The very same day that Betsy DeVos was controversially confirmed as America’s Secretary of Education after a historic knife-edge vote in the Senate, a rather unusual bill was tabled to the House by a Republican lawmaker.
HR 899, containing just one sentence, said: “The Department of Education (ED) shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” The bill was introduced by libertarian Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and it already has several GOP co-sponsors.
“Neither Congress nor the President, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn,” Massie noted in a statement. “Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children’s intellectual and moral development.”
Regardless of the successful ascension of Trump’s pick, DeVos – a creationist and high-profile Republican donor with no experience administrating school and education policy – some Republicans in the House believe the post itself should not exist at all. They claim that it wields power recklessly, and removes the independence of local districts to determine what student learn.
The ED’s mission statement is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” It collects data on US schools, enforces federal educational laws, and denotes national policies on curriculum standards.
However, unlike most country’s educational systems, the federal government – including the ED – is not heavily involved in controlling the curricula of schools across the nation or even the specific educational standards of institutions. America’s education program is actually incredibly decentralized, with each individual state already wielding considerable power in this regard.
The idea that the ED is out of control is just simply not founded. In fact, even when it was criticized for being a bit too domineering during the days of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act – a flawed attempt at helping to improve failing schools – President Obama signed into law a huge rewrite of it that returned a lot of educational control over to states and local districts.
Those signing on to HR 899 are, unsurprisingly, linked to the Tea Party, and have strong anti-federal ethics. This band of highly conservative lawmakers have a constant desire to shrink the government as much as possible, and one way to do this is to abolish the very departments that form it.
One of the co-sponsors of this bill is one Representative Matt Gaetz, someone who has a co-sponsored a bill of his own to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for similarly strident reasons.
Of course, just because a bill has made it to the House floor in one form or another, doesn’t mean it’ll pass. Tens of bills get brought to Congress every single day, and many of them will fail – for better or worse.
Nevertheless, the fact that such radically conservative bills are even appearing – those that do not seek to reform vital agencies, but completely eradicate them – is an incredibly distressing sign of the times. It’s all part of the President’s and GOP-controlled Congress’ push for massive deregulation, all under the banner of boosting jobs and independence.
This might sound good as a soundbite, but here’s the thing: standards and regulations are often good things.
It’s important to regulate how much pollution makes it out of power plants, otherwise you’ll have contaminated drinking water and smog-filled skies. It’s important to regulate how financial transactions are conducted between large conglomerates, or else you will foster corruption.
And, of course, it’s important to have some regulations for educational policy, otherwise schools will lack any public oversight, will have free reign to be funded by private interests, some of which will be very keen to teach “intelligent design” alongside science.
[H/T: The Hill]