The Truth About the Department of Education

The US Department of Education was formed under the watchful eye of President Jimmy Carter on October 17, 1979. The Department established policy for administrators and coordinated most federal assistance to education. It assisted the president with the execution of his national education policies and in the implementation of laws enacted by Congress.

A noble cause? An organization formed with good intentions? AC/DC sang a song about a highway paved with good intentions. This is a big road with lots of government programs, and remember Jesus’ words about big roads. In Matthew 7 He warned that the broad, nice shiny road is the road to destruction. Not only spiritually, but for republics, as well.

Congress began to misuse the General Welfare and Commerce “clauses” while Thomas Jefferson was still alive. He wrote a letter to Virginia state legislator, William Giles about this danger. He called this usurpation of power by Congress “treasonable,” and he discussed the importance of education to maintain the republic as formed. Education was to be a state function, not federal.

The Enumerated Powers of the federal government do not mention education at all. One has to do verbal and mental gymnastics to garner authority within the Constitution. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson gave the NEA the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which opened the national coffers of the treasury to education. However, Carter’s Vice President, Walter Mondale, had promised the National Education Association (NEA) that they would have a cabinet level agency, something they had always desired.

The Department of Education was payback to a union for their support!

But, did you know we had a Department of Education before the one we have now? Under President Andrew Johnson, Congress formed the first Department of Education in 1867 during reconstruction, and guess what? It was shut down the following yearafter it was pointed out that the Constitution did not give the federal government a role in education. The founders were huge supporters of education – but at the state level.

Ronald Reagan named William Bennett to be the DOE Secretary with the task of dismantling and shutting the agency down. Obviously, that did not happen. Thomas Sowell is famous for his saying about Obamacare, “If we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical drugs now, how can we afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical drugs, in addition to a new federal bureaucracy to administer a government-run medical system?”

Is education any different? The DOE has 4,500 bureaucrats earning an average annual salary of $105,000 telling state and local school boards what they must or must not teach, test on, and more. They administer over 100 grant programs, each with a string attached.

Education rankings are difficult to analyze because they look at so many different aspects and results. Some are testing in different areas such as math and science, while others look at how many students graduate, and complete college. Some data shows the performance has declined, while others show it remains flat. Let’s assume performance is flat or unchanged since 1980. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent with no positive improvement. As local school districts struggle to keep facilities and quality teachers, it is comforting to know there is a federal agency bleeding the system of much-needed resources, sarcasm intended.

Rep. Dave Brat, (R) VA, said “The greatest thinkers of Western Civilization were not products of education policy,” he said. “Socrates trained Plato on a rock, and then Plato trained Aristotle, roughly speaking, on a rock. So huge education funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”  Five days later, Brat posted on Facebook his view in modern terms. “Our own government statistics show that over 30 years, federal spending on education has grown by 375%, but test scores have remained flat,” he wrote. “That proves that just throwing more money at education is not the solution.”

As Betsy DeVos takes the reins, there is much hand-wringing by Democrats over school choice. Personally, school choice and vouchers are the Republican answer to a progressive problem. If we did not have a federally controlled department of education, then vouchers and school choice would be a moot point.

On Tuesday, Representative Thomas Massie, (R) KY, introduced H.R. 899, a bill to abolish the federal Department of Education. The bill, which is one sentence long, states, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

Of course, if this gains any traction, there will be no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth from progressives. Never mind that the DOE employs NO teachers, has NO schools, and NO classrooms. It simply has the union approved bureaucracy of central planning by elites who are much better suited, in their eyes, to make choices for our children. Never mind the control over the textbooks and curriculum.

In a Facebook post, Massie said:  “Neither Congress nor the President, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn.”

He added:

Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children’s intellectual and moral development.” “States and local communities are best positioned to shape curricula that meet the needs of their students. Schools should be accountable. Parents have the right to choose the most appropriate educational opportunity for their children, including home school, public school, or private school.”

Co-sponsors of H.R. 899 include Republican Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Jody Hice (Ga.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Raúl R. Labrador (Idaho).

Massie ended by quoting Ronald Reagan, who also was a proponent of ending the Department of Education along with the Department of Energy. The Department of Education began operating in 1980. On September 24, 1981, in his Address to the Nation on the Program for Economic Recovery, President Ronald Reagan said:

“As a third step, we propose to dismantle two Cabinet Departments, Energy and Education. Both Secretaries are wholly in accord with this. Some of the activities in both of these departments will, of course, be continued either independently or in other areas of government. There’s only one way to shrink the size and cost of big government, and that is by eliminating agencies that are not needed and are getting in the way of a solution. Now, we don’t need an Energy Department to solve our basic energy problem. As long as we let the forces of the marketplace work without undue interference, the ingenuity of consumers, business, producers, and inventors will do that for us. Similarly, education is the principal responsibility of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and State governments. By eliminating the Department of Education less than 2 years after it was created, we cannot only reduce the budget but ensure that local needs and preferences, rather than the wishes of Washington, determine the education of our children.”

Reagan was unable to accomplish his goal. Perhaps with the national mood, Donald Trump might do this? We shall see, I will not hold my breath that the Republican leadership will give up this power and leverage.

As Einstein once said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

Photo Credit: “The Department of Education Building, Denver,” © 2008 Robert CuttsFlickr | CC-BY

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