About the Author

Kade Louis Kahanek

B.A. History; Howard Payne University

M.A. History; James Madison University

Ph.D. History (in progress); Texas A&M Univeristy

Document Type



President Lyndon Johnson announced his “War on Poverty” campaign at the State of the Union Address in January 1964. Johnson’s address acknowledged that United States citizens suffered from poverty in many regions and enclosed a plan to relieve poverty in America. President Johnson’s administration administered “Great Society” programs under education, healthcare, and the job corps to help ease the burdening symptoms of poverty. It has been long debated whether Johnson’s policies to improve America’s society have succeeded, but many fail to recognize that his education plan was the centerpiece and perhaps not an instant cure to poverty; instead, something concrete to instill in the school children of America. In focused regions in Texas, this research focuses on how Johnson’s Education Bill was implemented and its effort to administer federal control through national programs.

The Elementary and Education Act of 1965 (ESEA 1965) was the cornerstone program of President Johnson’s Great Society. LBJ’s idea behind his ESEA was to promote better school districts through excellent teaching, elite facilities, and advanced resources in hopes that impoverished school children would break the cycle of poverty in America. However, creating a refined and equal school system for economically disadvantaged children that required federal funding met opposition from politicians in Washington down to individual school boards across the nation. Texas was no exception. Therefore, Passing the Education Bill in Washington, D.C., although a challenge for LBJ and his administration, was the beginning of a long process of enhanced education for school-aged children. In many cases, state education agencies and local school boards showed signs of skepticism toward federal oversight but implemented structural change through federal grants.

Like many public schools in the South, education in Texas lacked the resources, facilities, and professional personnel necessary to cater to impoverished students. Poverty in Texas was not one-dimensional. In urban centers, districts with a large minority population typically qualified as underprivileged. Both white and minority rural regions in Texas faced poverty, primarily because families survived from blue-collar occupations. Because LBJ grew up in Rural South Texas, he understood that major education reform was necessary.

Focusing on the State of Texas, this project discusses state and local reactions to the ESEA of 1965 with quotes from Education Commissioner J.W. Edgar and Governor John Connally, who initially disagreed with federal oversight. In addition to the state’s reaction, local school districts who opposed Johnson and his Great Society programs often dismissed his promise that the ESEA would change the lives of poor Americans. Regardless, when the roll-out plan for the ESEA was finalized in 1966 by the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Legislature, school districts were willing to utilize federal funds for school advancement.

Through an analysis of data from Texas Education Agency Annual Reports, there is a clear indication that the ESEA improved enrollment numbers, daily attendance, graduation rates, salaries, and funding for school operations and resources, which ultimately encouraged the students of Texas to become proper members of a Great Society. Although many local and state officials disagreed with federal education oversight, it was a necessary bargain to improve a broken system.

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