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Republicans continue their unpopular attempts to abolish the Department of Education

Americans don’t want to get rid of the Department of Education, but that hasn’t stopped GOP presidential candidates from talking about it.

By Will Fritz - October 20, 2023
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Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Politics & Eggs program at Saint Anselm College, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Republican presidential candidates continue to tell potential voters that they want to shutter the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, poll after poll has shown that Americans trust teachersview teachers’ unions positively and support federal education funding.

In 2018, when former President Donald Trump’s largely unpopular Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ran it, 53% of adults viewed the Department of Education favorably, according to a Pew Research Center poll. A poll taken in 2011 showed 61% of American adults favored keeping the Department of Education in place.

However, four Republican presidential candidates — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Vivek Ramaswamy — said during the first GOP presidential debate in August that they would eliminate the 44-year-old department if elected.

“Let’s shut down the head of the snake, the Department of Education,” Ramaswamy said during the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 23.

The candidates have continued to repeat those assertions, with Ramaswamy telling a packed ballroom in South Carolina on Oct. 9, “We are going to get in there and shut them down.”

The drive to get rid of the department is nothing new. Conservatives have long pointed to the department as an example of government overreach, even though it makes important contributions to the U.S. education system through funding for high-poverty schools and students with disabilities, grants to states, Pell Grants for college students and more.

Attempts to abolish the Department of Education date back to its creation under President Jimmy Carter. Congress passed the Department of Education Organization Act in October 1979, and the department opened in May 1980.

President Ronald Reagan advocated ending the department during his successful campaign against Carter in 1980 and throughout the first half of his presidency. However, he found little appetite in Congress for eliminating the agency and announced in 1985 that he no longer recommended closing it down after all. The department has remained in operation ever since, while Republican politicians have continued to use it as a political punching bag. Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie has introduced bills in recent years that would kill the department, including one bill he introduced the day DeVos became secretary of education.

Abolishing the Department of Education wouldn’t just be unpopular; it would also be difficult to accomplish. It was created by an act of Congress, and it would take another to get rid of it. With House Republicans currently unable to choose a new speaker after removing Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the position Oct 3., it appears unlikely the party could make good on its threats, even in the event that they gain control of the White House and the Senate in 2024.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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