Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Eisenhower Years: Opportunities for Children with Disabilities
While the Little Rock crisis assured Governor Faubus's reputation in history as an uncompromising racist, it also spurred him to action in other areas of education policy. As historian Elizabeth Shores has noted, Faubus was much more progressive in related areas of educational reform. For example, in the mid-1950s, he pushed hard to expand opportunities for mentally, physically, and emotionally handicapped children in Arkansas, and his deputy, David Ray, later went to Washington, D.C., where he played an important role in shaping federal policy around this issue. As Shores explains, Faubus supported government aid to the handicapped in part to show the world that his state was not totally backward in the realm of education. In Shore's words, "It is clear that Orval Faubus supported the Arkansas Children's Colony [for handicapped students] . . . and helped build political support in Arkansas for developmental disabilities services, in part to counter the world-wide negative image he earned in the Central High crisis. . . ." In other words, Faubus did for disabled students what he refused to do for black students: he worked at the state level to equalize educational opportunity.
As it happened, special education for the disabled gained significant ground as part of the federal agenda in the 1950s. In 1955, President Eisenhower declared National Retarded Children's Week and urged support for the National Association for Retarded Children (NARC, founded in 1952). A number of states lobbied for more aid to support research on education for the mentally disabled, and several new federal laws made funds available for special education programs on a matching basis. In 1956, Congress passed P.L. 84-825, P.L. 84-880, and P.L. 84-922 to support not only teacher-training programs but also diagnostic equipment (for hearing and vision tests) and up-to-date vocational rehabilitation facilities. The next year, 1957, Congress authorized P.L. 85-308 for more books for the blind as well as P.L. 85-926 for advanced special-education teacher training programs in colleges and universities. Each of these laws aimed to build state and local capacity to educate the disabled-the expectation being that, after receiving short-term "start-up" grants to strengthen local institutions, states would assume full responsibility for future costs and administration expenses.