The detriment of dismantling the Department of Education

The detriment of dismantling the Department of Education

The detriment of dismantling the Department of Education
February 09
09:00 2017

The Editorial Board

Three weeks ago, we wrote these exact words: “If Betsy DeVos becomes the Secretary of Education, our student debt will be even more endangered.” Even after her controversial confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, it was clear that she was still President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education — a disturbing revelation considering her lack of experience with banking and student loans.

All of the speculation ended on Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence voted for DeVos, confirming her secretary status and historically breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Despite criticisms against DeVos’ poor performance at her confirmation hearing, Pence defended his decision to the press and claimed it was “the easiest vote [he] ever cast.”

However, The Hill reported more alarming news on the same day. Confirmed by multiple other sources, Kentucky House Rep. Thomas Massie introduced a page-long bill intended to terminate the U.S. Department of Education on Dec. 31, 2018. In Massie’s opinion, state and local policymakers “should be responsible for education policy, instead of a federal agency that’s been in place since 1980.”

Citing the U.S. Constitution as one of his reasons for the bill, Massie added that “unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children’s intellectual and moral development.” He also believes “schools should be accountable” to shape such criteria and “parents have the right to choose” the best education for their kids.

Although it’s shocking how a House Republican premiered such legislation the same day that one of his own joined the Cabinet, it’s not the only time a Republican has called for the department to be dismantled.

Enter Ronald Reagan, who campaigned for the presidency in 1980 and, of course, ran the nation from 1981 to 1989. Part of his campaign platform called for the abolishment of the Department of Education completely.

Since the department was signed into law a year earlier by then-President Jimmy Carter, Reagan’s logic was aided with how the department “failed to deliver” strengthened test scores like Carter had promised.

Following his presidential win, Reagan made the Address to the Nation on the Program for Economic Recovery on Sept. 24, 1981. In his speech, he called for the dismantling of the Education and Energy Departments and argued that doing so would greatly reduce the national budget.

While Reagan-style conservatives like Massie are right in an economic sense, thinking about education solely from a financial view only disguises the severe implications of terminating the department.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) previously said, the department makes “sure that the $150 billion [the country invests] in students each year gets into the right hands” so we can have proper financial support in our academic lives.

The reason Democrats opposed DeVos’ confirmation in the first place was because she would be in charge of managing trillions of dollars in student loans and Pell Grants throughout Trump’s presidency — a leader who infamously confused proficiency and growth. It turns out that eight other Republicans, including Massie, feel the same way and want to destabilize any harm Secretary DeVos will cause.

However, mediating her leadership shouldn’t include the extreme alternative of abolishing a cabinet department. Letting state and local communities choose their own standards for schools means that very few Americans will have equal access to educational opportunities.

In fact, a department study from 2011 found that 45 percent of impoverished U.S. schools received less state and local funding than other schools in their districts. Another study in 2013 showed that in 11 states no black students were able to take the Advanced Placement exam in computer science. In eight other states, no Hispanic students could take it either.

This is upsetting since the purpose of the Department of Education is to work towards an equity of educational opportunities — the same reason why the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was passed to begin with.

Furthermore, the department has improved education quite a bit in recent years. According to their website, the rate of high school graduations is at its highest ever, being at 82 percent. The amount of black and Hispanic students enrolled in American colleges has also increased by over a million since 2008 — which can be supported by the Pew Research Center.

Within the final years of Barack Obama’s administration, taking into account that he won the presidency in 2008, the department finally proved its worth in the cabinet. In 2014, the average dropout rate in the U.S. decreased from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 6.5 percent at the time. As stated by the Current Population Survey, “there was no measurable difference” between the 2013 and 2014 rates.

If we lose this department permanently, nearly 40 years of progress for young Americans will be lost. And the potential for another 40 years of progress will be impeded.

Now all we can do, and all that we should do, is hope that Massie’s bill dissolves just as much as Reagan’s suggestions did. As much as we dislike DeVos for usurping political power, it’s still better for Americans to have an educational department to depend on.

Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins

About Author

Preston Mitchell

Preston Mitchell

Preston served as the Opinion Editor of the North Texas Daily from July 2016 to July 2017, and is a UNT graduate of integrative studies.

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1 Comment

  1. wycagirl
    wycagirl February 13, 17:16

    Someone name one department that the Federal Government has been able to run productively? Not one. It’s time to return education back to local level and getting back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic for our elementary students. We have a majority of students who are entering 7th grade that cannot function at grade level. Yet poor behaviors are escalating. I wonder why? With the demand that are being put on students while taking away recess, music, and the arts is impeding our students’ progress.

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