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The History of Educational Comparability in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

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SOURCE: AP/Jason Hirschfeld

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Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 requires that schools receiving funds under Title I be comparable in services to schools that do not receive Title I funds. The public policy purpose: To ensure federal financial aid is spent on top of state and local funds to which all public school children are entitled. Title I was one of five titles in the legislation, which was introduced in Congress on January 12, 1965, and was passed by Congress on April 9, 1965.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation on April 12, 1965 in front of the old one-room school house on his ranch on the banks of the Perdernales River. The new law was considered a legislative triumph because previous attempts to provide federal aid to primary and secondary education by Congress had always floundered on the “two R’s,” race and religion.

The first of the two obstacles, race, had been resolved the previous year with enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI of which prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. All prior attempts at providing federal aid to pre-collegiate education had been stalled by the Powell Amendment attached to bills by Rep. Adam Clayton Powell II, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. The Powell Amendment prohibited the use of federal money to build racially segregated schools. Under Title VI school systems that operated racially segregated schools pursuant to state law were required to have acceptable desegregation plans in order to be eligible for federal funds. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Powell allowed ESEA to move forward to enactment.

The second impediment concerned federal funding of religious schools. Such aid to parochial schools rested on a constitutional minefield, but post-war inflation and enrollment surges affected religiously affiliated as well as public schools, especially in northern cities. The objection to aid for religious schools was removed by the creation of the so called “child benefit” theory. Under this approach, the Title I formula was designed to distribute its funds to school attendance areas having high concentrations of children from low-income families. All children residing in such a school attendance area were deemed eligible for services whether they attended the public school or the church-affiliated school in that attendance area.

Now, for the first time, there was federal aid for the nation’s elementary and secondary schools. But controversies over how it was spent were soon to follow.

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