Republican Presidential Hopefuls Want to Axe Education Department

The U.S. presidential contenders from the Republican party have made it clear that they intend to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education. During a recent debate, multiple candidates voiced their support for eliminating this Cabinet-level agency, which currently employs around 4,400 individuals and operates with a proposed budget of $90 billion.

Achieving this goal would be a significant challenge, potentially spanning years, contingent upon garnering the necessary Congressional backing for such a plan. Securing the votes needed to abolish the Department of Education is formidable.

In February, U.S. Representative Thomas Massie from Kentucky reintroduced a bill to terminate the department by December 31, 2023. The bill has garnered support from 28 cosponsors, all of whom are Republicans. To stand a chance of becoming law, given the Democratic majority in the Senate, any such measure would necessitate bipartisan support.

Former President Ronald Reagan had previously sought to abolish the Department of Education shortly after its establishment as a Cabinet agency in 1980. The department’s primary responsibilities include providing grants to public school districts and financial assistance to college students.

Jonathan Butcher, an expert in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, stressed that a well-planned phased-out approach would be necessary to effectively dismantle the Department of Education. He suggested that the departments’ offices that no longer serve valid purposes should be disbanded while others should be transferred to different agencies in Washington. Butcher proposed moving the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to the U.S. Department of Justice, given its Civil Rights Division, and relocating the National Center for Education Statistics to the U.S. Census Bureau. He also advocated for the federal government to exit the student loan sector, particularly as it currently dominates the market.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman and GOP candidate, expressed his desire to shut down the Department of Education and allocate the resulting funds to parents nationwide. Likewise, former Vice President Mike Pence shared his intention to close the department.

The Heritage Foundation outlined a detailed plan in 2020, estimating substantial savings of over $17 billion upfront, with greater savings expected over time as programs like Title I are gradually phased out and states regain fiscal responsibility.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) clarified that the financial gains from closing a Cabinet-level department would hinge on various factors. Eliminating a department could lead to considerable budgetary savings if the associated programs were terminated as well. There may be initial costs when ending programs, including covering annual leave and unemployment benefits or canceling leases.

The CBO highlighted that the process of closure would necessitate numerous decisions. Lawmakers would need to consider the federal government’s appropriate role in various activities and determine whether state or local governments were better positioned to oversee them. Factors such as national standards and efficient organization of federal activities would also come into play.

The Department of Education was established in 1867 by President Andrew Johnson. Despite these developments, the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country, did not offer a response when approached for comment regarding the potential elimination of the Department of Education.