Policy Market Blog

Educational Choice WP_1

Martin Kennedy - Friday, February 22, 2019
Educational Choice  (White Paper_1) 

Currently, we have, large districts running non-sectarian schools?  To think it the result of thoughtful reflection and open-minded policy discussion would be an error.  It’s more the opposite, a patchwork of policy responses to myriad challenges, especially of a demographic nature.
The British established religions in their North American colonies.  The New England colonies, except Rhode Island, were largely Congregationalist (Puritans).  New York and south, except for Pennsylvania, were Anglican (Church of England or known in America as Episcopalian).  Pennsylvania is still known as the Quaker state.  Those living in the colonies supported, whether they liked it or not, the established church. 

In the latter part of the 1600’s, English colonists began to establish, and subsidize, schools (though we’d hardly recognize them as schools today).  The particular religious flavor of the school, all schools were sectarian, depended on the colony.

The U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1790, included the Bill of Rights.  The first amendment begins…
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

When states began to adopt their own constitutions, they did not introduce any change with respect to school funding.  Sectarian schools were subsidized with public money and all schools were sectarian.  The notion of “non-sectarian” schools (public schools as we have today) was an alien concept.   
The Catholic population was small at that time, maybe between 1-2%.  Bishop John Carroll, the Catholic bishop of Baltimore, lobbied to promote an agreeable approach toward education as soon as the national Constitution was adopted, one that would not deprive Catholics of public funds. 

He met resistance though there were cases of Catholic schools being allocated some fraction of public money. 

1792:  Bishop Carroll addressed a pastoral letter to the Catholics in the young country emphasizing the importance of a Catholic education.

Early 1800’s: New York City subsidizes Catholic schools as well as various other sectarian schools.  The ‘schools,’ all of them, were typically church ministries and took place in church basements.  

The population of NYC in 1800 is estimated to be 60,000.  By 1830, it was 135,000.  NYC became the dominant port of entry for European immigrants.    

1808:  Detroit denies public funds to Catholic schools. 

1820:  Immigration from Ireland, the first of many groups from Catholic Europe, begins to increase.  

1825:  The Public-School Society of NYC stops subsidizing Catholic schools

1829:  The First Plenary Council of Baltimore declares: "We judge it absolutely necessary that (Catholic) schools should be established… (at each parish)

1830: Lowell, Massachusetts votes to appropriate money for Catholic schools. 

1840:  Bishop John Hughes petitions New York City Council for a share of funding for their schools.  He wrote that they had a right to “a fair and just proportion of the funds appropriated for schools, provided that Catholics will do with it the same that is done in the other schools.” 

Nearly half of New York City is foreign born, mostly poor Irish-Catholics.

The petition was denied and Bishop Hughes, a 43-year-old Irish immigrant himself, protested -- “We are unwilling to pay taxes for the purpose of destroying our religion in the minds of our children…”  

1842: The Public-School Society becomes the New York City Board of Education, an elected body.  Religious instruction of any kind begins to be phased out of schools receiving subsidies.    

Again, the Public-School Society was not anti-religion per se.  Religious instruction in school was assumed.  And, there were initiatives within the Public-School Society to deliver differentiated religious instruction, including Catholicism. That said, there were also inclinations to use 'public schools' to disabuse Catholics of their faith.  That shouldn't necessarily be viewed as mindlessly discriminatory, but rather a heavy-handed mechanism by which to assimilate a large group of immigrants whose religion was misunderstood and not trusted.  

The Catholic parochial system, a parallel system of schools, grows. 

1843:  The anti-immigration American Republican Party emerges in NYC.  In other states, it becomes known as the Native American Party.  Within a decade, falling under the umbrella of the ‘Know Nothing’ movement, nativists gain power in major cities – Boston, NYC, and Phila – as well as across states.   

In Philadelphia, a Catholic church is burned to the ground and 13 people killed in what became known as the Bible riots (a fundamental point of contention was which Bible to use in schools.  Catholics objected to use of the King James version). 

1852: Massachusetts passes a compulsory education law and stops subsidizing   Catholic schools.  
1859: The Eliot School Rebellion (Massachusetts).  A Catholic boy is beaten for refusing to read from the King James Bible. 

1863:  Emancipation Proclamation

1874:  Sen. James Blaine (Maine) proposed an amendment to the Constitution that prohibited the use of public funds for sectarian schools.  There was little doubt as to which sectarian schools were the target. 

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant backed the ‘Blaine’ amendment saying he feared a future with “patriotism and intelligence on the one side and superstition, ambition, and greed on the other.   
The Blaine amendment failed but served as the model for the states.  Over the next three decades 34 states passed ‘Blaine Amendments’ that prohibited the use of public funds for parochial schools.  These amendments exist in state constitutions to this day. 

1884:  The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore decreed in explicit terms the obligation of establishing a parochial school in every parish within two years except where the local bishop determines the obstacles too great.

1896:  Plessy v. Ferguson (7 to 1).  Upheld ‘separate but equal.’  Protected school segregation. 

1922:  A referendum, The Oregon Compulsory Education Act, passed.  It mandated that every child must go to a public school.  Sectarian schools were not allowed.  The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). 
At the time, the state was only 7% Catholic but most of the children who did not go to public school went to Catholic schools. 
1954 Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, KS) 1954 (9 to 0)
Overturned Plessy.  States could not have segregated education.

Over one hundred members of the U.S. Congress, 19 senators and 82 reps, signed what came to be known as the Southern Manifesto in March 1956 that pledged resistance.  Notable exceptions included Tennessee’s two senators – Al Gore Sr and Estes Kefauver.  Neither did Lyndon Johnson sign. 

Through the late 1960’s, public schools remained de facto segregated often via how zoning lines were drawn, a practice common in the north.  In 1969, nine out of every every ten black students in Nashville still attended an all-black school.
The courts got involved in the early 1970s ordering districts to take action so as to facilitate racial integration.  Thus, began the busing wars which precipitated white flight.  In 1977, seven years after court-ordered de-segregation in Nashville, white enrollment had dropped from about 72,000 down to 56,5000.  Black enrollment held steady at about 23,500. 

Today, over 40% of the student body in Nashville is African-American while the city’s black population is less than 30%.  Latinos have grown to about 20% of the student body. 
Regardless of how it’s measured, peak de-segregation probably occurred in the late 1980s.  One researcher found that by 2005 the proportion of black students at majority white schools was at a ‘lower level than in any year since 1968.’ 

Three final notes re de-segregation:
  1. Many policymakers in D.C. who supported busing – like Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Thurgood Marshal, as well as judges who ordered busing – sent their own children to private schools. 
  2. Support for busing among blacks was never that strong, dropping below 50% in the mid-seventies. 
  3. Research indicates that any impact on academic performance was weak to non-existent. 
  4. The Northeast went backward.  The percentage of black students attending a predominantly black school increased from 67% in 1968 to 80% in 1980. 
1955:  U.S. Economist and Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman publishes a book, ‘Economics and the Public Interest.’  In it, he introduces the idea of school vouchers.  The central idea is that it is more efficient for the state to subsidize education on the demand side instead of the supply side. 

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