Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Johnson:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Johnson Years: Compensatory Education and Segregation

Almost as soon as the ESEA took effect and Title I funds started flowing to local schools in 1965-1966, doubts arose concerning the most effective way to equalize educational opportunities for disadvantaged pupils. Some hoped that compensatory programs would equalize opportunities, but others feared that compensatory education might actually slow the pace of racial desegregation. As early as 1962, leaders within the NAACP had begun to debate whether compensatory education was, perhaps, an obstacle to the larger goal of racial integration in the public schools. As Jack Dougherty has noted, the NAACP in Milwaukee had even gone so far as to persuade black activists "to drop their request for equal resources [in the form of aid to compensatory education], and instead, to demand an end to racially restrictive attendance zones. . . ." Activists in other predominantly black urban school districts followed a similar path, emphasizing racial desegregation rather than compensatory education as the way to foster equal opportunities in schools.

Even as federal aid for compensatory programs was beginning to flow into urban districts, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was starting to organize major school boycotts to protest "de facto" segregation. Boycotts hit such cities as Boston, New York, and San Francisco, and black leaders in Massachusetts, New York, California, and New Jersey convinced state lawmakers to require desegregation in the public schools. Yet, at the same time, the ESEA "created a financial incentive for northern districts to maintain concentrations of poor, black children" in certain schools in order for states to maximize their eligibility for federal grants. Policy-makers therefore faced a dilemma: they could pursue maximum funding for compensatory education and risk losing the advantages of racial integration, or they could pursue racial integration but risk losing the advantages of concentrated aid.


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