Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Eisenhower Years: Distribution of Funds
The Powell Amendment was not, however, the only obstacle to federal aid for school construction. Another obstacle was the problem of how to distribute federal grants to the several states. Three plans surfaced: flat grants, equalization grants, and matching grants, but each had political liabilities. Congressmen from states with large populations wanted flat grants (based on each state's population) while members of Congress from states with low tax revenues wanted redistributive equalization grants (based on national average per pupil expenditures). Matching grants seemed to offer a fair compromise, but formulas for matching grants were often too complicated to win broad political support. Consequently, even as new federal aid bills were introduced in Congress year after year, they died in committee because members could not agree on allocation plans. The allocation debates illustrated a persistent tension between federal and state control of school resources-a tension that would shape countless aid programs in the years to come.
In 1957, Eisenhower's attempt to separate the issue of school construction from the issue of school desegregation was overshadowed by a major desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas. A dramatic stand-off between President Eisenhower and Governor Orval Faubus ended only when Eisenhower used the National Guard to escort nine black students into Little Rock's formerly all-white Central High School. This event attracted nationwide attention and cast the federal government as the ultimate protector of racial equality and civil rights. To many southerners, however, it cast the federal government as a usurper of state and local prerogatives in the realm of education. Both interpretations were, of course, plausible. Nonetheless, despite the early reluctance of the Eisenhower administration to act in support of racial desegregation, the Little Rock crisis placed the federal government-not the states-in the vanguard of guaranteeing equal educational opportunity to all students.