Elementary and Secondary Education Act 79 Stat. 27 (1965)

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This first general school aid bill in American history broke an impasse that had long stymied legislation to provide federal moneys to elementary and secondary schools. Previous efforts toward such action had foundered on the question whether education was a state, not federal, function; whether segregated school systems should receive federal aid; and whether aid to private as well as public schools would violate the first amendment's establishment clause. The segregation issue had been settled by the civil rights act of 1964. The 1964 elections had filled Congress with federal aid advocates untroubled by states ' rights issues. The church-state controversy over federal assistance to parochial schools continued but was generally resolved here for the first time.

As passed, the measure, which appealed to the child benefit theory, authorized specialized aid to districts with children from low-income families. Private schools would share in aid to some specialized services such as shared-time projects and educational television. The act gave school districts wide discretion in using the federal funds; it required, however, that the funds be used to meet the special needs of educationally deprived children and that private schools be included in any benefit sharing. The act also authorized for five years grants to states for purchase of textbooks and library material, and for funding supplementary community educational services that schools could not provide. It expanded the 1954 Cooperative Research Act, authorizing a five-year program of grants for new research and training in teacher methods, and it provided for grants to strengthen state departments of education.

Despite overwhelming congressional support for the act, critics continued to express constitutional doubts. The use of public funds for books in parochial schools and special educational centers could not be justified, it was argued, because funds would be channeled directly to religious schools. The american civil liberties union contended that providing instructional materials and supplementary services to church schools was an unconstitutional subversion of the principle of separation of church and state. In flast v. cohen (1968) the measure was challenged on First Amendment grounds, but the Court did not rule on the constitutional issues in the case.

Paul L. Murphy

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Elementary and Secondary Education Act 79 Stat. 27 (1965)

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