A bold bureaucracy-slashing proposal is gaining popularity with Republican presidential candidates: abolishing the Department of Education.
In the first primary debate, four candidates — Vivek Ramaswamy, Doug Burgum, Ron DeSantis, and Mike Pence — all pledged to dismantle the federal agency.
“Let’s shut down the head of the snake, the Department of Education, take that $80 billion, and put it in the hands of parents across this country,” Ramaswamy declared on the debate stage. “This is the civil rights issue of our time.”
The agency, which boasts 4,400 employees and a $68 billion budget, is tasked with — among other things — researching school performance, awarding grants to schools and distributing federal student loans and Pell Grants.
But say its critics, it’s being used by Democrats to push culture wars into classrooms on issues that should be left to state and local control — like transgender athletes in sports and critical race theory.
The department drew harsh criticism when a grant application for schools offering cash to teach American history and civics required teachers to “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”
After being accused of infusing “critical race theory” into classrooms, the department backtracked and instead merely “encouraged” educators to acknowledge systemic racism in grant applications.
The department also oversees civil rights policies related to race and gender identity.
It is expected to set Title IX guidance on the parameters of transgender athletes’ participation in sports — a hot-button culture war issue — in October.
DeSantis told Fox News he plans to dissolve the agency, which would undercut any federal edict it issues allowing trans children to take part in sports that align with gender identity rather than sex at birth. “That will all be gone… It will be a win for conservatives,” he said.
Researchers at the Heritage Foundation estimate that nixing the Department of Education’s Offices of Postsecondary Education and of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services alone would save more than $6 billion taxpayer dollars.
Ramaswamy’s proposal to eliminate the department seems to be the most fleshed out of the current candidates.
Under his framework, he would give the Department of Education’s grant-giving role to the states and other tasks to other federal agencies — including the Treasury, and State and Labor departments.
Pence similarly told the Washington Examiner that he would distribute much of the Department’s power to the states, alluding to using its budget for school choice vouchers, saying, “The very simple answer would be to…close down the department at the federal level, and allow states to use those resources to expand educational choice for families.”
The pro-abolition candidates are being spurred on by parents, experts say.
“A whole bunch of things, including Covid, came together that seemed to make people very frustrated and angry about what public schools are doing,” Neal McCluskey, the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, told The Post. “People started seeing what their kids are learning.”
As a result, he says there’s been a backlash against “what people call woke ideology, or what sometimes can be captured in the terms critical race theory or gender ideology” — and more people are taking aim at the Department of Education.
It might be a radical proposal — but it’s certainly not new: in 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan pledged to axe the department.
Proposals to disband the department are already floating around in congress, too.
In February, Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie introduced House Bill 899. In whole, the legislation reads: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2023.”
“It’s a one sentence bill so my colleagues will actually read it — and so that people can support the bill without getting caught up in the details,” Massie told The Post.
The bill is yet to be voted on, but Massie is bullish on its cost-cutting potential.
“There are more than 4,000 federal bureaucrats who work at the Department of Education. The average salary is $100,000,” he said. “Yet none of those bureaucrats teaches a single class… We could add 4,000 more teachers and pay them $100,000 a year.”
But some experts say getting that proposal passed would be an uphill battle.
“In principle, I’m wholly supportive of the cause to abolish the department,” Rick Hess, the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Post. “But I worry that the talk about this becomes almost a magician’s trick.
“They get everybody focused on this vague promise to abolish the department, which lets them off the hook for talking more concretely about what they would actually do.”
He says the largest hurdle is congressional approval, which he says is “feasible but would be incredibly difficult.”
Furthermore, Hess says eliminating the department itself would merely be a first step in a much longer budget-slashing process: “That’s only the start. If you abolish the department, it doesn’t make any of the federal programs, or even federal spending, go away.”
Massie however thinks thinks more Republicans vying for the presidency should follow his lead and says, “They should all have it as part of their platform. It was Reagan’s promise that was never fulfilled.”
“I think a lot of moms and dads have taken renewed interest in their children’s public education,” the congressman said. “The best thing we can do is leave it up to the states and local school boards to make decisions [and] keep the feds out of it.”