In the realm of education policy, potential 2016 presidential candidates must be prepared to discuss their stance on the hot education topics including school accountability, the charter school movement, school choice, and Common Core. However, newly announced presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s remark on dismantling the Department of Education opens a door to a topic that is not nearly as discussed: the legitimacy of the Department of Education.
In recent years, federal legislation through the Department of Education such as the No Child Left Behind, part of Elementary and Secondary Education Act has sparked discussion about the federal role in education. While No Child Left Behind enacted accountability through a top-down federal approach, many Americans believe that the accountability system should stay at a local level where teachers, principals, parents, and educators know the students best. The main power in education is still primarily held within states and local governments. However, the recent rise in power of the Department of Education sparked the question of if the Department of Education should hold any power in the education system.
Currently, the Department of Education strives to fulfill their mission statement to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Through federal programs such as Title I, Race to the Top, and the Pell Grants, the Department serves nearly 56 million students in elementary and secondary schools and aids more than 15 million postsecondary students. These types of programs promote educational equity throughout the United States. Without the Department of Education, Title 1 programs which include the free and reduced lunch program would be eliminated.
Obama’s proposed 2016 budget allocates 70.6 billion toward funding through the Department of Education to support equity, expanding access to high-quality early learning, increasing support for teachers, and expanding college opportunity and quality. Over forty percent of the budget goes to student financial assistance and education for disadvantaged students. Dismantling the entirety of the Department of Education may potentially cut costs, but also eliminate many substantial programs, which aid in educational equity and success. While some Department of Education programs could have the possibility of transferring to other departments, the new cost of the program would depend on the efficiency under the new department. The elimination of the Department of Education would also be a long and probably costly process.
The Department of Education was officially established in 1980 as a Cabinet level agency under President Carter. A few years later, President Reagan attempted to eliminate the Department of Education along with the Department of Energy. However, there was no real movement toward this once Reagan was elected. Today, of the fifteen cabinets, the Department of Education is the smallest.
With a new presidential election in 2016, the debate on the federal vs. state role in education is expected. However, the desire of some potential presidential candidates to delete the entire Department of Education may generate concern in educational equity. The Department of Education’s history of providing underserved students with the means to a path to college and career success cannot be forgotten.