Jimmy Carter's Education Policy & Reform

Instructor: Judith Schultz

Judy has been teaching college History for 17 years and holds both a Master's and a PhD in History. She grew up in suburban Chicago & now lives in Tucson AZ

When Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States in 1977, he brought with him a passion for improving education, particularly for very young children. In this lesson, you will learn about Carter's educational reforms and policies.

Early Life

James Earl Carter, Jr. was born in 1924, in Plains, Georgia. His father's peanut farm kept the family financially stable despite the Great Depression of the 1930s. Jimmy's mother Lillian, a trained nurse, worked against injustice during a time of segregation and widespread discrimination against African Americans. She traveled around the Plains area informing poor African-American women on issues of health care. Carter's mother was also adamantly opposed to segregation. Her service and efforts in social causes deeply influenced Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Cater Presidential Portrait

Jimmy was the first in his family to graduate high school and he then went to a junior college, Georgia Institute of Technology, where he joined the Navy ROTC program and eventually entered the United States Naval Academy where he majored in engineering. Carter served in the Navy until 1953 and then returned home to help run the family farm. He quickly found opportunities to work for social justice and equality. Jimmy Carter began with his active participation in local political organizations in and around Plains, Georgia. He served in both elected and volunteer positions and sought to support and make improvements to the local hospitals, library and especially in public schools.

Carter's Impact on Education in Georgia

Carter won a seat in the Georgia State Senate in 1962 and quickly began working to end segregation and to protect the voting rights of African-Americans. He worked closely with other Democrats to repeal state laws that had specifically discouraged African-Americans from going to vote. By the late 1960s, Jimmy Carter decided that to have a truly positive impact on state politics he would need to be in a stronger position so he began pursuing candidacy for the Office of Governor.

His first run for governor ended in defeat, but in a second effort he won and in 1970 Jimmy Carter became the governor of Georgia. During the second election, Carter believed that an outright policy stance against segregation might lose him the election. In a controversial move, Carter toned down his anti-discrimination views and even courted the support of some of the most well-known segregationists. His strategy worked, but once in office Carter declared, 'the days of discrimination are over.' His immediate disavowal of segregation earned him national attention and a feature on the cover of Time Magazine.

During his years as governor, Carter wanted to better support vocational education, reduce class size across the state, and equalize funding among districts in the state. He pushed for reforms that ensured that all schools received the same amount of state financial support, regardless of the wealth or poverty level of any school. In 1974, Carter's education reform package, Adequate Program for Education in Georgia accomplished all of those goals. His work laid the foundation for the state's comprehensive free kindergarten program that still exists in Georgia today. During his tenure as governor, Carter also created additional programs for handicapped students and expanded educational programs for inmates of the state penal institutions.

Carter's ideas and reforms in a deeply Southern state began garnering national attention from the Democratic Party. In 1974, he was named to chair the Democratic National Committee and by 1976, his popularity within the party resulted in the Democratic nomination of Jimmy Carter to run for president. Running against incumbent Gerald R. Ford, Carter won that election and became the 39th President on January 20, 1977.

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