Lepelstat, D. R. (2022). This Is Not About the Schools: Consequences of Compromise in The First Wave of Federal Education Policy (1958-1974). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14418/wes01.1.2680
The prospect of passing federal aid to education to support school construction and school desegregation in post-World War II America seemed as likely as ever. The baby boom had created a need to build more schoolhouses and the landmark Supreme Court Decision Brown v. The Board of Education overturned the segregationist legal precedent of “separate but equal.” The first federal aid bills for education that passed through Congress in the post-war era, however, neglected to establish a permanent role for the federal government in funding schools or overseeing the enforcement of desegregation. In this thesis, I look at the legislative histories of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958 to the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA) in 1965, and finally the omnibus education bill in 1974. I argue that these passages brought about largely symbolic changes to American public education which did little to alter the disparities in school funding based on the socioeconomic status of students. I analyze congressional debates, historical newspapers, and partisan voting patterns to highlight the failure to form coalitions around general aid to education due to ideological divides and an over-eagerness to compromise and desert their political goals for education from Liberal members of Congress. I argue that these multiple missed opportunities to define a permanent central funding role over education and to use the power of the purse to usher in meaningful school desegregation invited the privatization of American education in the neoliberal era and with it, the bipartisan abandonment of these goals.