Was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 a Civil Rights Law?

LBJ Signing the ESEA
LBJ Signing the ESEA, 1965

Newly arrived Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., is in hot water with Congress, state governors and various school reformers. The Department of Education is moving forward with rules that would turn the Every Student Succeeds Act’s “supplement not supplant” provision into a cudgel to force states to equalize school spending.

It’s easy to see why folks are ticked. Not least, there is the fact that the ESSA took years to negotiate and a ton of time was spent building a bipartisan coalition to support the legislation. President Barack Obama signed it in December, and a mere three months later, the department jammed a finger in Congress’ eye with its rulemaking, which splits supporters of the ESSA.

There also is the small matter of the law: the department’s proposed new take on “supplement not supplant” goes way beyond the plain language of the law and is contrary to its legislative history and spirit:

“A State educational agency or local educational agency shall use Federal funds received under this part only to supplement the funds that would, in the absence of such Federal funds, be made available from State and local sources for the education of students participating in programs assisted under this part, and not to supplant such funds.”

Continue reading “Was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 a Civil Rights Law?”

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Special Message to the Congress: “Toward Full Educational Opportunity, January 12, 1965

LBJ Special Message to Congress 01-1965
Lyndon B. Johnson Message to Congress on Education, January 12, 1965. Source: The Association of Center for the Study of Congress


LBJ grew up in extreme poverty. He saw first-hand how schools could be the ticket out of a life of ignorance and hardscrabble survival. Johnson also knew that most schools got the preponderance of their funding through local property taxes. So, poor neighborhoods tended to have the schools ill-equipped to handle the “special needs” of their students. In a speech at the University of Michigan in 1964, LBJ declared,

“A third place to build the Great Society is in the classrooms of America. There your children’s lives will be shaped. Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.”

This was the context for his push for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was a key part of Johnson’s anti-poverty program.

Continue reading “Lyndon Baines Johnson, Special Message to the Congress: “Toward Full Educational Opportunity, January 12, 1965”

Our 70-Year School Lunch Food Fight

A school lunchNote: A version of this article was previously published by Politico on March 17, 2016.

Should school kids have more fish on their lunch trays? That is just one of the questions that will need to be settled before the National School Lunch Act is reauthorized. Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski —of Alaska, not coincidentally— think they should. They introduced their salmon-for-school bill in late February.

The law currently defines “domestic commodity” to mean “an agricultural commodity that is produced in the United States” and “a food product that is processed in the United States substantially using agricultural commodities that are produced in the United States.” S. 2529 would expand this “buy American” provision to also mean “a fish or fish product” harvested the United States’ “exclusive economic zone,” much of which surrounds Alaska.

Sen. Murkowski with a salmon.

If adopted, the measure would force local school officials’ to purchase fewer fish sticks from foreign waters. With 30 million children participating in the $13 billion lunch program, the fish bill could be a windfall. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to support this legislation, giving us the opportunity to put more of Alaska’s world-class, sustainably-harvested seafood onto the plates of America’s youth nationwide,” declared Murkowski.

The legislation’s arrival may well have elicited groans within the Russell building, which houses the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Just a month earlier, the committee had reported its 210-page bill, which reauthorizes the school lunch act and the complimentary childhood nutrition act. Continue reading “Our 70-Year School Lunch Food Fight”

National Education Goals Panel, Mathematics and Science Achievement State by State, 1998

Source: Kevin R. Kosar
Source: Kevin R. Kosar

This and many other 1990s-era NEGP studies are available at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/negp/reports/goal3_98.htm and http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002579549.

For background on NEGP, see https://federaleducationpolicy.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/the-national-education-goals-reports-1991-1999/.

National Assessment of Chapter 1 Independent Review Panel, Reinventing Chapter 1

Source: Kevin R. Kosar
Source: Kevin R. Kosar

The full title of this important 1993 Department of Education study is: Reinventing Chapter 1: The current Chapter 1 Program and New Directions: Final Report of the National Assessment of the Chapter 1 Program.

This report examines the Chapter 1 program’s impact at school and classroom levels, strategic directions for Chapter 1 reauthorization, the larger context of school poverty as it influences Chapter 1 delivery, the operation and effectiveness of Chapter 1, and new directions for improving Chapter 1 in line with national reforms. How well Chapter 1 responds to Congress’s intent in 1988 and adds to the educational progress of disadvantaged students is measured against the six National Education Goals. Part 1 compares high- and low-poverty schools in terms of their students’ needs, school service delivery, and school outcomes to establish the context for how Chapter 1 is affected by the degree of school poverty. Part 2 describes current program funding and targeting, student participation and performance, instructional services, schoolwide projects, staff development, family involvement and Even Start, special service arrangements for students in religious schools and migrant children, student assessment and program improvement, and assistance for improved performance. Part 3 describes new policy directions as a framework for reinventing the program. Included are: 53 exhibits; 4 appendixes which contain a list of supplementary volumes to the first report of National Assessment of Chapter 1 Program, a list of studies conducted for the National Assessment, the statute requiring a national assessment of Chapter 1 and a list of independent review panel presenters.

Chapter 1 (now Title 1) is THE major federal grant program for K-12, and this report shows how the thinking was evolving towards performance-based ed policy.

A full copy of the final report can be downloaded in PDF format at https://ia801403.us.archive.org/35/items/ERIC_ED355329/ERIC_ED355329.pdf.

Federal Education Policy and Politics: Federalism and More

Source: Politico.com
Source: Politico.com

In this article for Politico, I show how federalism has fostered a chronic ideological battle around the federal role in schooling. “The Constitution didn’t authorize the federal government to make schools policy. It is not among the enumerated powers in Article I section 8, and the 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution to the states and the people….” (Read more at Politico.com)

The below 1963 Herblock comic exhibits other aspects of the perennial politics of education: spending concerns, and the notion that federal school aid can and should reverse the effects of poverty and crime. (The comic is notably liberal—depicting the opponent of federal aid as old and and histrionic.)

Source: Library of Congress
Source: Library of Congress

Department of Education Abolition Act of 1868

Source: Statutes at Large
Source: Statutes at Large

It is a little known fact that the Department of Education was first established in 1867. Rep. James A. Garfield (R-OH) sponsored the legislation. The legislation authorized a mere three employees and its duties were few but not insignificant. President Andrew Johnson signed it.

Continue reading “Department of Education Abolition Act of 1868”