The Economic Opportunity Act
August 20, 1964
The Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) was the centerpiece of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative. Johnson's comprehensive effort to eliminate poverty and expand opportunity in America represented a significant expansion of the role of the federal government in social policy. One of the central premises of the Great Society was that education was key to both reducing poverty and expanding opportunity—Johnson staffers believed that was the answer to most social problems. Over the 1960s, all told, there was a fivefold increase in federal spending on education. Educational initiatives were at the core of the EOA and the other legislative components of the Great Society (see, for instance, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1965 [chapter 12], the Higher Education Act, 1965 [chapter 13], and the Bilingual Education Act, 1968 [chapter 14]). While the EOA had several educational components, its most lasting and influential educational effect was the creation of the Head Start program. Developed out of the EOA's Community Action Program provisions, Head Start provides early childhood education to hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families every year.
The politics surrounding the EOA were intense. President Johnson was personally committed to the act and deeply involved in all aspects of its formation and passage. It was proposed and pushed through Congress very quickly in order to be in place prior to the presidential election in the fall of 1964. One of the chief lobbyists for the act before Congress was then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who argued that the move against poverty was fully in line