A wide assortment of Church-related agencies are complaining about the way the U. S. Office of Education is administering last year’s precedent-setting school-aid act. The Office of Education is charged with violating elements in the act designed to preserve the constitutional principle of church-state separation.
Among those expressing anxieties are influential spokesmen from the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, Americans United, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
On one section of the law, “the Office of Education has not transmitted in any meaningful way the church-state settlement reached in the halls of Congress after strenuous and tense debate,” charges Director Dean M. Kelley of the NCC’s Commission on Religious Liberty. “Local and state administrators are left to find their way without the markers set along the outer limits of constitutionality.”
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was the first act providing funds for schools below the college level on a broad scale. Every previous attempt had been defeated, mainly through inability to resolve the church-state issue. The 1965 measure got around the problem with the so-called child-benefit concept.
The idea was that pupils in church-related and other private schools were just as entitled to federal funds as public school students. But the Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as forbidding the granting of public funds to parochial schools. Under the child-benefit concept, the money was to be given so that it aided the students in parochial schools but not the schools themselves. Public agencies were to keep control.1
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