The Department of Education

Yikes! The Republican Party wants to kill the U.S. Department of Education. What are we going to do!

Think Progress, a popular liberal blog that I follow regularly, claims that 111 Republican Congressional incumbents and candidates have expressed support for abolishing the Department of Education. This story is part of a series Think Progress is publishing on legislation that might emerge if Republican’s take back Congress.

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t an issue. Such legislation would never pass. And even if it did, President Obama would veto it.

Also, why should we care? Think Progress takes it for granted that its readers know that the Department of Education (ED — yes the Department’s acronym is ED. DoE was taken by the Department of Energy) is essential. It’s got the word “education” in its name so it must be good, right? The country needs education, so why abolish it?

What I’d appreciate in an article like this is a little bit of what we journalists like to call the “nut graf,” the paragraph that forms the core of a story and tells a reader why he should care. It’s also referred to as the who, what, where, why and how of a story. Why should we care about the ED? What would happen if it were abolished? What the heck does the ED do?

I’d say that the average voter has very little idea what the Education Department does. They just know it’s a $60 or $70 billion bureaucracy that “intrudes” on individual states’ efforts to administer education. Only, the ED doesn’t really have the power to do that. It doesn’t set curricula in this country. It doesn’t set rules for budgeting education. It doesn’t set standards for teachers. It doesn’t even manage accreditation of primary, secondary or post-secondary education institutions.

What does it do? It disburses federal education grants and scholarships. It manages federal student loans. It enforces privacy and civil rights laws in the context of education. It collects statistics on education in the country. That’s about it.

What about in terms of the GOP’s so-called fiscal conservatism? In the grand scheme of things, the ED’s 5,000 employees and $60-70 billion budget are a drop in the bucket. You could cut the budget by 100% and the deficit would still be measured in trillions.

Instead of being on the defensive and assuming that the ED is a sacred cow that deserves our unquestioning support, perhaps Think Progress should ponder whether we need the ED in its current form. Maybe the GOP is right. Maybe we should kill it. And then replace it with something else with a stronger mandate. I say we should be doing more, not less.

I think this country needs a centralized education system more than ever before. Math and science education is critical to the future of the economy and yet our schools struggle to instruct students on these subjects.

We’re leaving this policy up to the individual states? Fifty individual bureaucracies, some of which are headed by elected ideological gasbags (Exhibit number one, the Texas’ State Board of Education, which wastes its time trying to ferret out “pro-Islamic bias” in textbooks). The current ED’s mandate is very limited in scope, because Republicans opposed its creation from the start. Republicans say there is nothing about an education department in the Constitution. I don’t think there was any mention of the Department of Energy or the Department of Housing and Urban Development in there, either.

I say the ED should be doing more, not less. Instead of defending its turf, the Democrats should be rallying for  stronger federal role in education. Go on the offensive for once. Hammer the Republicans who want to kill the ED and emphasize that we should be doing more for education at the federal level. That’s what Think Progress should be advocating.  It kneejerk defense of the ED is preaching to the converted. Instead, this article should be pointing out how the ED could be doing more to reinvent education in our country. Maybe that would give some moderates and independents a reason to go to the polls on Tuesday. They need a reason, and articles like this gem from Think Progress just don’t cut it.