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161 House Republicans vote in support of eliminating Department of Education

Removing the agency that protects students’ civil rights and distributes federal education funds has received an increasing amount of Republican support in recent years, including from Donald Trump.

By Josh Israel - March 24, 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)

161 Republicans in the House of Representatives backed an amendment on Thursday indicating their support for eliminating most of the Department of Education’s function. This comes just weeks after former President Donald Trump endorsed the abolition of the Cabinet-level department entirely if he wins back the White House in 2024.

The vote was on an amendment to H.R. 5, titled the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which would require that in order for local school districts to receive federal funds, they must comply with new federal rules mandating parental notifications and restricting the rights of transgender students.

Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), Thomas Massie (KY), and Keith Self (TX) proposed to add non-binding language via an amendment saying it is the “sense of Congress that the authority of the Department of Education and the Secretary of Education to operate or administer any office or program related to elementary or secondary education should be terminated on or before December 31, 2023.”

This amendment failed by a vote of 161-265, with 60 Republicans joining all 205 Democrats present in opposition.

The Education Department is tasked with overseeing federal support for K-12 and higher education, including enforcing civil rights protections for students, administering federal grants for schools, gathering educational data, and administering federal student loan programs.

The amendment would have endorsed the elimination of most of that responsibility, only leaving the department the ability to support colleges and universities after 2023.

Boebert, Gaetz, Massie, Self, and 19 other House Republicans have also backed other stand-alone bills that seek to eliminate the Education Department entirely.

Trump told reporters on March 13 that he wants to do away with it: “It’s time. Close it up. When you look at the list of countries, we’re always at the bottom [on education]. We spend more money per pupil and we’re always at the bottom of a list of 40 countries. And we should close it up and let local areas, and frankly, states, handle education.” Several other Republicans have proposed the same in the last several years.

Polling has not signaled public support for such a move. In 2018, when Trump’s unpopular Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was in charge, a Pew Research Center survey found 53% of American adults held a favorable view of the Education Department, compared to 42% unfavorable. A 2011 Reason-Rupe survey found that just 34% of adults supported eliminating or consolidating the Education Department and 61% wanted to keep it as is.

The underlying Parents Bill of Rights legislation has been strongly opposed by education advocates. In a March 7 letter, the National Education Association urged lawmakers to defeat the bill, writing:

The Parents Bill of Rights Act ignores the reality of what is happening in schools every day. In fact, 80 percent of parents with children in public K-12 schools said in a recent Gallup poll they were satisfied with their children’s education. They appreciate that educators are striving to connect with their children—students who have a variety of gifts and challenges. Instead of building on this trust, the legislation would undercut it by stoking racial and social animosity.

What’s more, the legislation tells teachers, school counselors, librarians, and other school professionals that despite their education, expertise, experience, and dedication to their students, they cannot be trusted to work with parents and their communities to determine what materials are appropriate, how to design curricula that meet students’ needs, nor how to ascertain students’ progress. This will only exacerbate an educator shortage that has become a five-alarm fire nearly everywhere, from small towns to major cities.

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democratic member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the bill the “Politics over Parents Act,” tweeting that House Democrats “are committed to providing families with real parental engagement – not parental censorship.”

The bill passed on a mostly party-line vote on Friday, 213-208. It is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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