The Department of Education should be abolished, but not because it has too many bureaucrats, is too intrusive into state and local affairs, doesn’t actually educate a single student, or because U.S. students have science, math, and reading scores below students in many other countries.
The current cabinet-level federal Department of Education began operation in 1980. It was cobbled together from elements of the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare; Defense; Justice; Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture; and some other federal agencies.
Ronald Reagan proposed abolishing the department while campaigning for president in 1980. He even ridiculed President Carter’s creation of the department: “At 11:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, President Jimmy Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle was born: the Department of Education.”
After he became president, Reagan tried to eliminate Education Department, and said: “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.”
But then, in 1985, Reagan wrote to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, that he had “no intention of recommending the abolition of the department to the Congress at this time.” This was after he realized that there was little congressional support for doing so. Said Reagan: “As you know, I have previously recommended the abolition of the Department of Education. This was because I believed that federal educational programs could be administered effectively without a Cabinet-level agency. While I still feel that this is the best approach, that proposal has received very little support in the Congress.”
During Reagan’s first six years as president (when the Senate was controlled by the Republicans) the budget for the Department of Education increased by billions of dollars.
The idea of eliminating the Department of Education was revived by Republicans in the 1990s. The 1996 GOP platform read: “The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.”
Under President George W. Bush, who championed the No Child Left Behind law, when the Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress for over four years, the budget of the Department of Education ballooned to $100 billion.
When Donald Trump had a Republican majority during the first two years of his presidency, the Department of Education could easily have been eliminated. Just like Obamacare could have easily been eliminated. But Republicans being Republicans, they failed on both counts.
In 2017, and again in 2021, Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) introduced a bill to abolish the Department of Education. It went nowhere. Now, he has reintroduced the bill (H.R.899), which simply states: “The Department of Education shall terminate on Dec. 31, 2023.” He also said in a press release:
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.
Massie’s bill now has eighteen cosponsors, all Republicans, of course. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
This is one of the most important bills ever introduced in Congress. It aims to terminate an entire federal department, not replace it with something else, and not parcel out its activities to other federal agencies.
Every member of Congress—Democrat and Republican—should support Massie’s bill, no matter how much he thinks that government should be involved in education. Every American—liberal, conservative, progressive, and independent—should likewise support Massie’s bill, regardless of the extent he believes that government should be involved in education.
Why, then, should such a bill receive bipartisan support in and out of Congress?
There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes the federal government to be involved in any way, shape, or form with the education of anyone. And not only that, the Constitution is silent on the subject of education.
That means that on the federal level there should be no Pell Grants, student loans, Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Common Core, No Child Left Behind Act, research grants, teacher-education requirements, teacher-certification standards, Title IX mandates, school-lunch programs, Head Start funding, bilingual-education mandates, busing mandates, diversity mandates, standardized-testing requirements, special-education mandates, math and science initiatives, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school accreditation, educational vouchers, and, of course, no Department of Education.
Anyone who disagrees is an enemy of the Constitution and the government of the Founders.
Every state has provisions in its constitution for the operation of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. The federal government has been given no such authority by its Constitution.
It is that simple.
The Republicans control the House of Representatives. Yet, the sad truth is that Massie’s bill to abolish the Department of Education will probably not even come up for a vote.