Federal Aid to Eduction (2)


Space did not permit an evaluation of the materials quoted in the March issue of the Beacon Lights concerning the general question of Federal Aid to Education, Yes or No. A few general observations were made concerning the question near the beginning and at the end of the article. In this article we shall briefly analyze a few of the salient arguments of Professor De Koster and of Dr. Edman as they each defend opposite points of view with respect to aid for education from the federal government.

Professor De Koster argues the point that tax exemption and tax support are principally the same. He uses this argument to prove the fact that essentially the Christian is receiving aid from the federal government in an indirect way. This to him seems to prove that because it is permissible to receive aid in this way, it is likewise correct to receive aid in the form of direct payment from the government to educational institutions. The continuation of Christian education is made possible this way, he argues, because Christian schools will eventually be priced out of education. This is essentially the argument of Dr. Snapper who is also a member of the Calvin College faculty.

By definition it would seem that tax exemption and tax support are fundamentally different. Tax support implies an outright payment of federal funds while tax exemption involves a legal process which frees one from paying certain taxes because of other mitigating circumstances. A tax exemption is a privilege accorded to any man with a legitimate claim while support from taxes must be paid upon other considerations. It would seem therefore that the payment of funds collected through the taxation of the populace would imply certain controls as to how these funds shall be used if they are to be paid directly to an educational institution. Now Mr. De Koster may say that there are no limiting clauses and use as support for his argumentation the generous support given housing projects, given students and faculty members but the hard fact remains that such limitation seems truly likely when considered in the light of the recent Supreme Court decisions respecting religious instruction and when considered in the perspective of the Wickard vs. Filburn decision of the Supreme Court in 1942 which states: “it is hardly a lack of due process for government to regulate that which it subsidizes.” Stringent restrictions are placed on the use of funds paid to schools for the subsidation of the milk and school lunch programs. It would, therefore, seem most likely that such restrictions would ultimately, if not immediately, be placed upon the use of funds allocated for direct instructional and educational purposes. Respecting tax exemption let it be stated that there is no provision for exemptions because of tuition paid to a private school. Many attempts have been made to circumvent this restriction and many attempts have been made to effect legislation that would permit such exemption but until now they have not been successful.

Loan to students and grants to faculty members hardly fall in the same category as direct federal support to institutions for curricular or instructional improvement. Most of these grants to faculty members are made through organizations which are most concerned with instruction in the sciences. The National Science Foundation has made stipends available to school personnel on the elementary and secondary level who are key personnel or are actively involved in the instruction of students in the areas of science and mathematics but these stipends in no way directly involve the institution which employs such personnel who are participating in these National Science Foundation programs. For the agency or institution which is sponsoring such a program and receives support from the government for the conduct of these programs there are other considerations.

“Payment for work well done” seems to be the weakest consideration that could be elicited to support a program emphasizing federal aid to education. It would hardly seem possible to hear one argue the necessity of federal aid to education on the grounds that Christian educational institutions do much for the American society. This criticism seems doubly justified when the question of federal aid is discussed by one who has his theological roots in a Calvinistic tradition and is a faculty member of a Reformed college. Implicit in my argument is the further assumption that the American state is not Christian. It should not be argued that because the American state is not Communistic that therefore it is Christian. Because there is a place, a God-ordained place, for the Christian and for the Reformed man in this democratic society does not imply that the work done by the Reformed educator is deserving of federal aid. The status quo of Christian education is not of such a nature that it deserves government aid along with other educational ventures into which the federal government presumes to stick its socialistic neck.

It is undoubtedly evident from my preceding remarks that I am in more accord with the argument of Dr. Edman than I am with the argument of Professor De Koster. Theologically, Dr. Edman and I may have violent disagreements but on this score we can come to some unanimity of opinion.

“Money is not the answer to quality” is one of the resounding arguments of Dr. Edman. With this I can heartily agree. It should not be overlooked, however, that money, and enough of it, is of paramount importance in the carrying out of the school’s instructional program. A staff of devoted teachers, interested in professional growth, is a real necessity and for them money to promote this professional growth is a necessity; but honor and status in the eyes of the world and a certain keeping up with the “Harvard boys” is hardly the calling of the Reformed educator.

Dr. Edman further argues that federal aid will lead to ultimate standardization. The strength of an institution is its distinctiveness. Each institution in the Christian community has a calling to develop the truth of God’s Word, and any infringement of this opportunity through the allocation of federal funds would be a deprecation and denial of the basis for instruction and a denial of one’s faith.

Inevitable control of education by the civil state is one of the by-products of such a federal aid program. This, Dr. Edman also argues, and supports this argumentation by referring to the report: “The Effects of Federal Programs on Higher Education: a Study of Thirty-six Universities and Colleges.”

“The danger of federal control should not be dismissed as a myth designed simply to serve the interests of local and sectional forces. It is and will remain a continuing danger to the independence of academic institutions which must be guarded against more vigilantly as the role of federal government in higher education grows.”

Implicit in the entire movement by educators for federal funds could be a certain movement away from the original responsibility for education. This responsibility did not rest with the state or the educator but with the parent. The consideration of covenant education as a responsibility of the parent has become passé in the thinking of many an individual and these will evidently sell the birthright for the proverbial mess of pottage.