Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Johnson Years: The Quie Amendment
In order to win congressional approval, the ESEA had been written in such a way that nearly 90 percent of all the school districts in the country were eligible for Title I aid. Yet, federal distribution of aid to suburbs like Whitefish Bay led some to argue that state education agencies might do a more equitable job of distributing aid. In 1967, the ESEA faced its first major challenge-the so-called Quie Amendment to replace "categorical" grants with "block grants" to the states. Proposed by representative Albert H. Quie (R-MN), a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, the Quie Amendment held that state education agencies were better prepared to administer the ESEA than the federal Office of Education, which, Quie argued, was woefully understaffed and unable to monitor the misuse of funds in local school districts (a judgment that Professor Jerome Murphy at Harvard later confirmed in research documenting that "there were some thirty professionals working on all facets of Title I-technical assistance, accounting, program support-[and] only three area desk officers for the entire nation.")
The Council of Chief State School Officers, which lobbied Congress on behalf of nearly every state department of education in the country, endorsed Quie's block-grant proposal on the condition that each state would receive as much federal support under a block grant plan in 1969 as it had received under categorical grants in 1968-if not more. The whole premise of Quie's bill was that it turned administrative and regulatory control over to the states; however, from the states' perspective, the bill was only desirable if it brought increases in federal aid. The Quie Amendment was eventually defeated after an intense lobbying campaign on the part of civil rights groups and big-city superintendents who maintained that federal administration of the program was necessary to ensure that federal grants flowed to the most disadvantaged students. (As the NAACP noted, block grants could easily become "a vehicle for getting around racial guidelines" if states were not willing to enforce them.) The idea of block granting Title I recurred periodically over the years but failed to gain majority support-perhaps because block granting federal aid would weaken the federal government's ability to track the effectiveness of specific local programs for "target" groups of students.