The report of the Advisory Committee on Education, backed by the President and soon to come up before the House, is one which would seem to be a boon to education, but might turn out to be a boondoggle of American politics. Recognizing the need for federal support of a failing public school system, the Committee's plan is ideal; unfortunately it is not too practical.
The plan provides that the government appropriate $70,000,000 for the school year 1939-40, increasing the annual sum over a period of six years to $199,000,000 for 1944, spending in all $855,000,000. The greater part of the funds, which are to be proportioned according to the educational needs of the states, are supposed to go to elementary and secondary education. The two reasons given for the government splurge are that the states are helpless and that the present average educational service shows "glaring inequalities" and in certain states is "below the minimum necessary for the preservation of democratic institutions." The plan, then, is perfect except for the means by which the government intends to dispose of the appropriations. For to leave their control to state educational commissions is to invite mishandling of money which needs to be well-spent.
If there is one field in which direct federal subsidization, but not control, would be welcome, it is education. Up to the present time the government has spent millions on the W.P.A. for different public works as well as for unemployed professionals. It cannot hope to abolish "glaring inequalities" in the fullest sense without establishing a similar administration to take care of the funds now destined for state commissions. For it is absurd to think that appropriations that are granted to Southern states will be used for negro as well as white education. It is absurd to think that politicians in states having a large Catholic population will not for electioneering purposes uselessly support well-endowed parochial schools. It is absurd to think that state politics will not waste the funds on petty patronage.
On the other hand, if the government established a national educational board, it would not have to control national learning. As under the Committee's present plan, direct control of appropriations would not necessitate control of what is taught. There is little danger that the government will, or can, subvert the public school curriculum which is the same throughout the nation by withholding funds from some, subsidizing others. In the one case, therefore, in which the Roosevelt administration can make good use of federal efficiency, it seems to be abandoning it for political policy.