This Day in 1965: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Bill Pruden, College Counselor/Director of Civic Engagement, Ravenscroft School

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a centerpiece of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislative program.  It was also a foundational part of his administration’s War on Poverty.  Indeed, when Johnson sent the bill to Congress in January 1965, he asserted his belief that the country should commit itself to “a national goal of full educational opportunity.”  For Johnson, educational opportunity was something he took personally.  The memories of his year as a teacher of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Welhausen School, a small school established primarily to serve the Mexican-American population of Cotulla, Texas, were something he never forgot. Johnson knew the value of education and the impact a teacher could have on a person’s life, and his own appreciation of what an education could mean was evident when, on April 11, 1965, he signed the new law, one that marked the beginning of a vastly expanded federal role in the nation’s educational efforts.

In a bill signing ceremony held in Johnson County, Texas, in front of his childhood school, and seated at a table next to his own elementary school teacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, Johnson made clear his deep personal commitment to education and the students it served.  Noting that the ceremony was taking place on Palm Sunday, he said that his “minister assured [him] that the Lord’s day will not be violated by making into law a measure which will bring mental and moral benefits to millions of our young people.”  The President then explained that he had come back to his childhood home for the ceremony because “I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education–to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.”  Expanding the opportunities for that magic time in which he so deeply believed would prove to be one of the most enduring legacies of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Further information on the law and its subsequent revisions and impact can be found at these websites:

https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/education/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965/

http://www.hunt-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Development-of-the-Elementary-and-Secondary-Education-Act-August-2016.pdf

http://acsc.lib.udel.edu/exhibits/show/legislation/esea

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