Term Paper: History of Federal Aid to Education

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¶ … history of federal aid to education in the United States. The reader will gain sound knowledge about the history of this federal aid program through a detailed account

Education is the primary responsibility of a nation. It is the nation that established educational institutions along with the private and public sectors putting in their part. For the school year 2004-2005 it is estimated that the State, private and local sources contribute 90% of the total value spent on education throughout the nation which amounts to approximately $909 billion. This shows that the contribution by the federal department was approximately 10%.

The Department of Education came into existence in 1867 whose role was to collect information and compile data on the schools and the teaching process which would help the United States to establish an effective schooling system. In 1890, the Second Morrill Act gave the Department of Education the function to administer support for the original system of land-grant University and colleges. With the coming of the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act and the George-Barden Act of 1946, vocational education became the second most priority of federal aid to schools.

During the pre-World War 2 scenario, federal aid to education was not much. In fact during the first 150 years of the nation's history, the Congress would lay emphasis on the importance of education and gave land-grants to colleges and universities but there was no significant federal role in the field of education.

It was till the late 1930s that opponents to the federal aid program were clinging onto a constitutional argument regarding the Tenth Amendment. They argued that the Constitution had given to the states all powers not specifically given to the federal government and thus the federal sector had no defensible role in the provision of education. The Supreme Court of the United States authorized the authority of the federal government rejecting the strict "enumerating powers" argument in 1937.

After the war, the whole scene of federalism changed in America and Roosevelt in his last message in 1944 promised an economic bill or rights which included education to be a part of it. A consequential raise in the federal grants of aid was seen to rise from a 3% in 1932 to a 10% in 1952.

With the "GI Bill of Rights," an Act passed in 1944; the United States provided unemployment compensation, grants for education and training in addition to loans for home purchases. This Act was yet another step forward in the federal aid program to education. Due to the war the country faced a housing shortage which was dealt with in the Lanham Act of 1940. This Act also provided funds for the construction as well as the operation of schools in the federally affected areas. The legislation furthered emphasized on the point that the federal government would have no rights of either control or supervision over these schools.

The pre-1950s era marked with the sole argument that a federal role was against the constitution. This argument became dormant and the more prevailing argument was that the decision about local schooling should be left to the local decision makers. Another point that was brought up was that there should be no federal intervention and the states should provide and had sufficient resources to provide high-quality education for their children. They further argued that a federal aid should only be provided if and when the stated lack the resources to provide good education. However some people did step back from this argument after studying the data on the budget provided by the states in the schooling area. It was mainly the Republicans who opposed the idea of a federal aid program but this was also the line of thinking of some of the citizens. Such ideas were expressed in 1956 by Sylvia Anderson from Montana who wrote a letter to the Secretary of Health Education and Welfare, Marion Folsom:

My husband and I are against any Federal aid to education because:

1) Federal aid means federal control, 2) No one will be able to stop the snowballing effect once it got started

3) Uncle Sam is $280 Billion in debt -- I'm ashamed to tell my kids that -- they will have that mess to clean up.

4) A certain amount of money will be lost in the shuffle from State to Federal and back to State.

5) Federal aid means more people on federal payroll, therefore more centralization of government which we are absolutely against.

6) Our state can take care of itself.

7) Catholics will want Federal aid too which will lead to a State-Church government, which we are against.

8) We feel there is a conspiracy to undermine and bankrupt the U.S.A. This was evident at the White House Conference on Education

9) Pressure put upon you by professional educators may be sincere, but we feel too many of them are not practical minded -- they're idealists.

10) If you raise taxes any more you'll defeat our economy -- we already feel the pinch of years of pork-barrel socialism."

The above letter expressed the views that many felt without realizing the need for a federal aid program for education. They did not wanted their states to be autonomous without federal intervention. The general population also feared the rise in taxes that this would bring about. Further they did not want any leakages that could occur during the transfer of cash from the state and back again.

In view of this the Detroit Board of Commerce wrote to Marion Folsom that "We believe that citizens of a community are best able to determine what type of educational program they wish to support" and that "citizens will recognize the folly of asking for financial assistance from a government that is operating at a deficit." From the time period between 1940 and 1957 the main debate about the school aid was regarding the "general" aid. This meant that the aid was given to school districts which did not define the areas or plans which specified the usage of the funds. In 1947 a bill was proposed which included that schools were to be given a per pupil expenditure of $55 per child.

It should be noted that bills proposed before 1958 were all "general" in nature whereas those proposed in 1958 and 1965 were "categorical." This means that the money allocated was defined a role to be played. They specified where the money was going to be used and how it will be spent.

By 1958 the higher education was benefiting from the federal aid in the form of scholarships, construction and other assistance. This gave rise to the competition between higher education and the people who voiced for a significant help to the elementary and secondary schools. Moreover many regimes were charged for the lack of any Presidential leadership thus relating that to the failure of education aid legislation during their tenure. Such presidents included Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

The Eisenhower administration only approved to aid the education sector as far as construction was concerned. He refused the aid allocation to include the salaries of the teachers claiming that it would lead to federal control. Most debates regarding the "general" aid incorporated issues like whether aid would be directed specifically to the less well off states and how the eligibility to aid would be determined.

The National Defense Education Act of 1958 gave a specification for the usage of funds. It stated that the funds were to be used for the teacher training in math, science and language in summer institutes. It also put forward that funds should also be used for science laboratories and other itemized activities. General aid has a strong opposition regarding aid to the religious private schools however the National Defense Education Act granted some aid to these schools and their teachers. James Sundquist writes that the National Defense Education Act "had shown that special-purpose aid, carefully designed, could be enacted at a time when general-purpose aid could not be." The Johnson administration presented The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, stating that it was in reply to the crisis of racial disharmony and impoverishment which he believed could be extenuated with educational opportunities. It was also stressed in the bill that the money allocated should be used for the education of children of poor districts whose basic skills were underdeveloped or undeveloped. Educational research, library purchases and experimental projects were some of the other functions described in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which promised the facilitation of better education to the population. It eluded the religious issue with the same nature of compromises that the proponents of the National Defense Education Act had made use of.

The National Defense Education Act was thought by some observers to be as a sudden outcome of a crisis. The then Assistant Secretary of Health, Elliot Richardson, in a dialogue with Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned strongly against the belief that the National Defense Education… [END OF PREVIEW]

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