Remarks to Members of the National Catholic Educational Association

April 7, 1983

Thank you very much. Thank you for a very warm welcome. It's a pleasure for me to break away from crisis negotiations. [Laughter] You're the first to know this. I've just called in Ambassador Phil Habib to settle the Jim Watt - Beach Boy controversy. [Laughter]

But I'm glad to see so many of you here. I recall that when I last spoke to you, just about a year ago at the meeting in Chicago, my advance people -- on the other hand -- call what I'm doing here today as a ``drop-by.'' [Laughter] Now, that means I don't have much time. [Laughter] So, let me get to the heart of what I know the National Catholic Educational Association is interested in -- the education of our children.

Since time is short, I'll jump right to the educational package that our administration has put together. I believe it addresses the challenge of restoring opportunity to our children and excellence in our schools. And first -- and our first piece of legislation -- we need tuition tax credits.

Now, some educational lobbies have protested that this is an attack on the public schools for the benefit of students attending -- well, they usually point to exclusive finishing or prep schools. And I'd be willing to bet that you didn't think your children were in such schools. [Laughter]

The overwhelming majority of so-called private schools are church-supported -- Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. Nearly half of the students are from families earning less than $25,000. In some of our large cities, 40 percent of parochial school students are from minority neighborhoods. Their families pay their full share of taxes to fund the public schools, as well. And I just don't think that's fair. I think they're entitled to some relief, since they're supporting two school systems and only using one.

I'm disappointed, as I know you are, that our proposal didn't get further in the last Congress. But I can tell you it was, as I said before, one of the first bills that we sent up to the Congress this year. And the first meeting I had was with congressional leaders to push specific legislation, and it was on tuition tax credits. And I want this legislation to move as quickly as possible through the Congress.

Now, I know there's been some talk that -- well, maybe I'm strong on rhetoric for it, but I'm not really doing any physical pushing for it. Well, let me tell you, our proposal is on Capitol Hill again, and like Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan, I'm going to charge up that Hill until we get a victory.

We're also proposing a voucher system to help parents of disadvantaged children. We want to give the States or individual school districts the option of using certain Federal educational funds to create vouchers so that those parents can choose which school, private or public, they want their children to attend. If anyone realizes the need for free parental choice, it is the Catholic community. This measure is designed to give the disadvantaged people a choice. They want it, they deserve it, and with your help, they'll get that choice.

Now let me mention one more aspect of our package. We're proposing a system of educational savings accounts to help families save for their children's college education. Parents will be able to save -- what we're proposing is $1,000 per year per child with no tax on the interest. And when the money is finally withdrawn, it must be for the purpose of sending a child to college.

Now, I believe these proposals will expand the opportunities for our children. It will also increase healthy competition among schools. At any time that we ever settle for a monopoly on education, then we settle for the evils that go with a monopoly. And certainly that does not include academic freedom. In the long run, what we're proposing means a better and more diverse educational system for all of our children, and that's why I wanted to come over here today and tell you about it.

So, I thank you for allowing me to barge in like this -- [laughter] -- and as I say, they tell me it's a drop-by, so now I have to drop out. [Laughter] And God bless you all, and thank you very much. It's good to see you all again.

Note: The President spoke at 1:29 p.m. in the main ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. Prior to his remarks, the President met at the hotel with Msgr. John Meyers, president, and several members, of the association.