Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Johnson:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Johnson Years: ESEA Title I - Development

Among the officials assisting Keppel in his endeavor to develop a plan of federal grants that would improve educational opportunity and student achievement in depressed urban and rural areas were Wilbur Cohen, the assistant secretary of health, education, and welfare for legislative affairs, and Senator Wayne L. Morse (D-OR), chair of the Senate subcommittee on education. Morse was the first to suggest attaching the bill to the largest and most popular education program-impact aid. The virtue of the impact-aid laws was not only that they granted federal funds to schools on a loosely regulated basis, but also that they granted funds to schools on the basis of total student enrollments rather than just public school enrollments. In this way, they avoided the dilemma aid to parochial schools. As historian Julie Roy Jeffrey noted in her book, Education for Children of the Poor, "An emphasis on giving money to the needy child rather than the school offered a good chance of avoiding the whole religious question. . . . Moreover, the poverty theme was politically popular. . . ." (The fact that Senator Morse's home state of Oregon, like other western states with army installations, received substantial amounts of money under the impact aid law no doubt influenced his support for the impact aid approach to federal grants.)

In October, 1964, Johnson asked Keppel to start building support for this proposal among key lobby groups such as the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) and the National Education Association (NEA). Keppel was pleased to find that both of these groups were amenable to Senator Morse's idea of using the impact-aid approach to offer voluntary grants based on the total number of low-income students in each state. By the time of the presidential election in November, 1964, Keppel and his staff had devised a formula that distributed federal aid to local schools based on each state's total number of school-aged children with annual family incomes under $2,000. On April 11, 1965, in a ceremony in front of his own former one-room schoolhouse in Stonewall, Texas, Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), into law. Technically, the ESEA amended the "impact aid" law (P.L. 81-874) of 1950. Its first title, Title I, focused on the needs of the poorest students.


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