math to prepare graduates for engineering schools.
America can do better. We must move forward again by returning to the sound principles that never failed us when we lived up to them. Can we not begin by welcoming God back in our schools and by setting an example for children by striving to abide by His Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule? We've sent an amendment to the Congress that will permit voluntary prayer in school again.
But better education doesn't mean a bigger Department of Education. In fact, that Department should be abolished. Instead, we must do a better job teaching the basics, insisting on discipline and results, encouraging competition and, above all, remembering that education does not begin with Washington officials or even State and local officials. It begins in the home, where it is the right and responsibility of every American.
Parents and teachers have the toughest, sometimes the most thankless, but always the most important jobs in America. They need our help and support.
Our administration has put together an education package that addresses the challenge of restoring opportunity to families and excellence in our schools. It contains several proposals to help parents reestablish control and to assist them in meeting education costs.
First, tuition tax credits, which we've already sent to the Congress, will soften the double-payment burden for those paying public school taxes and independent or parochial school tuition. This proposal will help those who need help the most—low and middle-income families.
Second, we're proposing a voucher system to help parents of disadvantaged children. We want to give States or individual school districts the option of using certain Federal education funds to create vouchers so these parents can choose which school, private or public, they want their children to attend.
Third, we're proposing a system of educational savings accounts to help families save for college education. Parents will be able to save up to $1,000 per year, per child, with no tax on the interest.
These proposals will expand opportunities by allowing parents to keep more of their own money, rather than taxing it away to finance bigger bureaucracies. They will also increase healthy competition among schools. Without a race, there can be no champion, no records broken, no excellence in education or any other walk of life.
We're talking about no less than the future of this nation. Last Monday, I was pleased to meet 40 of America's top high school math and science students. I told them that science and technology are keys to prosperity, learning, and a better quality of life.
We've already sent legislation to the Congress to stimulate training of more math and science teachers. Another program we've proposed will encourage existing math and science teachers to go back to school themselves to update their own knowledge. And we're also beginning a new program, one I intend to participate in myself, to honor some of America's best science and math teachers. They are a true national resource.
Private sector initiatives can also make great contributions. We're encouraging corporations, community organizations, and neighborhood groups across the country to adopt schools and help them meet their education needs with funds, equipment, and personnel.
Finally, to combat adult illiteracy, we will encourage college students to provide tutoring, either through voluntary community service or as part of our expanded workstudy program.
Just as we're now seeing a healthy revival of our national economy, we can improve America's educational system and make it the best in the world again. But we must not delay. I hope we'll have your support and the cooperation of the Congress.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.