Education Letter to the Editor

L.B.J.’s View of NCLB? The Answer Is Unclear

November 06, 2007 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

The budgetary history of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration should make us pause before accepting the claim of Samuel Halperin, an assistant U.S. commissioner of education for Mr. Johnson, that if the former president were alive today, he would be “terribly disappointed” that funding for the No Child Left Behind Act is as low as it is (“What Would L.B.J. Make of NCLB Act?,” Federal File, Sept. 26, 2007).

Not only did appropriations for Title I lag well behind authorizations during the Johnson presidency, but the president himself never requested sufficient funding for the program. As a result, Title I funding remained level at slightly over $1 billion throughout his term in office, though what was then the Bureau of the Budget estimated in 1964 that the program required $5 billion to $10 billion to make a significant difference.

President Johnson’s budgetary restraint was only partly due to constraints arising from the escalation of the Vietnam War. It also stemmed from his commitment to commercial Keynesian fiscal policies that privileged cutting taxes on business at the expense of tax increases to fund social programs. This commitment was necessary to win political support for his Great Society programs. But because it limited, in the words of Michael K. Brown, a professor of politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, “the growth of the public sector relative to the private,” it forced the president to choose between guns and butter, ultimately precluding greater federal spending on education and other social programs and effectively ending his dream of a Great Society.

Whatever liberals in the Johnson administration may have hoped, this history makes it difficult to speculate with any degree of certainty about what the former president would do now concerning the budget for NCLB. What we can say with greater assurance based on this history is that George W. Bush is not the first president to sacrifice increases in education spending to the cost of fighting an ill-advised war and to a preference for tax cuts over tax increases to fund social programs. Unfortunately, I doubt he will be the last.

Harvey Kantor

Professor and Chair

Department of Education, Culture, and Society

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as L.B.J.’s View of NCLB? The Answer Is Unclear


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: May 17, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 3, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: April 26, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 29, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read