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GOP presidential candidates want to abolish the Department of Education

Eliminating the department would impact the administration of federal education grants, student loans, and how students’ civil rights protections are enforced.

By Emily Singer - April 13, 2023
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A general view of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., on December 1, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. As Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess for the lame duck session, the 7-day average for confirmed COVID-19 cases in America is holding above 150,000. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

The Republicans who have either formally announced bids for president or are rumored to be contemplating jumping into the race have all said they want to eliminate the Department of Education in a move that would have sweeping implications for the distribution of federal education grants, student loans, and how students’ civil rights protections are enforced.

Former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who have either announced their presidential bids or launched presidential exploratory committees, have all said they want to eliminate the federal department. Former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have not yet announced their candidacies but are widely reported to be mulling bids, have also called for the department to be shuttered.

The Department of Education’s important functions include deciding how to allocate tens of billions of dollars in grant funding to K-12 schools across the country; distributing federal student loans and Pell Grants for low-income students; and, as stated on its website, “Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.”

The Department of Education is in charge of distributing $45 billion Congress allocated for fiscal year 2023 for K-12 schools, according to a summary of the current $1.7 trillion federal budget. That includes $15.5 billion for special education programs and $18.4 billion in grants under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which the department’s website says go to “schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.”

Some of the 2024 GOP presidential contenders have been calling for the Cabinet department to be eliminated for years.

DeSantis told the Palm Coast Observer in 2012 that the functions of the Department of Education should be carried out by a state agency, not a federal one. Five years later, during a town hall event at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida in 2017, DeSantis said, “Washington shouldn’t be dictating your education.”

“I think that you look, we have a very big, diverse country. What would work in Seattle, Washington, is not the same that’s going to work in Omaha, Nebraska, or here in Daytona Beach,” DeSantis said, as members of the audience jeered. “So what we want to do is send that power back to the local communities. Let them do it.”

Politico reported In 2015 that, when he was running for president, Trump said he would consider eliminating the Department of Education.

“I believe Common Core is a very bad thing. I believe that we should be … educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education,” Trump told then-Fox News host Chris Wallace.

When he was running for vice president alongside Trump, Pence said that he, too, would want to abolish the Department of Education.

“Education is a state and local function that should be controlled by parents and teachers and administrators here in Phoenix and in Arizona and not in Washington, D.C. Period,” Pence said at a town hall in Arizona. “It’s not a new thought for me.”

And Scott, who announced on Wednesday that he’s exploring a run for president, said during a “gathering” organized by the right-wing blog RedState in New Orleans in 2013: “The federal government has absolutely no role in our education system whatsoever. So let’s get them out and let’s abolish the Department of Education.”

Other possible contenders have recently said the same.

In January, asked by libertarian commentator John Stossel, “Should America abolish the Department of Education?” Pompeo replied, “Yeah, you should get rid of it.”

And Haley has made multiple recent comments targeting the Department of Education, saying in March that the agency is “deadweight” and in April that “it’s hard to find any good” in an agency that makes federal education policy.

However, it’s unlikely that an entire Cabinet agency could or would be eliminated.

Politico reported in 2015 that a Cabinet department has never been eliminated in American history.

Eliminating an agency would require an act of Congress, which currently stands divided and struggles to pass critical bills such as government funding, let alone something as controversial as eliminating an entire department.

Republicans have been saying they want to shutter the Department of Education since Congress created it in 1979 but have never been able to do it.

In 1980, former President Ronald Reagan pledged to abolish it, saying, “Education is the principal responsibility of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and State governments.”

“Education is the principal responsibility of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and state governments,” Reagan said in a 1981 speech. “By eliminating the Department of Education less than two years after it was created, we cannot only reduce the budget but ensure that local needs and preferences, rather than the wishes of Washington, determine the education of our children.”

Yet the Department of Education still stands.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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