Federal Aid to Eduction (1)

Education is costly in terms of dollars and cents. Witness the item “schools” on your local tax statement for proof of this statement. Christian education is doubly so but it is an invaluable commodity in terms of privilege and rewards. Christian education involves a staggering outlay of money for the devoted Christian parent. Some there are who define this activity in terms of Christian sacrifice while others denominate this activity as Christian necessity, privilege or obligation.

Linked to the whole problem of school financing is the question of federal aid to education. Two schools of thought currently prevail concerning this controversial and timely topic. The one school of thought argues that government aid is principally wrong while the other school of thought would argue that the receipt of government aid is part of the legitimate reimbursement from taxes paid which is made available to all the citizens.

Writing in Christianity Today, Lester De Koster, professor at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, takes an affirmative stand when he writes “Federal Aid to Christian Education: Yes,” February 28, 1964. He argues the actuality, necessity and the legitimacy of federal aid in his own seductive style. We will quote at length selected portions from this article.

“We all know, for example, that tax exemption is tax support, for the community together pays for certain services to our schools through property taxes. If we are really opposed to public aid for religious schools, let us initiate petitions to set matters right.

“And there would be much more than tax exemption to set right. For the various GI bills have poured and still do in lesser measure, billions of dollars into pedagogical lifeblood regardless of whether it flows through public, private or religious arteries.

“Again the Surplus Property Act of 1944 enriched educational institutions supported by some thirty-five religious denominations with grants of land, buildings and supplies, all paid for by public funds; and this continues today.

“The Defense Education Act puts millions of loan-dollars into student pockets on all campuses, on deferred interest and with promise of half-cancellation to future teachers. Faculty members share in outright grants under the same act, regardless of confessional status or institution.

“Therefore the point I am suggesting is ineluctable: for most religious institutions the question of the hour is not, Should we take federal aid? We simply do! The vital question is: How much and in what form should such aid come to us?

“Why federal money?

“1. We know as many of our more secular-minded contemporaries have forgotten, that widespread religious practice and sensitivity are indispensable to a democratic way of life.

“2. We ask, further, only for what is our own. Each of us pays, it is estimated, no less than three hundred tax dollars annually for the nation’s schools.

“3. We ask, indeed, only just payment for work well done.

“4. Nor have we any right to watch Christian education progressively priced out of many parents’ market.

“5. And, finally, to share with the educator and with us all, that awesome responsibility, God has placed at our right hand one of his good gifts: the state, a great and good democratic institution under whose wings we praise him.” (End of Quote)

Writing in the same issue of Christianity Today V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College, Illinois, defends the negative position in an article entitled “Federal Aid to Christian Education: No.” He begins by arguing that historically federal aid to education is not justifiable.

“…federal responsibility for education was discussed in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when a national university was proposed and was rejected as being outside the province of national government.”

He continues by suggesting some considerations which he feels seriously argue against federal aid to higher education.

“1. It is unnecessary, despite the enthusiastic advocacy of politicians and some educators.

“2. A subsidy is an unwarranted assumption that money is the answer to quality education.

“3. Federal subsidy involves inevitable standardization. The department that dispenses federal funds for education will establish the kind and quality of education subsidized.

“4. Subsidation means inevitable control of education, a prospect of particular concern to the Christian college.”

To substantiate this fourth point he quotes a rather worthwhile study made by Harold Orland, “The Effects of Federal Programs on Higher Education: a Study of Thirty –six Universities and Colleges.” (Brookings Institute)

“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 the federal government in higher education grows.”

Dr. Edman further substantiates his position in the fourth consideration by quoting a decision of the Supreme Court in 1942, (Wickard vs. Filburn), “it is hardly a lack of due process for government to regulate that which it subsidizes.”

“5. Subsidization will demand secularization of education—again a cause for concern to the Christian college. The alternatives will be religion and no federal money or federal money and no religion.
“6. Federal subsidization, especially long-range scholarship aid, will mean a shift in responsibility for the education of the children from parents and students themselves, from colleges and their constituencies, to the national government.”
Professor Edman concludes his argument by stating: “It may 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.”

How shall we evaluate these pronouncements and considered opinions of spokesmen from two colleges which are more or less conservative when compared with the universities of this age?

Must we adopt the opinion of a member of the education department of Calvin College, Dr. Marion Snapper? “…those who strongly opposed the seeking of government aid because they feared control completely missed the point. They failed to see that government control would come faster as a result of no support than it would from support. They failed to see what others saw, including the Masonic orders, the National Education Association and Citizens for Education Freedom, that the competitors of the state schools could be closed by simply pricing them out of the market.” Quoted from “Christian Education in 1989.” Reformed Journal, May-June, 1963.

It is evident the Professor De Koster considers the federal government to be a welfare organization. As a welfare state it has a responsibility toward all taxpaying citizens. He argues that the fact that no strings are attached when personal grants or loans are made is reason to assume that this same situation will prevail when direct grants for education are made to the institution. With this opinion the study of Harold Orland cannot concur.

I also cannot help but believe that such government aid will cause the college to tend more and more toward secularization and the establishment of the kingdom of this world.

As Protestant Reformed Christians, I am convinced we must cling to the basic premise of parental control in education. This means that we continue to finance our own schools, whether they be elementary or secondary. We have a calling to provide the best for our children. This implies that our teachers should not have to spend their summers picking up odd jobs to support their families when studying is essential to their chosen profession and calling.

We stand on the undoubted threshold of an age during which the cost of education will rise immensely. Shall we continue to fulfill our calling we shall be called upon to give of everything that we have?