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Federal aid to school construction is again a possibility. The House Education and Labor Committee seems likely to approve either an administration measure calling for $1,300,000,000 to be spent over a four-year period or another bill calling for $3,600,000,000 over six years. Unfortunately, Representative Powell may reinsert his amendment prohibiting aid to school systems practicing segregation. The same proviso doomed the 1956 bill. Committee testimony has shown the crying need of our school systems, and a more positive approach to the segregation issue might enable a federal aid bill to pass.
The old state's rights arguments against federal aid to education simply delay action to meet the present need. The financial burden, moreover, would be small compared to that imposed by programs less vital to national welfare, such as veterans' benefits. That New York should be taxed to improve education in Alabama is as reasonable as taxing one part of a state to better conditions in another.
A grave classroom shortage is one of the chief reasons educators are requesting federal aid to school construction. Public school enrollment is growing at the rate of one million pupils a year and, because states are unable to increase construction proportionally, many schools must choose between hopeless overcrowding and shortened double sessions. Federal aid would help state educators to catch up with the birth rate, and would leave some state funds for much needed increases in teachers' salaries.
But any federal aid program must encounter the problem of segregated schools, as those states not yet abiding by the Supreme Court decision are in the greatest need of educational improvement. The Powell amendment is an unnecessarily antagonistic approach. It should arouse the same southern opposition which killed the bill's predecessor. While Congress cannot afford to assent tacitly to continued segregation, it should not attempt to duplicate the role of the Justice Department in bringing about integration.
A more palatable means of recognizing the problem is the suggestion of offering additional aid to those school systems which have integrated, or are in the process. Such a bonus could hardly be considered financial coercion, because it merely accounts for the extra costs in the process of integration.
The most farsighted program would be a larger appropriation spent over the six-year period. The outlay is not extravagant. This longer period means that main expenditure could begin after the fiscal year, satisfying economy hounds, and giving Southern communities time to consider their reward for graciously accepting the inevitable. At any rate, some measure should go through, because millions of post-war babies are crying for knowledge.
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