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Education

The Department of Mis-Education

The Government Accountability Office identified some serious problems within the department.

Brian Mark Weber · Feb. 22, 2019

At the end of each school year, children often recite the traditional American proverb, “no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” But how about no more Department of Education? Could there be a more deceptive euphemism than the name given to this gargantuan federal bureaucracy, which has done so little to help our kids and their teachers succeed?

At one time, there was hope. In 1980, Ronald Reagan campaigned on abolishing the Department of Education, though he didn’t succeed in doing so. Even in the 1990s, the Republican Party platform included strong and clear language stating that education decisions belong to schools, teachers, parents, and communities instead of Washington bureaucrats. But less than a decade later, George W. Bush embraced a federal government role in education when he pushed for, and successfully implemented, Ted Kennedy’s No Child Left Behind Act.

For conservatives, all hope seemed to be lost. But then Donald Trump became the first president since Reagan to assertively take on the behemoth DOE by promising to return more power to states and local jurisdictions. In 2017, President Trump signed the Education Federalism Executive Order designed to begin removing the federal government from K-12 education. Unfortunately, little has changed.

Notwithstanding the fact that there are some good people with good intentions at the DOE, even the Government Accountability Office recently identified some serious problems within the department. These include oversight and monitoring, data quality, capacity, and methodological limitations.

That’s an official way of saying that the very people charged with determining how and what your children learn in the classroom are making these decisions in a completely dysfunctional environment. How do they know what’s best for our kids if they can’t even manage their own affairs in Washington?

But don’t think the debate over federal funding of education is a Left-Right issue. Democrat and Republican administrations alike share blame for entangling schools across the country in a web of government mandates and policies. Sure, school districts can opt out of some of these schemes, but they’ll lose federal funding. And despite President Trump’s promises, the situation looks bleak.

Vicki E. Alger writes at The Federalist, “The Trump administration proposed merging the education and labor departments last June to streamline education programs and minimize bureaucracy. The plan was met with bipartisan criticism including by members of several conservative education organizations.”

The criticism from conservatives is well-founded. Merging the departments of Labor and Education may feel and sound efficient, but we’d still end up with a large, complex bureaucracy unable to function in a manner consistent with the vision and values of parents and educators at the state and local levels. And who wants Labor Department officials making decisions about education?

One of the organizations upset over the president’s failure to curtail federal involvement in education is U.S. Parents Involved in Education (USPIE), which blamed President Trump for using “the hammer of the federal government to broaden its authority and disregard the rights of states and parents.”

Additionally, USPIE remains concerned that Trump has not worked more to tackle Common Core. In fact, since appointing Betsy DeVos, considered by many to be a top-down educator, Trump has abandoned his pledge to taken on Common Core. Additionally, USPIE is troubled over DeVos’s support of the United Nations education agenda and the fact that she threatened to withhold money from states if they didn’t comply with federal mandates.

Of the total education budget, the federal government only provides about 8% of the funding for K-12 schools and programs. But there’s a major string attached once that first federal dollar is accepted. In return for federal funding, schools have had to agree to a laundry list of policies made by Washington bureaucrats instead of local school boards, parents, and taxpayers.

It’s no wonder that school-choice programs and homeschooling options are becoming more popular all across the country. After all, the key decisions about how our children are educated should remain in the hands of those who know our kids best.

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