Richard Nixon's Education Policy

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Education reform played an important role in the domestic policies of Richard M. Nixon's presidency. This lesson will cover some of the legislative measures and programs implemented as part of the larger education policy of the Nixon Administration (1969-1974).

Richard Nixon's 1970 Address on Education Reform

In a special message to Congress in March 1970 on education reform, President Richard Nixon began his speech by saying, ''American education is in serious need of reform. A nation justly proud of the dedicated efforts of its millions of teachers and educators must join them in a searching re-examination of our entire approach to learning.'' Central to the message of the address, the president called for the creation of the National Institute of Education (NIE). The NIE would study education research in order to revolutionize the American education system, supported by a budget to the tune of $250 million.

In addition to the creation of the NIE, Nixon also stated that to reinforce his new education mandate he also planned to do the following with Congress' support and funding:

  • Create the President's Commission on School Finance which would help the states rework their fiscal policies that funded their public school districts.
  • Appropriate funds for the Right to Read program to increase literacy skills in early childhood education, with a proposed budget of $200 million to the states.
  • Direct the departments of Health and Education, and the Office of Economic Opportunity, to lead the charge in improving early childhood education programs with a budget of at least $52 million.

All of these proposals were meant to shore up access to education and the American Dream in Nixon's efforts to restore peace to America's inner cities and underserved populations. In a move only a skilled politician of Nixon's caliber could execute, these proposals were meant to make education equal, while being sensitive to the viewpoint of any Nixon voters who felt social reforms granted to minorities in the 50s and 60s had been counterproductive for white Americans.

Nixon's New Federalism

Nixon developed a domestic policy program called New Federalism which sought to deconstruct the notion of the more powerful federal government over the subservient states. Many Nixon voters felt as if the powers of the federal government had grown too large, and were in need of being checked by stronger state controls. Education became one way for the Nixon administration to reign in the power of the federal government, and give back some control to the states in return.

Among Nixon's New Federalism policies was the program which gave local school districts the power to control their own desegregation attempts. By placing the states in control of their own desegregation programs, Nixon was able to satisfy those voters who had felt the federal government had gone too far in providing civil rights legislation during the two decades prior. Nixon was also able to finally convince most school districts to desegregate their schools.

Between 1969 and 1972, Congress and the president went back and forth on education funding. Nixon had asked Congress to federally fund the initiatives he proposed in his March 1970 speech, but also wanted to leave the implementation of education reform in the hands of the states and local school districts. Nixon's efforts under New Federalism continued to increase state power and jurisdiction over social programs, pleasing his voter base; thus, Nixon vetoed measures from Congress which would have increased federal spending on education and federal control.

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