For The Record
President Reagan, responding to reporters' questions during a White House news conference on May 17:
Q. You recently received a report on education which stated that if an unfriendly foreign power had imposed on America the mediocre educational performance which exists today, we might have viewed it as an act of war.
In your 1984 budget request, you ask for about $13.5 billion in federal funds for the Department of Education and over $235 billion for the Department of Defense. Isn't it time, in light of the report, to reassess special priorities?
A. Not really, because education is not the prime responsibility of the federal government, and the total budget for education in the United States is far greater than the defense budget. The federal government actually provides less than 10 percent of the cost of education through the Department of Education, and for that 10 percent, one of the things that's wrong with the school system--and if you want to talk to some local school-board members, many of them will confirm this--is that for the 10 percent or less of funding, the federal government has wanted about 50 percent of a voice in dictating to the schools and running the schools.
Now we've gone through a period of a number of years--about 10 years--in which we went from $760 million in federal aid to education to about $14.9 billion, and that's a 2,000-percent increase, and it was during that period that the testing scores, the college testing, entrance tests, and so forth, began to decline so severely. Now I appointed a commission to study and bring back a report on what we felt was a decline in education in our schools. And they brought back a masterful report, and in that report there's very little suggestion for more money.
What they're talking about can be corrected without money. It takes some leadership, it takes some return to basics, it takes having students that now have to learn what they're supposed to learn in a class before they're moved on to the next class just because they've come to the end of the year. And there's an awful lot of that goes on. It also takes required courses--in English, in the basics, in mathematics, in science--particularly in high school.
And yet we've seen a time in which you can get credits toward graduation for cheerleading in some of our schools. Or how would you like to graduate by getting straight A's in "bachelor life?" We think there is some common sense that is needed, and so we've proven that throwing money at it isn't the an-swer, and the federal government can never match the funding of schools at the local and state level, where we've created the greatest public-school system the world has ever seen, and then have let it deteriorate, and I think you can make a case that it began to deteriorate when the federal government started interfering in education.
Q. I'd like to follow up. I realize that many of the things in the report could be done without further increases in funds, but they also recommended more school days, longer school hours, better qualified teachers. I think many public-school systems would tell you they don't have the money to do that. Where are they going to get it?
A. I don't know that so many of those things--there could be some increase in money there, I'm quite sure. But again, how much is being wasted on some things that aren't contributing to their education that could be transferred to that? And I think that--well right now there are three. Time magazine, just a few days ago, had an article in there about three inner-city high schools--one in Bronx, N.Y., one in Los Angeles, and one in Austin, Tex. And just by changes from the principal's office down in leadership, these schools have become what schools are supposed to be to the extent that students are leaving private schools to transfer to the public schools. And I want to implement as completely as possible that plan that was submitted to us by this commission that was investigating education--and it won't cost $11 billion, which a nameless gentleman [Presidential candidate Walter Mondale] has suggested he would advocate we spend.