President James (Jimmy) Earl Carter

In this post I will discuss the input of President Jimmy Carter in the federal involvement in education. His administration was very short-lived, lasting for only one term (1977-1981), but in that time he was able to insert the federal government in national education.

During his election campaign President Carter pledged to create a new cabinet level department to oversee “the rapidly growing panoply of federal aid programs.”1

He kept his promise, and in 1979 Congress passed the Department of Education Organization Act by a narrow margin in both houses.

In signing the bill into law President Carter said, “Primary responsibility for education

should rest with those States, localities, and private institutions that have made our Nation’s educational system the best in the world, but the Federal Government has for too long failed to play its own supporting role in education as effectively as it could. Instead of assisting school officials at the local level, it has too often added to their burden. Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing. Instead of simulating needed debate of educational issues, the Federal Government has confused its role of junior partner in American education with that of silent partner.”2

No one was sure how a new department of education would affect the federal role in education, but what was certain is that there were many complex administrative issues that needed immediate attention.

With that in mind, for the first time there was going to be a single Cabinet Secretary responsible for the conduct of federal education programs. Also, more funds for education programs provided by the federal government.

The challenge in the Carter years was not only to decide how to provide equal

opportunities for diverse groups of students but also how to pay for all the new programs that the federal courts demanded.3

President Carter was fortunate to be able to get his longstanding personal commitment fulfilled in his one term. Congress passed the bill (Public Law 96-88 October 17, 1979) with a slim majority.

In the next post you will see that although the federal role in education tended upwards from the time of President Kennedy to that of President Carter, a downward trend occurred as soon as President Ronald Reagan assumed office.

1. New York State Education Department, Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2004: A Brief Synopsis, 2006, 40


3. New York State Education Department, Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2004: A Brief Synopsis, 2006, 40