NOTE: This article was written in 2017, but it remains relevant. So far, the US Department of Education remains in existence. However, the desire to abolish it also remains—in the hearts of some members of Congress:
February 14, 2023—Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky) announces that he has reintroduced 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, 2023.”
The paramount goal of the 115th Congress (2017-2019) regarding US education was to abolish the federal Department of Education.
Two bills have been introduced in the House to accomplish that goal. H.R. 899 is only one line long: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” H.R. 1510, “the States’ Education Reclamation Act of 2017,” is more detailed, but it also calls for the elimination of the Department of Education.
As of the end of May 2017, 153 bills and resolutions related to education have been introduced in the House and the Senate.
Unlike bills, resolutions are not intended to become law. They often serve as public relations or political propaganda.
Examples of good PR are H.Res. 168 and S.Res. 79. Both designate March 2, 2017 as “Read Across America Day.” Who could argue with that?
Examples of propaganda intended to justify legislation aiming to siphon tax money into private pockets are S.Res. 47, a resolution praising the excellence of Catholic schools; S.Res. 26, a resolution designating January 22 through January 28, 2017, as National School Choice Week; and S.Res. 148, a resolution congratulating the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of charter schools.
Some resolutions are attached to pending legislation. For example, S.J.Res. 26 and H.J.Res. 58 support a bill that would weaken the accountability of teacher training institutions.
These Congressional resolutions indicate that the present system of US public education is on the verge of great change.
Like any human institution, the US public education system is flawed. The quality of education varies from region to region and district to district, but what we have in the US is perhaps as close as any society has come to making the ideal a reality: a tax-supported system open to children of every economic class—girls as well as boys.
Abolishing the federal Department of Education and putting all educational decisions into the hands of state legislators is not a sensible option.
On the other hand, the Department of Education is in dire need of an overhaul. We don’t need all the stifling regulations it has spawned since 1979. One size does not fit all. Individual school districts should have the freedom to organize their programs according to the specific needs of the communities they serve. We need national guidelines, but we also need reasonable local autonomy.
What Congress does in the way of education legislation during the coming months bears close watching.
Beware of legislation promoted in the name of “School Choice.” If the public schools are permitted to be beggared by a voucher system and privately managed charter schools, we will have the educational equivalent of US health care, a commercial wealth-producing industry that serves only some of the population.