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Education: Three Priorities

4 minute read

President Kennedy’s $5.6 billion bill for aid to education came to grief last year because it offered too many targets to too many sharpshooters. Economy-minded Southern Democrats and Mid-western Republicans opposed the whole idea of such sweeping federal aid. Roman Catholics wanted parochial schools included in the bill’s $2.3 billion for elementary and high school construction and teachers’ salaries. The House Rules Committee locked the bill up, 8-7, and when Kennedy’s House lieutenants tried to bypass the committee and bring it directly to the floor last August, the result was a 242-170 defeat.

A Set of Priorities. In his 1962 State of the Union address, Kennedy dutifully asked Congress to pass the bill this year. One Representative grumped: “If they couldn’t even get the whole House to agree to bring the thing to the floor long enough to take a good look at it last summer, you know it hasn’t got much support in this election year.” Kennedy knows this too. Holding no hope of enacting the whole bill, he has established these priorities instead:

∙ Aid to higher education. With enrollment expected to mushroom from 3,800,000 students now to 6,000,000 by 1970, the colleges need $12.9 billion for repairs and new facilities (excluding dormitories, which are covered by a $1.2 billion provision in the 1961 Housing Act). To ease the burden for the colleges, the Administration wants to provide $180 million a year in grants, $120 million in loans, each year for five years, adding up to $1.5 billion. This would be less than 12% of the money the colleges want, but would presumably encourage other spenders and have a multiplier effect.

∙ A “quality education” program to raise teaching standards. The program would cost $750 million over five years, providing grants to teacher-training institutions, $5,000 scholarships to 2,500 teachers for a year of study, in-service training for teachers, and summer institutes to bring them up to date in subject matter and methodology.

∙ An attack on adult illiteracy. “Functional illiterates” in the U.S.—those adults with fewer than five years of schooling—numbered 7.8 million in 1959, and form the hard core of the unemployed. A fiveyear, $50 million program would help colleges train teachers to deal with the problem, give aid to states for the school districts where the illiterates are clustered.

Beyond these three priorities, Kennedy is asking for a fiveyear, $600 million program to aid medical, dental and public health education, and a fiveyear, $25 million program to aid educational TV.

A bill to accomplish Kennedy’s first priority, aid to higher education, emerged safely last week from the Rules Committee, and is expected to pass the House. But the rest of Kennedy’s program is in for trouble. Manhattan Democrat Adam Clayton Powell Jr., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, protested what he called “overlapping and waste of money” in the Government’s existing $2 billion-a-year education effort, and vowed to “slow up” action on pending bills until an education subcommittee finishes a study next summer on duplication in present programs.

College Scholarships? One other Administration proposal has a fluky outside chance: an $892 million program to provide 212,500 college scholarships. The Senate has written the program into its higher-education bill, will probably begin debating it this week. Thus the House would have a chance in House-Senate conference to reconsider it.

The issue that generated most heat last year was aid to elementary and high schools. New York Democrat James J. Delaney, whose decisive vote trapped the whole program in the Rules Committee in 1961, last week offered a proposal of his own. Based on the idea of the G.I. Bill, it would grant $20 a year per student to public “local school agencies” and to parents of private-school children. But Delaney’s $1.7 billion proposal does not resolve the church-state question, nor does it recognize that poorer states need bigger grants. Its chances of passage: nil.

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