This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Ladies and gentlemen: First I would like to have you meet my sister Eunice, Mrs. Sargent Shriver, who lives in Illinois. (Applause) She said she has just been introduced. Well, it is all right to meet her again. (Laughter)
Here is Otto Kerner, the next Congressman from this District; my friend and colleague in the United States Senate, Paul Douglas, ladies and gentlemen: I want to express my thanks to you for coming today. I have been campaigning in the state of Illinois which is going to be a key state in the Presidential election. This state may well determine who will be the next President of the United States, and you have to determine as citizens who you want that President to be, and, more important, what are the things you believe he should stand for, what are the things that he must do, as the leader of our free country in order to maintain our strength around the world.
One of the subjects that is important to us all as citizens here in this community and around the country is how we are going to have an educational system second to none. Every child here in this community deserves to be well educated, because as Thomas Jefferson said, "If you hope that people will be free and ignorant, you hope for what never was and never will be." In order to maintain a free society, in order that we can maintain our independence in the coming year, we have to have the best educated citizens in the world. That involves a responsibility of the people in this country, it involves a responsibility of the Governor of the state and it involves the national government, because all must work together for this great objective. These communities, of which this is typical, have done more in the last ten years to build schools and educate our children than ever in our history. We had just as many children in school in 1930 as 1940, just as many in 1940 as 1950, but after 1950, in the last ten years we increased the number of our children in schools by one third, and that has meant that every home owner in this district, in this area, bears a burden. On a fifteen or sixteen thousand dollar house in these communities of which this is typical, the property tax may be anywhere from four to five hundred dollars. That is the most confiscatory tax of all, the property tax. Even if you are out of work, even if you had no income, just by owning a home you have to pay that, and a good deal of it goes to education. The state has a responsibility, and I believe the national government has a responsibility, and that responsibility was recognized from the beginning of our country. When the Northwest Territory was settled, of which this is a section, one out of every 16 acres was put aside in order to sustain education. In Lincoln's administration in 1862, they set up the land grant act which built your university and others like it, and set aside a certain amount of national territory to sustain education.
Now the question is, what should we do in the Sixties? What should the national government do in cooperation with you in order to maintain a strong educational system? It can do two or three things, and I support them. First, it can provide scholarships for our brightest children. Do you know that 35 percent of our brightest children never see the inside of a college after graduating from high school? We can’t waste that talent. We need all the talent we can get. So scholarships and loans for students who want to go to college but can’t afford it. We need them and they have a right to have an education.
Secondly, we need loans from the national government to build dormitories and classrooms for our universities; because of the number of children that you are having, we are going to have more buildings that have to be built for our colleges in the next ten years than we built in the last 150 years. That is a tremendous number. We are going to have to double the number of children going to college in 1970 as in 1960. One of the ways by which that can be financed is by loans at low rates of interest to be repaid over a long period of time.
The third area where I believe the national government can play a role is federal aid to education in the areas for school construction and for teachers' salaries. There are many thousands of teachers who are underpaid. There are many thousands of teachers with inadequate training. I want to see the best teachers with the best training, but make sure that they are adequately compensated. Otherwise, we are not going to get the best talent and our children will suffer. Any time that a child grows up without the best education, he dooms himself to a life of economic hardship in many ways. His children’s chances are not so good, and it passes on generation after generation. A good education is the most valuable resource that you can pass on to your children. And I believe it incumbent upon us in the 1960’s to make sure that all of us, cooperating in our respective fields, to make sure that we do have a good educational system. (Applause) And this is one of the areas where I believe we have disagreed with the Republican leadership and with Mr. Nixon. He cast the deciding vote, after speaking about the need two weeks before for well paid teachers, he cast the deciding vote in the United States Senate against the bill which would have provided aid for teachers salaries.
These are the problems that we have to meet. We build roads, we build homes, we also need schools. I want to make it very clear that one of those areas where we are going to act, and this is only one of the areas that need action, will be in the field of education. Ten years ago the United States turned out twice as many scientists and engineers out of our schools as the Soviet Union. Today they turn out twice as many as we do. And we need a better educated citizenry than any country to maintain a free society. So I come here today to this community and ask your help in this area as in so many others, in strengthening our country, in building our country, in making it more secure, and making it an inspiration to all those who wish to be free. I ask your help in this campaign. Thank you. (Applause)