It’s not that the federal government could have fixed everything about equity in funding and education but [the bills] did have a few guarantees and accountability that probably would have prevented huge disparities between states and between populations in states.
As many European countries were establishing national education systems in the late 19th century, legislators in the United States failed to pass at least 20 different bills that would have done the same.
In a new podcast, Nancy Beadie, a professor of education history at the University of Washington College of Education, discussed the divergent paths taken by the U.S. and most European nations, the lingering repercussions for the U.S. educational system and more.
Beadie, recently elected a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, is the author of two forthcoming publications that compare the historical development of national educational systems in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
“What was really behind a lot of the battles was how this would be funded,” Beadie said. “Early proposals were to use Western lands to support the federal system and, as you start thinking about it, you realize that some of the territories and incoming states weren’t so sure they wanted Western lands to be used to support the federal system, they wanted that for their states.”
When lawmakers then looked at tariffs to provide funding, however, key leaders in Congress were able to keep bills most likely to pass from making it to a vote.
“It’s really an interesting case of where the convergence of interests had been solidified,” Beadie said. “All kinds of groups endorsed a national system, but the infighting around control of this tariff issue is what undermined it in the end.”
After Congress gave up on trying to pass a national education act, Beadie said one of the consequences was a widening gap between the states in education funding.
“It’s not that the federal government could have fixed everything about equity in funding and education but [the bills] did have a few guarantees and accountability built into the system that probably would have prevented the huge disparities between states and between populations in states,” Beadie said. “Because it’s after 1890 that you get all the forced segregation provisions in the South and all the loss of guarantees that funding would be equal so you get huge gaps between blacks and whites in terms of school funding.”
Beadie’s research focuses on historical relationships among education, economics and state formation at the local, state, national and international levels. She is author of “Education and the Creation of Capital in the Early Republic” (2010), which received the outstanding book award from the History of Education Society, and co-editor of “Chartered Schools: Two Hundred Years of Independent Academies in the United States, 1727-1925.”
Her current book project, “Paramount Duty of the State: Education and State Formation in the U.S., 1846-1912,” analyzes the significance of education in federal policy and the process of state (re)formation during the rise of the U.S. as a global economic and imperial power at the end of the 19th century.
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Nancy Beadie, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
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