Statement on Signing the Education for Economic Security Act

August 11, 1984

I have signed H.R. 1310, a bill entitled the Education for Economic Security Act.

This bill responds to two deeply felt concerns of this administration: first, the need to improve the quality of science and mathematics education in our country and, second, the need to restore freedom of religious speech for students attending public schools.

Science, mathematics, and technology have special importance in this country. Our economic and military strength, as well as our health and well-being, depend to a great extent on continuing developments in these areas. If we are to maintain our strength and independence, we cannot afford to allow our skills in these fields to diminish. Yet the disturbing fact is that the quality of science and mathematics education in our nation is declining, due in large part to a growing shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers.

This administration proposed legislation in January 1983 that focused upon the shortage of teachers by authorizing scholarships for science and mathematics teachers in grades 9 through 12. The administration has also already established a program of Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching, similar to the one in H.R. 1310. I am very pleased to see that this bill emphasizes the critical importance of teacher training in improving the quality of science and mathematics education in activities authorized for the Department of Education and in endorsing the excellent ongoing science, mathematics, and engineering programs of the National Science Foundation.

I am also very pleased to approve the equal-access provisions of the bill. It has been the consistent policy of this administration to support the right of students in public secondary schools to meet voluntarily for religious purposes in school facilities during noninstructional periods, a right which this bill recognizes. I believe the equal-access provisions of this bill represent an appropriate balance among the free speech rights of students in public secondary schools, the prohibition against government establishment of religion, and the need to maintain in our public schools an orderly environment which is conducive to learning. These provisions honor, in a public school setting, this country's heritage of freedom of thought and speech, and I am delighted that they now become the law of the land.

H.R. 1310 is far from a perfect bill. It has a number of serious weaknesses: It is too expensive; it authorizes too many complex and administratively burdensome programs; it duplicates some existing activities; it authorizes unnecessary or inappropriate programs that are unrelated to improving science and mathematics instruction in our country; and it denies State and local governments the broad flexibility and decisionmaking authority they need to address local educational needs in the most effective manner.

I want to make clear that my approval of H.R. 1310 does not indicate endorsement of the objectionable provisions of the bill. Nor will I feel compelled to request funding at the excessive levels authorized by H.R. 1310. I believe, however, that the need to enhance the quality of science and mathematics instruction and to protect the rights of public school students to free speech, including religious speech, tips the balance in favor of approval.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 1310 is Public Law 98 - 377, approved August 11.