Perhaps the cause with which the Rebbe became most associated in the American mind was his emphasis on education. In the late 1970s, the Rebbe's shliach Rabbi Avraham Shemtov joined the Rebbe's campaign to help establish the Department of Education as a separate cabinet-level position (until then, education was subsumed into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare), which President Carter subsequently did. In honor of the Rebbe's involvement in this cause, the president declared the Rebbe's seventy-six birthday in 1978 as the first Education Day U.S.A. Since then, Education Day U.S.A., commemorated on the Rebbe's birthday, has become a part of the American calendar, and has been signed into effect every year by the president.
In the Rebbe's thank-you letter to President Ronald Reagan for declaring the 1987 Education Day U.S.A., the Rebbe noted that the proclamation itself, issued by the American government, spoke of "the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which have been the bedrock of society for the dawn of civilization when they were known as 'The Seven Noahide Las.'"
The Rebbe's role in the focus on education was acknowledged in a talk given in honor of the third anniversary of his death by Richard Riley, then serving as secretary of education under President Bill Clinton. In speaking of the creation of the Department of Education, Riley noted that the Rebbe helped "make it happen. So I owe my job to him" (emphasis added).