The End of Pell

It is an article of faith of certain conservative groups that the US Department of Education (USED – USDOE is the acronym for Department of Energy which predates USED) is unconstitutional. Frequently, Republican candidates campaign on promises to eliminate the Department on Day 1. Certainly this is true of the current crop of candidates.

From the Department’s website:

When Congress created the Department in 1979, it declared these purposes:

  1. to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  2. to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  3. to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  4. to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  5. to improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  6. to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and
  7. to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. (Section 102, Public Law 96-88)

I don’t know, these look pretty reasonable to me. We can certainly argue over how well the Department does these things. I know I can. But, of course, there is very little of anything that is being done that can’t be done a little better. Further, it is easy to argue about how any one of these purposes is fulfilled.

I suppose none of these are really critical to the nation. Clearly, nothing is needed to ensure access to educational opportunity for every individual. We are long past issues of racism, sexism, and classism, right? States and localities long ago ensured all school have equable funding across all divisions and neighborhoods.And we have no shortage of involved parents.

Since the Department’s creation in 1979, all these problems have been solved.

And the Pell Grant probably really isn’t going away. It was originally created in the 195 Higher Education Act and so it predates the Department. I’m sure we’ll just find someone else to administer the program, maintain the FAFSA, and create the inevitable performance metrics. Unless you assume that these are either trivial activities or there is excess capacity to take on these tasks elsewhere, a new entity will have to be formed or an existing one expanded.

And we haven’t even talked about the federal student loan programs.

Or aid to states and local divisions.

Of course, we really don’t need to any type of performance measurement for $33B in Pell Grant funds, or $104B annually (and growing) for student lending,or the billions of dollars in funds for K12 education. We can just use an algorithm and someone somewhere, maybe the vice president,can administer everything on his phone.

Or we can block grant everything to the states and we’ll just expand our roles there. I have no doubts at all about the ultimate popularity of that proposition.

Blow it all up, sure. If you really want to get the “government out of our public schools” (actual reader comment on an anti-common core blog), let’s just be clear about what you really want to get rid of because government money programs have to be administered.

Let’s also remember, it wasn’t just a bunch of Acts of Congress that created all the federal education programs. There were a number of court cases that decided issues such as “separate is not equal” and every child is entitled to “a free and appropriate public education.”

From Wikipedia:

In 1975 Congress passed Public Law 94-142, also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which defined and outlined that all public schools should provide all students with a free appropriate public education at public expense, without additional charges to parents or students, and must be under public supervision, as well as appropriate for the child’s needs.

PL 94-142 also included the following points:

• Special education and the specific services tailored to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities.

• The rights of the students and their parents are to be protected by the law, under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

• Schools are not required to find students with disabilities within their settings and refer those students for service eligibility.

• Students with disabilities are required to have an individualized education plan.

• Students with disabilities should receive instruction in a least restrictive environment along with nondisabled peers.

• Student must be assessed before being labeled with a disability.

• If a student is identified as having a disability appropriate services for their disability must be provided by the state.

• Students are entitled to a due process rights of notice and consent.

• Students with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education.

• Congress would fund up to 40% of excess costs of educating students with disabilities.

There are a lot of reasons USED exists, almost all involve carrying out laws that Congress passed because of court rulings or constituent efforts seeking fairness. Ripping out USED would simply mean the cost of recreating later, or moving a lot more functions than people realize elsewhere.

I suspect it would be cheaper to fix it rather than blow it up.



Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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