Reagan Rebuts the Obama School Talk

The day is therefore fast approaching when the schools will be acknowledged for what they are becoming: society's agreed upon vehicle for institutionalizing social change. ... Curriculum and programs in schools will come more and more to reflect long range planning goals. ... There appears to be no alternative to acknowledging that we have created a way of living in which public employees will perform a significant fraction of functions traditionally left to families.

— John Boyles, editor of Educator’s Newsletter, quoted by Russell Kirk in “The NEA Plans Our Future,” National Review, Nov. 11, 1977.

In his radio address of November 29, 1977, Ronald Reagan referred to the above quotation. Keep in mind that when Reagan, Boyles, and Kirk wrote, the cabinet-level Department of Education did not yet exist, but Congress was working on it. Jimmy Carter signed it into law on October 17, 1979.

Just six months earlier on April 16, Reagan warned his radio audience:

If you believe your local school district is better qualified to run your schools than is the federal government you'd better get ready to do battle. ... [The proposed education department would] create a bureaucracy of gigantic size to oversee thousands and thousands of public schools now administered by local school districts.

Reagan noted the skyrocketing cost of public education and the measurable decline in student learning during the preceding two decades. He attributed both to the expanded federal government role in local schools. He blamed "educationists" in Washington, who had tried to "create a brave new world" by tossing out "tried and true fundamentals" in order "to mold the 'now' generation into world citizens free of prejudice, hostility, or even a competitive instinct (from Reagan's Sept. 21, 1976, radio address)."

Fast forward 33 years. According to the department's website, President Barack Obama's 2010 budget requests "$46.7 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Education, an increase of $1.3 billion over the comparable discretionary total provided in the regular 2009 appropriations act." This is in addition to the $98.2 billion that the Education Department receives from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus), which the president signed into law on February 17, 2009.