Federal Aid to Education: II
The campaign to pump federal money into the nation's schools and colleges hasn't exactly spread like a prairie fire, but it has given off enough heat to make the opposition perspire. That opposition has been chanting religiously that federal money means federal dictation and violation of the principles of states' rights. But even the most fervent standpatters cannot deny that American education is in far from perfect shape.
Some states provide good education. They can afford reasonably decent salaries for teachers and reasonably decent school buildings for students. Other states--particularly in the South--simply cannot afford passable education. The national average is low. The result, educationalists say, is that millions of children are getting a lousy break, and our society is suffering for it.
In higher education, too, the picture is grim. In 1946, President Truman appointed a commission of educators and public figures to investigate the college scene. The commission reported a year later, and recommended a whopping program of federal aid to colleges. Unless this were done, the commission warned, higher education would continue to bobble the vital job of supplying America with enough highly-trained and intellectually broadened citizens. The Commission claimed that about half of the population can profit by two years of college, and therefore 14 years of education should be free to all. The total enrollment in higher education by 1960 should be 4,600,000, the Commission said--nearly twice as many as at present.
The report of the President's Commission was a huge boost for federal aiders. They cried out more loudly that the educational system was grossly inadequate from top to bottom, and that parts of it were downright rotten. They underscored what the Commission said: that democracy cannot rest on shoddy education, and that a modern state (democratic or not) cannot survive in the twentieth-century world on antique citizen training programs.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling-block for federal aid is the fear--honest or not--of federal control. Everybody wants to get a slice of the federal pie; few prospective beneficiaries want the government to set up uncomfortable standards and stringent conditions. That accounts for a good deal of the hot air about, "federal dictation." The more imaginative opponents (not of aid, necessarily, but of controls) picture a gigantic Washington bureau sending out hatchet-men by the score to bulldoze teachers into pumping unconstitutional propaganda down the maw of American Youth.
Campaign to Standardize
There is a less frenetic opposition to federal controls: some educators fear that administrative standards will be the opening wedge in a campaign of standardization all along the line that will gradually stiffen U. S. education into one unshakable pattern. They pass around the story of the French Minister of Education who proudly declared that at any given moment he could tell what page of what text-book each child in the country was reading. American education needs to be supported by national funds, these educators admit, but diversity and the chance to experiment are too important to lose for the sake of sheer productivity.
The advocates of controls have, of course, hastened to deny evil designs. All they want, they say, is to be sure that the taxpayer's dollar is not recklessly squandered by careless state administrators--or even stolen. They want to be sure that the states are operating in some kind of national framework before the national treasury starts passing out the checks.
The federal government is giving plenty of aid to education as it is--most of it by direct subsidy through the GI Bill--and it has given plenty in the past, beginning with land grants for colleges in the last century, and school-house building programs in the Depression. What the various pressure groups desire is that the money forthcoming from the Eighty-First Congress will be unconditional--no strings attached. What they desire more fervently, of course, is the money itself.
The Teachers' Lobby
The most active education lobby is the National Education Association, which speaks for hundreds of thousands of school teachers--teachers who view the national government as their last best hope for badly-needed salary boosts--and puts a considerable pressure on Congressmen.
Shortly after the November election, the Association advised its members to "confer" with Senators and Representatives before those gentlemen headed for Washington. The lobby meant, of course, for the heat to be applied in the home districts, so that the selling job in the Capital would be easier.
When the Taft bill to give the states 300 million dollars for elementary and secondary schools failed to make the grade last year, the NEA was exceedingly put out, and produced a blizzard of publicity releases. One of them bitterly pointed out that Congress was eager to spend more than 300 million dollars on tobacco and intoxicants to be sent to Europe under the Marshall Plan--but not a penny for the "millions of American children now lacking educational opportunities." The NEA is happier this year with the Democratic victory, but it is willing to stick to the kind of legislation Senator Taft proposed in 1948. Taft assured all concerned that the national regime would only pay out according to formula--nothing else.