Archives: Republicans love to hate the Department of Education

Originally published in September 2011
Simon Nguyen

Every time Republicans talk about spending cuts, the Department of Education always seems to be part of the discussion. In the last GOP presidential debate, most of the nine Republican candidates on stage named the department as an area that needs to be either downsized or abolished. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the only candidate who did not criticize the department, though he did advocate leaving key decisions on education to states.

Since its inception, the U.S. Department of Education has been a sore point with Republicans. One of the reasons for the aversion is the fact that the department, in its current form, was established by President Jimmy Carter. As with Obamacare, any federal program or institution created by a democratic president will be heavily criticized by Republicans. Through the years, several notable Republicans including former president Ronald Reagan and retired U.S. senator Bob Dole had used the elimination of the department as a key campaign platform.

Republicans also oppose the Department of Education on ideological grounds. Conservatives and libertarians believe education is a state and local responsibility rather than a federal issue. The establishment of the department is seen as an attempt by the federal government to intrude on states’ rights. Some Republicans also question the constitutionality of the department’s existence.

Ironically, the Department of Education had actually thrived under Republican administrations. Both former president George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, greatly expanded the department’s powers through increased federal spending on education and the No Child Left Behind Act – a law that broadens the scope of federal authority in regards to public education. 

Will the Department of Education be abolished if Republicans win back the White House? While most of the GOP presidential candidates have described the department in less than flattering terms, very few have actually called for the department’s abolition. Gary Johnson is perhaps the only Republican candidate who has directly endorsed such an action.

Also, any legislation to eliminate the federal institution will be fiercely opposed by Senate Democrats. President Ronald Reagan pushed hard to remove the department during his tenure, only to see his efforts stumped by congressional Democrats. Unless the GOP wins a Senate majority in next year’s elections, the Department of Education won’t be abolished anytime soon.

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