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Paula Dwyer Asserts Education Department Cannot be Eliminated. She MIGHT Be Wrong!

December 5, 2016

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, featured an article by Bloomberg op ed writer Paula Dwyer title “Why the US Education Department Never Dies” offering a list of reasons why it would be impossible for the incoming Trump administration to close the Education Department despite his promise to do so. After seven years of Arne Duncan’s leadership, I’m not so sure I would be unhappy with the collapse of the department, but since it’s very existence serves to keep public schools in the some kind of national spotlight closing it might be read as a signal that public schools matter less. After reading her article which was presumably written to make the case for the USDOE’s continued existence, though, I was completely unconvinced.

At the outset of the list she included a series of functions that could be transferred to other departments. Here’s my take on how the functions of USDOE could be delegated or, in the case of student loan oversight, eliminated completely:

  • Roughly 1/3 of its budget is for Pell Grants, which Senator Cruz indicates could be managed by the Treasury Department.
  • The department oversees the $1.3 trillion in student loans, and from many reports does a poor job of it. In a Trump administration it isn’t hard to imagine that being transferred to another Cabinet post or agency and deregulated… or better yet, handed over to the banking industry. The banks made astute decision on housing loans (sic), let them decide who receives student loans and determine what the rates will be.
  • Roughly 1/5 of the USDOE budget is for Title One funds, which Mr. Trump could conceivably give directly to the states to launch voucher programs. His HHS Secretary, you know, Mr. Price who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, would assume oversight of this program if oversight was necessary. Or maybe the AG, Jeff Sessions who sees Special Education as a complicated boondoggle, could enforce the use of the $20,000,000 sent to the states for Mr. Trump’s voucher plan.
  • As noted in earlier posts, the OCR adjudicates discrimination cases that occur within the context of public and post-secondary education. These could easily be shifted to the AG’s office. Indeed, this would make perfect sense given the Republican platform calls for local police forces to handle more of the Title IX harassment cases at colleges.

At the end of the article, Ms. Dwyer concludes that even though “conservatives see the Education Department, like Obamacare, as a symbol of federal intrusion and wasteful spending”, she believes it will safe during the Trump regime. Why?

…it’s an open question whether DeVos would really devote much time to getting rid of her Cabinet-level job, especially when she has the bully pulpit she has always wanted to push vouchers, charters, school choice and other causes that she and her husband, billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, have long championed.

Some of what the department does meshes with the agenda of Trump and DeVos, including spending $350 million to expand charter schools. If she and the president-elect really want more school choice and voucher programs, isn’t a federal thumb on the scale the best way to push them?

So back to the original question: Will the new Republican president and the Republican Congress finally kill the Education Department? I would bet no.

I tend to agree with this conclusion with one caveat. There is some conjecture that Ms. DeVos will be overmatched by the bureaucracy she is leading and frustrated with her inability to make the kinds of changes she advocated as an outsider. If that happens, it could open the door for Mr. Trump to declare the Department as being dysfunctional and implementing a plan for its dissolution. As I write this I am confident that the Heritage Foundation is dusting off a plan it wrote several years ago that will make that happen.


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