American education today is in a crisis -- and the harsh fact of the matter is that, without prompt federal action, that crisis will only grow worse.
One of the most critical challenges of our time is the need for education: education to equip our youth with the knowledge, the training and the skills which are necessary to our health as a nation -- and to our success in the great world competition between Democracy and Communist dictatorship.
Yet despite this pressing need, we have 135,000 less classrooms and 50,000 less teachers than are absolutely necessary to train today’s youth. Our children are forced to study in overcrowded and obsolete facilities under ill-trained and ill-paid teachers. And in the sixties, as our population expands, the number of children seeking admission to schools will also grow, putting an even greater strain on our already overburdened school system.
The responsibility for education is a local responsibility -- but the problem is a national problem. And the federal government must do its share. I recently supported -- in the Senate -- a successful effort to pass legislation providing federal aid for school construction and teachers’ salaries -- a bill which leaves the control of education completely in local hands, but which returns federal tax dollars to the states so that they might provide a decent education for their youth.
This bill faces the prospect of an Administration veto. I urge the President to sign it -- to approve this great program -- so that we may equip our children for the great struggle for progress, for prosperity and for national survival which lies ahead. And if the President refuses to sign -- to give his approval -- then in 1960 we must elect a President who will support this vital program.
Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960.