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FEDERAL AID TO CHRISTIAN SCHOOL 

In a recent issue of Christianity Today two articles were printed on the subject of federal aid to education: one article supported such aid; the other article opposed it. Because of the importance of this question and its general interest for our readers, we shall summarize somewhat in detail the arguments both for and against. 

Writing in favor of such federal aid is Lester DeKoster, director of libraries at Calvin College. 

He introduces his arguments by pointing out that already considerable aid is given to and received by Christian Schools. As example, he points to various GI Bills that poured money into private schools, the Surplus Property Act which provided grants of land, buildings, supplies; the College Housing Act which makes federal loans available at low interest rates for dormitory construction; the Defense Education Act which makes loans to students and grants to faculty members;—in all forty-one federal programs which siphon money into various schools without distinction as to whether they are public or private. 

Pointing, to the future and the tremendous increases in enrollment, the professor points out that the education of all these students will take money, money that people supporting Christian education will be unable to provide. He gives five main reasons therefore why Christian schools ought also to share in federal aid. 

1) Our democratic way of life implies the principles of Christianity. Liberty flourishes where these Christian principles flourish. Therefore Christian education has a “high moral claim upon federal tax support.” Being good for our country, it deserves the country’s help. 

2) To gain federal aid is to acquire for ourselves what rightly belongs to us since all of us pay, on an average, $300.00 per year to support education. 

3) Federal aid is only just payment for work well done. Christian schools are turning out citizens who take useful and honorable places in the American life. “For this service, the nation owes in simple justice adequate recompense. We need not be shamefaced to ask for it: by what strange reticence do we delay presentation of our bill?” 

4) The rising cost of tuition, building programs, modernization of existing laboratories and classrooms is pricing the Christian School out of the market. If something is not done, the day will come when Christians can no longer afford to send their children to a Christian school. “These are matters of conscience! They concern every member of the Christian community. They involve the very character of our nation. They are not resolved by proclamation of principle, nor by mumblings of fear. The Christian educator is his brother’s keeper—every last hopeful, earnest, seeking one of them.” 

5) Finally, God has given us the good gift of the state—a great institution beneath whose wings we praise God. We owe this state obedience, respect, allegiance and taxes. It owes us discipline, order, and a return on our investment. In fact, we are the state. And this helping hand which we extend to ourselves we are obligated to accept. The article is concluded with several objections that the author answers. 1) Why the federal government? The federal government ought to be used for this because it alone is in the best position for an equitable collection of money and a fair distribution of benefits. 

2) Although federal aid may imply federal control, the solution to this threat is to guard against it and refuse to permit the government to interfere in our personal responsibilities. It need not be a danger if we are alert, as e.g., in England and Netherlands where the schools are supported by the State without interference. The danger of federal control is, however, exaggerated, since we already receive federal aid without any strings attached. In fact, Christian Schools are the best safe-guard against government control,—Christian Schools that flourish through state aid. 

3) Finally there is the question of the constitutionality of state aid. But this issue has not yet been decided and must be settled in the courts.


Opposing federal aid to Christian education is V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College, Illinois. By way of introduction, the author makes the following points: 

1) The issue of federal aid must be decided on matters of principle, not on the question of expediency.

2) By federal aid is not meant distribution of surplus property, support of service academies, ROTC, student aid programs, GI Bills, and loan programs.

3) Federal Aid is a nice word for funds taken from the people in taxes, diminished appreciably through their passage through the vast network of government bureaus, and returned again to the states and various agencies. Aid is “not new wealth; it is our money, handled and directed by government officials, for purposes determined by themselves.” 

4) Although cost of education is mounting, the way of aid is the easy way to meet the problem; and the easy way is not always the right way. 

5) The arguments for federal aid are based upon two, assumptions mainly: 

a) “A centrally planned society is the best for all the people.” 

b) “The colleges cannot meet the rising costs and other demands upon them.” 

Both of these assumptions, the author says, are untrue. The first is false because the government does not know the “best interest of its people better than the citizens themselves, nor that bureaucratic planners are more intelligent than the people themselves.” In the early history of our country federal aid to education was proposed and rejected as being outside the province of the government. With respect to the second assumption: throughout all our history, in war and peace, in depression and prosperity, the citizens have provided for their own educational institutions. “It is late in the day for the national government to think that it can better provide for higher education than the people themselves.” 

Six main arguments against federal aid are then advanced. 

1) It is unnecessary. The schools have been remarkably successful in providing for themselves; and there is no evidence that they cannot continue to do so.

2) The case for federal aid is based upon the assumption (obviously false) that money is the answer to good education. History proves that it is not necessarily the government supported schools which give the best instruction. 

3) Subsidy from the government will inevitably lead to standardization. The government will want to say what kind of education is given in schools supported by it. “Authoritarian control of education requires standardization and, raises Jefferson’s uncomfortable question: ‘Whose foot is to be the ‘measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched?” 

4) Subsidy means control. Although politicians deny it, it remains a fact. The president of Harvard, Nathan Pusey is quoted as saying, “It seems obvious that, over a period of years, in their power to grant or withhold funds, the agencies of government are likely to have much to say about the direction research is to follow. Many educational leaders continue to believe this kind of decision had best be left to the colleges and universities.” Also a decision of the Supreme Court is quoted: “It is hardly a lack of due process for government to regulate that which it subsidizes.” Congressman Watkins Abbitt (D-Va.) is quoted as saying, “There is ‘here demonstrated an all-out effort to federalize the schools and nationalize the lives of American citizens. . . . History teaches us that when the central authority gets control of the education of our youth, it is a long step toward a totalitarian government and dictatorship. . . . Federal Aid means Federal Control.”

5) To subsidize the schools with tax money will mean that, because of the separation of church and state, the schools will have to become “neutral” in matters of religion. And neutrality is atheism. “To expend federal funds for higher education will plunge the nation headlong into the problem of whether public money can be used to promote religion. The alternatives will be religion and. no federal money, and federal money and no religion.” 

6) Federal aid will shift the responsibility for the education of children from the parents to the state. This will be disastrous, for it means the undermining of the home which is the basic unit of all life. All kinds of attacks are being made against the home already; and they must, at all costs, be resisted. 

In conclusion, the author writes: “For our Christian schools in particular the question of federal encroachment into the field of education finally resolves itself into the choice of aid or independence, subsidy or standardization and secularization, support from the government or continued dependence on God through his faithful stewards. . . . The alternatives are the hard and good way of progress based on the merit of our programs and the quality of our graduates, and the apparently easy way of giving in to mammon. It may even be necessary at times to walk in the rags of self-determination of our own plans and programs under God rather than to be clothed in the dubious riches of dependence on federal support.”


We too have to make up our minds on this issue. It still seems to me that the latter author comes the closest to expressing what ought to be our stand. The threat of federal aid and federal control is clearly the central issue. And it is real. It is the argument that tips the scales against any help from the state.


One brief item in connection with the above discussion. 

The executive council of the AFL-CIO, recently having met h Miami, has also spoken on this issue—although not for the first time. What business it is of theirs is not clear; but they have come out in favor of direct grants (not loans that have to be repaid) to be given to all educational institutions including non-public ones. The only restriction is that aid should be given to schools to teach only such subjects which are not religious. In other words, there are various subjects taught in the school, according to this labor union, which have nothing to do with religion, and into which religion is not introduced. The Council cited such subjects as Science, Mathematics, Foreign Languages, English, Geography, History. 

Quite some school that would be where all these subjects are “neutral” 

This is not, however, an original idea with the AFL-CIO, but has been proposed in the recent past also by the Roman Catholic Church and other educators. 

—H. Hanko