DOE and American flags
Let’s Get Serious About Eliminating The Department Of Education

August 4, 2023

By Dr. Thomas Patterson |

“The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2023.” If you’ve read this far, you have completed HR899, introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie.

Abolishing the DOE isn’t a new idea. The department was created in 1979 by the Carter administration, fulfilling a campaign promise to the NEA, the teachers’ union, which in turn gave him their first ever presidential endorsement.

But skepticism over the department was present even at its inception. The bill passed by just four votes in a heavily Democratic House. Ronald Reagan, always concerned about over-centralized power, immediately campaigned to unwind it. Several Republican education leaders since have endorsed its elimination.

1979 hardly marked the beginning of a glorious new age for American education. Per pupil spending on education since then has more than tripled, inflation adjusted, but there is little to show for it.

Achievement scores have been stagnant and still lag many of our peer nations in the developed world. The racial gap in academic achievement persists in spite of the department’s high-profile efforts. The bureaucrats and interest groups receiving the funding are fine with it, of course, but for the rest of us, it hasn’t accomplished much.

The DOE isn’t really designed to make an impact. It doesn’t establish or approve a curriculum. It doesn’t operate one school or educate one student. It doesn’t administer or create tests. It doesn’t establish standards for colleges and universities. We wouldn’t want it to do any of those things, but it naturally raises the question: is the DOE needed at all?

The department has over 4,000 employees who do research and write policy papers on education that are read mostly by each other. They administer the beleaguered student loan program and federal aid for education. Over 500 workers toil in the Office of Civil Rights.

Senator Joni Ernst notes that 94% of the DOE‘s staff were deemed nonessential during a government shut down. As one official summarized, “it really is just a grant making entity with a huge bureaucracy.”

Americans rightly respect the importance of education and are apprehensive about failing to support anything labeled “education.” The department doesn’t stir public animosity like Justice, Homeland Security, and other cabinet departments often do.

J. Luke Wood, president of Sacramento State University and a former professor of education at San Diego State University, asserts the attempt to eliminate the DOE has nothing to do with federalism or any legitimate substantive argument. No, the real motivation is…racism!

Yes, those darn Republicans are at it again, advancing unrelated pseudo-arguments to provide cover for their race hatred. They are engaging in “racelighting” i.e., racial gaslighting which is an “act of psychological manipulation where people of color receive racial messages which distort the realities and lead them to second-guess themselves.”

Opponents claim HR899 is just an attempt to shape curricula that teach a “fairy tale” history, omitting the ills of slavery as well as ignoring Jim Crow, miscegenation, and redlining. Furthermore, they say it is purposely intended to strip civil rights protections for minority students.

Yikes! Just being around Republicans, you would never imagine that they are such over-the-top bigots. Then again, maybe it is Professor Wood and his ilk who are the racial dividers, seeing racism as the explanation for nearly everything.

If they are so concerned about the civil rights of minority students, why not embrace school choice and charter schools? These reforms have demonstrated their capability to actually improve educational outcomes and lift children out of poverty.

Some see HR899 as a quixotic endeavor. Maybe it is. Bureaucracies, whatever their failings, are skilled, aggressive, and usually successful at defending themselves.

But there is one overarching reason why the DOE needs to go. We can’t afford it.

America is in big trouble financially. We have normalized intergenerational fiscal theft to finance so much wasteful, politically motivated spending that we are now $32 trillion underwater. Interest on the debt is crowding out other priorities and $50 trillion is in view. Still the Biden administration, with an election looming, continues to propose yet more new spending programs.

Instead, we should be desperately seeking out nonessential expenditures that could be cut without any significant harm. The Department of Education is an ideal place to start.

Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.

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