Should the federal government have a role in education? H.R. 1510 says no and plans to abolish the Department of Education

Should the federal government have a role in education? H.R. 1510 says no and plans to abolish the Department of Education

Only one line is needed to describe H.R. 1510, the “States’ Education Reclamation Act of 2017”, that line being – this bill eliminates the Department of Education. But since this is a blog post, here are a few more lines.

The bill (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1510/text) begins with a preamble of sorts, listing the reasons as to why the Department of Education must be done away with. The reasons range from a strict interpretation of the constitution to arguments about the “managerial government” being a disaster for students’ achievement, to fiscal arguments, economic arguments and the ills of regulation: “The Department of Education has been hostile to many promising reforms, including reforms that would empower parents, teachers, and local communities. The United States, once a laboratory of innovation through the experiments of the States, is moving toward education standardization that does not consider the individual educational needs of our diverse population of students”.

Some of these arguments are true – it is true that the founding fathers did not include education in the constitution – some of the presented facts are false – the Department of Education is not 34 years old. The first incarnation of the Department of Education began in 1867 under President Andrew Johnson with our current version of the Department being signed into law by Jimmy Carter in 1979/effective 1980 (Carter elevated the Department to a cabinet level agency). And some of the arguments are highly political and thus debatable, such as: “Only through initiatives led by parents and local communities with the power to act can the United States elevate educational performance toward an acceptable level”.

It turns out that the Department of Education has always been a hotly debated, highly political and contentious Department where fights over the limits of the federal government have raged. I encourage you to read this article by Kevin Kosar from 2015 about the history of the Department of Education: http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/09/department-of-education-history-000235. If you are curious as to what the Department of Education does, read its page on the role of the federal government in education: https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html and its mission statement: https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/mission/mission.html?src=rt.

One quick fact about the Department of Education is that it contributes 8% to the school budget with state and local communities making up the remaining 92%. This means that the Department of Education does not gain its influence financially; it gains its might via regulations and policy guidelines. Gut the Department’s ability to set forth guidelines and regulations and you annihilate it.

Just as H.R. 610 (see the last post) demoted the Secretary of Education to a paperwork job, so too does this bill. Under H.R. 1510 the Secretary would be in charge of distributing funds, reviewing audits, etc…. There would be no setting of guidelines or regulations thus turning over all control of education policy to the States. Needless to say this bill provides an extreme uni-polar answer to a major policy and philosophical question. Since 1867 the question as always been how much influence the federal government has in education, how much federal oversight is needed to, “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” (this is the Department of Education’s mission statement – see website listed above for the source) and as noted, this bill says the answer is “none”.

Under H.R. 1510 states would continue to receive the same amount of federal education tax dollars (funding levels would be frozen at the 2012 dollar amounts) until 2026. The bill requests the Comptroller of the United States, within 90 days of the bill passing, to review loosening the federal tax burden on states and local communities so that they would be able to fund 100% of their education budgets. In addition the bill states that no later than 1 year after the enactment of the bill the President would submit to Congress a plan to close down the Department of Education. Thus after 2026 all funding for education would be State & local community based and there would be zero influence from the federal government on education. Just ponder that and ponder what education looked like before the federal government took a more assertive role in education starting in the 1960s….

But before the Department evaporates, states would receive their monetary allotments without any regulatory requirements – in other words the distribution of funding would be independent of a state meeting any guidelines or standards set forth by the Department of Education. The states would be free to use these education grant dollars to fund teacher salaries or anything else they deem necessary. There would be an audit process as well as annual reports for how the monies were spent with the annual reports being open to the public. The only condition on the monies is that the federal funding dollars could not be used in any program that discriminated against disability, sex (based on Title IX, which may very well be repealed), race, color or national origin.

The final component of the bill has to do with various programs of the Department of Education which the author, David Rouzer of North Carolina, deemed important to keep. Since the bill would close down the Department of Education, these programs would be transferred to other Departments. Some of these programs and the Departments they would go to are: job training would go to the Department of Labor, Special Education to the Department of Health and Human Services, Indian education to the Department of Interior, Impact Aid to the Department of Defense, Federal Student loans and Pell grants to the Department of Treasury.

At the heart of this bill is a question that has been present since the beginning of a Department of Education – namely how much federal government involvement is appropriate in order to ensure that education remains an equalizer within our society, to ensure that every child has access to quality education which will allow that little one to soar.

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