Just about everybody--most important President-elect Kennedy's task force on education--now considers education of permanent interest to the Federal Government and of personal concern to the President. Die-hard states-righters will attempt to limit the degree of that "permanent interest," but through the efforts of Mr. Kennedy and his administration, 1961 should mark the time when Washington plays a much bigger role in educating Americans.
The first matter at hand--and it is one of emergency nature--is financial aid to public schools, of all kinds, in all states. Despite an annual need for 110,000 new classrooms, the United States has provided only 70,000 a year; teachers' salaries are deplorably low and the profession has been unable to attract an adequate number of men and women to handle the increasing school population. The Kennedy Administration must ask for an annual Federal expenditure of $30 per pupil, and add to this sum another $20 per pupil in those low-income states which have very little of their own money to spend on education. The total cost each year would be around $1.4 billion, higher than last year's most ambitious proposal, the Murray-Metcalf bill.
Whether or not this aid goes for construction or for teachers' salaries is a moot question but still the cause of much frustration and delay in school-aid legislation. Federal aid should not be feared as a source of governmental control--although income from any source, if not handled well by the recipient, is a potential means of control. But any bill should provide that the local school boards, in all instances, spend the money at their discretion. Federal aid may even be an effective antidote to harmful pressures and controls on the level of local politics.
Because of the "control" fear, however, opposition to aid for teachers' salaries is to be expected in this Congressional session, and so the new Administration should, if this objection threatens to prevent the passage of any legislation at all, settle for aid for school construction as the very least that is needed. Any aid, as much as Kennedy can get, will help the situation in public schools.
Although Federal funds are to be spent at the discretion of local boards--with in the areas of construction or salaries if such limitations are imposed by the legislation--money from Washington should not go out to local schools without some Federal guidance. Surely the Department of Health, Education, and Wefare can draw up recommendations (not regulations) for the schools' programs and should be close enough to the local situations to offer advice on allocation of resources within the school systems.
The state of public education is such that financial aid must go to all schools; the use of Federal aid as a tool to implement the Supreme Court's integration decision is dangerous, impractical, and unwarranted. Desegregation is an important and worthy goal, but withholding Federal funds from segregated schools would set a poor precedent and also add another source of animosity and resistance to Federal Court orders to integrate. For those administering Federal aid to public schools, Southern school boards must be viewed as experiencing growing pains, not as defying the law of the land. The squabble over the NDEA affidavit demonstrates how attempts to attach irrelevant principles as strings to Federal aid can ruin an otherwise good program.
In addition to the basic problem of aid to the public schools, other education legislation that should occupy the attention of the 87th Congress includes extending the National Defense Education Act, without the affidavit, to at least four years: exparding the Soviet American cultural exchanges: sending aid to medical schools and loans to universities: creating a youth diplomatic corps and a Youth Conservation Corps.
The new Administration's Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Gov. Abraham A. Ribicoff of Connecticut, has a fine record in his state of raising teachers' salaries, pushing school construction, and strengthening faculty employment rights. From the HEW office much of the Administration's non-financial aid to education must come. In this area, the Department's responsibilities should include the commissioning of several reports--by public or private agencies--that would have the straightforwardness and influence of the Conant reports on high and junior high schools. These guidance reports, circulated to officials and the public, would make concrete recommendations hopefully calling attention to pressing educational problems. Such reports could deal with the use of classroom television; college admissions procedures for the increasing number of applicants; employee employer relationships in public schools, including certification, salary scales, and retirement; the physical fitness of the nation's citizens; and adult education, including the sponsorship of local lecture and concert series.
With the school and particularly the college population growing rapidly, the country's educational system requires great efforts merely to keep pace with this growth. But, as the reports of Conant and others have shown, the need is for even more than keeping pace with expanding population. With a President and an HEW Secretary who are committed to "do things" in the field of education, the Kennedy Administration may overcome traditional Congressional foot-dragging and accomplish a great deal. A great deal very clearly must be done.
(This is the fifth in a series of editorials dealing with major policy problems confronting the Kennedy administration.)