Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Kennedy:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Kennedy Years: Aid to Private and Parochial Schools

An important issue hampering federal aid to schools during the Kennedy years was, of course, the issue of federal aid to parochial schools. As historian Jack Dougherty has observed, representative Clement Zablocki (D-WI) had criticized previous administrations for failing to include private and parochial schools in its funding proposals. Zablocki blamed this failure on confusion over the establishment clause of the First Amendment, inquiring during testimony before the education subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor, "Why is federal assistance to private college and university students constitutional . . . but federal assistance to private grade school and high school students unconstitutional?" To parents of children attending parochial elementary and secondary schools, it seemed a perfectly reasonable question-but one that faced enduring political hurdles.

Zablocki won support for his position from Fr. Virgil Blum, a Jesuit priest and a professor of political science at Marquette University in Milwaukee, who was a national leader of the organization Citizens for Educational Freedom, which advocated federal aid to parochial schools. Blum supported a plan under which the federal government could avoid the church-state fracas by making direct grants to parents, who could then use these "vouchers" to send their children either to public or, if they chose, to private, parochial, or independent schools. This proposal did not win acceptance in the early 1960s (though a narrowed form of vouchers for economically disadvantaged students did win approval in the federal courts several decades later). Significantly for that era, however, Blum's proposal endorsed the idea of directing federal aid to "the child" rather than "the school," and this idea laid a foundation for aid to economically disadvantaged children during the next administration. (Some have noted that certain policy ideas must "incubate" and evolve before they are ready to hatch in politically acceptable form at some later date.)

 

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