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President's Remarks to Editors on Tax Credits

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Following is the text of remarks made by President Ronald Reagan to a group of religion editors at the White House on Sept. 14 and published in Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.

I'm delighted that you're all here, and I know that you've been briefed and had a briefing on the subject of our legislation for tuition tax credits. And I expect to make another strike and try for a breakthrough in that today and hope to get it out of the Senate committee and onto the floor, because I'll be meeting very shortly with Senators Dole and Moynihan and Roth and Packwood on this particular subject.

I know there's been a lot of debate and discussion about the issue. I doubt if there's much opposition among you--I hope not--to this idea. I don't know whether Ed [Meese, the Presidential counselor] or Karna [Karna Small Stringer, deputy assistant to the President] told you about a survey that we've just come across, research done in 54 parochial schools, that found with regard to--I say this as an answer to those people that, again, have just automatically tagged this proposal as "something for the rich." All they think of when they think of private--that's why I try to avoid the word "private" school. And that isn't true. That isn't what we're really talking about. There are so few of those compared to the general parochial schools, independent schools, throughout the country.

But in this survey of 54 schools, they found 56 percent in these parochial schools of the student body were black; 31 percent of those were Protestant. Now, I know there are Protestant schools represented here as well as the Catholic schools. But what they also learned was--and the parents, incidentally, of most of these children, the overwhelming majority, are not anywhere up on the economic scale. As a matter of fact, the average tuition of those schools worked out to $300. That was a true hardship at the economic level of the parents who, wanting something better for their children, as parents have from time immemorial, and wanting the best education they could provide for them, were willing to sacrifice and pay a tuition to a private school because they no longer had confidence in the public schools in their areas, that they could get that training that they would need to advance. And they found that it was not religion that had prompted the overwhelming majority to choose a religious school, whether Protestant or Catholic; it was the desire and the belief that they would get a better education there than they could get in the present-day public schools.

Now, I'm a product of the public schools, myself, in a small town in Illinois. But I believe all of us are aware that there have been changes. I happen to believe that as long as there is independent education in this country, all the way from the lowest grade on up through college and university, then we have academic freedom. I would hate to see the day when all education in our country was tax-supported and, therefore, under political guidance and rule. And I think, also, the best chance to improve the quality of education--which on the record has very definitely established that in public schools, under whatever pressures or crowding or whatever, has slumped in comparison to the schools that we're talking about--the best chance we have of raising that level is through competition.

So, we're going to do everything we can. I believe heart and soul and campaigned on this issue. The fairness of it--the fact that families are paying their full share of the taxes to support the public school system and are still willing to sacrifice on top of that and pay fully the cost for sending their child--there's no way that this can be construed, as some are trying to do, as an assault on the public schools, or that in any way it is taking anything away from the support of the public schools. And if anyone wants to do a little arithmetic, let them sit down and figure out if these independent schools disappeared tomorrow, and the public schools had to pick up the burden of all of the students presently being educated in these other schools, what would happen to the taxes of everyone? Where would the public facilities come from--school facilities?

So, I've gone on longer than I wanted. If someone here had just--I know I've only got a second or two before I've got to cross the hall. But if there is a question or two that hasn't been answered in the briefing, or that you'd like to throw at me just because I'm here, fire away.

Mr. President, about the issue of a compromise that you're going to be working out this afternoon with some people from the Finance Committee, doesn't the issue hinge on segregation? And what kinds of provisions would be acceptable to you for you to strengthen the bill to satisfy some of its critics?

The President. Well, I have to believe that since this will be a tax credit, and by the government, I have to believe that, obviously, such schools would have to meet the standards of integration and be open to all. And I haven't seen any evidence that that isn't already taking place. The figures that I just gave a moment ago ensure that that's taking place in the schools that we're talking about.

Well, Mr. President, don't you think this could be attacked as somewhat of a Band-Aid approach to education? Shouldn't your Administration be trying to upgrade the quality of public education?

The President. Well, of course, public education is not a function of the federal government. There is financial aid in recent years to some of these schools. And, as a matter of fact, being able to remember when that began, it was the usual thing of the federal government claiming that there was distress after the federal government had usurped most of the tax sources in the country. And, having created the problem, then, for local rule, the federal government said, "Oh, we must help you." And in the beginning educators opposed that, because they thought that it would interfere with academic freedom. And the federal government insisted, "Oh, no." It just wanted to help them out financially.

I remember on one occasion--Francis Keppel was the [Commissioner] of Education at the time at the federal level, and he said they had absolutely no intention of interfering in any way. And some of the educators who were debating this issue had proposed a tax credit idea of contributions to schools, whether public or independent, of a certain amount, and said let the government--they'd know better--set the amount. And wouldn't this be direct aid, then, financially? A tax credit for a contribution to a school, whether public or private, keeping open the competitive idea. And why wouldn't such a thing work? And after days and days of debate, Mr. Keppel gave away more than he'd intended. He suddenly grew impatient, and he blurted out, "Well, under such a system we couldn't achieve our social objectives." This was from the man that had said there wouldn't be any government social objectives, there would just be finanical aid.

No, I think the federal government has done what it can to ensure that in the running of the public schools, they must live up to our Constitution, which they did not always do, as we know, and some years ago there had to be some rather drastic action to bring that about. That is the function of the federal government--to ensure that anyone's Constitutional rights are being observed and to go wherever the government has to go to see that that does take place.

If you look at some of the figures in the public school system in recent years, you will find that the federal government has more than matched its financial aid with interference in the running of schools. And I believe that this is what has led to the deterioration of quality; that the federal government has imposed out of all proportion--I think the federal government puts up about 8 percent of the cost of public education, but it interferes far more than 8 percent in the things that it imposes and demands of public schools.

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