The Elementary and Secondary
April 11, 1965
Immediately following passage of the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) (see chapter 11), the Johnson administration moved ahead with plans to expand and deepen the War on Poverty. The central focus of these efforts, as with the EOA itself, was education. On January 12, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson made a major address and proposal to Congress on education. He called for passage of a wide-ranging set of educational reforms dealing with all levels of education, from preschool through graduate study. In considering the administration proposals, Congress quickly divided the initiatives into two legislative packages, one that became the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the other the Higher Education Act (HEA) (see chapter 13). In targeting primary and secondary education, the ESEA built upon the precedent of the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA) (see chapter 10), but it went well beyond the NDEA in scope and reach. The ESEA extended federal financial assistance to 90 percent of all schools in the country. As a central part of the War on Poverty, the ESEA provided these monies to help improve the education and life opportunities of the most disadvantaged students.
Politically, the ESEA was unstoppable in 1965; the act passed Congress with little debate and virtually no amendments just 87 days after being introduced by the administration. This was no accident. President John F. Kennedy, Johnson's predecessor who was assassinated in 1963, had tried to follow up the NDEA with a broad education bill similar in scope to the ESEA, but he had been defeated due to intense conflicts over race and religion. The Johnson