Abolishing the Department of Education Won't Work

Shortly after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was confirmed, Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie introduced a bill to abolish the Department of Education. While this may be an excellent idea in theory, in practice it might not actually save children and parents from sky-high tuition, burdensome regulations, and botched federal programs like Common Core.

"The concept is terrific, but attention needs to be paid to what happens to the functions of the Department of Education," Kevin Portteus, associate professor of politics at Hillsdale College, told PJ Media in an email statement. "It does no good to abolish the agency if the functions are simply spread around to other agencies of the federal government. The result must be real devolution of power."

Lindsey Burke, director of education policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, agreed. "What happens to all of the programs? If we really want to think about limiting federal intervention in education, we've really got to think about the programs that are in place," Burke told PJ Media. She mentioned that many federal education programs would continue to operate even if the department were eliminated.

Head Start, for example, a program which provides early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parental involvement services to low-income families with children, is housed at the Department of Health and Human Services. Burke estimated that the program costs $9 billion annually, and has racked up a $180 billion bill since 1965, when it was created. "It has had zero impact on the poor children," Burke said.

As for the Common Core State Standards Initiative (commonly known as "Common Core"), while Burke said it was "bad policy ... heavily incentivized by the federal government," it is "wholly up to the states" to decide to exit the program. Because Common Core was adopted by the states, incentivized by federal funding, it must be abolished by the states.

Luckily for opponents of the program, the money used to incentivize adoption has "largely been spent," so while there is little the federal government could do to end the initiative, there are no hard impediments or incentives against state-by-state rejections of Common Core.

As for the Department of Education, Burke argued that it has nothing to show for itself. "We've got 37 years of basically no impact, and one might argue that it's had an impact that's negative in a way," the Heritage scholar argued. "We've had no improvement in educational attainment levels, particularly for disadvantaged children." She pointed out that American children are not improving compared to children in other countries, and that graduation rates are not increasing, despite $2 trillion spent on education at the federal level.

"We've been spending a ton of taxpayer money for no results from the Department of Ed," Burke concluded. "I think that there is a growing consensus, particularly among parents, that the Department of Ed has not really effected outcomes that are improving education locally."