Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Kennedy:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Kennedy Years: General Aid to Education

In 1960, Eisenhower's second term ended, and, after an extremely close election, the presidency passed to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy had long supported the growth of federal aid to schools. When he ran for office for the first time in 1946, he threw his support behind the new federally subsidized school lunch program, and, over the course of his fourteen years in Congress, he had proposed bills to provide grants for school construction, instructional materials, and an array of auxiliary services, such as medical supplies for school infirmaries and items for the disabled. When he ran for president in 1960, he was far more vocal than his opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon, in advocating for "general aid" to schools. Although Kennedy's margin of victory was among the slimmest of the century, he did not forget the many campaign promises he had made to schools. Indeed, shortly after his inauguration in 1961, he proposed a large-scale package of general aid for school construction as well as teacher salaries. This proposal sailed through the Senate but stalled in the House, where southern Democrats on the Rules Committee once again suspected that federal aid might be used to force racial desegregation.


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Footnotes: The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.

To view snapshots of the political context for the Kennedy administration, see Education Policymakers 1961-1963.