Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Eisenhower Years: NDEA Funds in the Schools
While few of the nation's schools had been seeking aid in these areas-instead, most sought federal aid for school construction and teachers' salaries-they nonetheless jumped at the chance to purchase materials with external funds. They bought millions of new microscopes, telescopes, and other devices for science labs and filled closet upon closet with radios, televisions, and other audio-visual equipment. The schools justified each purchase as a contribution to national defense or, more accurately, to the education of those who would be responsible for the country's military strength and resistance to domestic subversion. The NDEA was not, however, the only federal program to support science education after Sputnik. The Physical Science Study Committee gathered science teachers and curriculum experts from around the country to devise new courses for high school science classes. Federal grants from the National Science Foundation funded both the development and the distribution of curricular materials but did not monitor the use of these materials at the local level. Indeed, officials from the U.S. Office of Education were prohibited from exercising any control over local curricula, and officials in other federal agencies made every effort to avoid the appearance of unwanted "federal control" over local classrooms.
Both the NDEA and the Physical Science Study Committee provided federal aid to local schools on a strictly voluntary basis. It was important to show local officials that the federal government could help schools without "telling locals what to do." Also, both programs avoided fears of federal aid to parochial schools by deliberately excluding them from receiving direct grants (though private and parochial schools were allowed to accept equipment or books "on loan" from public schools). Similarly, the issue of federal aid to racially segregated schools-the issue that had foiled Eisenhower's bills for school construction aid-was sidelined in debates over the NDEA. Senators Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Strom Thurmond (D-SC) expressed concern that the NDEA would give the federal government a lever with which to "force" southern schools to desegregate, but they exaggerated this possibility. Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Elliot Richardson assured members of Congress that, while the NDEA would indeed seek to distribute federal aid equitably among the races, it would not require schools receiving aid to be integrated. Thus, when aid became available in 1959, NDEA grants flowed to segregated schools.