President Trump Signs Executive Order Directing Department of Education to Review Regulation and Return Control to States

On Wednesday, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Department of Education to review all of its programs and regulations relating to the three major federal education laws for compliance with principles of federalism and local control over education. After the review, the Department will rescind regulations and guidance documents that inappropriately intrude into state educational decision-making. This executive order is a wonderful first step in reining in a bloated and overreaching Department of Education and curtailing what has been a decades-long list of failed federal adventures into the U.S. education system.

The first large-scale federal intervention in education came under President Lyndon Johnson, as part of the “War on Poverty.” The additional funds from the federal government were intended to close gaps between rich and poor districts, and ensure opportunity for all Americans, directing $1 billion to local education agencies with high poverty rates. Since then, the scope and the role of the federal government have grown in education.

The Department of Education now has an operating discretionary budget of $38 billion, the third-largest agency discretionary budget behind the Department of Defense and Health and Human Services. Since its creation in 1979, the Department’s funding has quintupled, and federal per-pupil funds have tripled from Johnson’s initial allocation. And what results have come from this federal “bureaucratic boondoggle?”

Achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—frequently referred to as the Nation’s Report Card—has stagnated since 1970. American students rank an embarrassing 27th place out of 34 OECD countries in mathematics on the PISA assessment, with only marginally-better rankings in reading and science.

But what about Johnson’s original goal of closing socio-economic and racial gaps? Racial achievement gaps have actually been getting wider as federal intervention and spending has increased. When it was first tested in 1992, the gap between the average white and black 12th grader was 24 points on NAEP (which equates to over two years of learning). Today, after taxpayers’ billions have been spent, the gap is 29 points, adding an additional half-year of learning to the gap.

To the extent that evaluations of large federal education programs have been done, the results are not brag-worthy either. The Department recently had to report that the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, into which $7 billion has been poured, has reported no statistical effect whatsoever on achievement.

Don’t worry though, the Department does manage to get some things done. For example, it pays its employees an average salary of $107,000, whose work is responsible for around 40 percent of the paperwork burden in the states.  Funding a bureaucratic haven is not what the American people had in mind when they imagined that the federal government would improve education for the nation’s children.

The whole federal project in education has failed to achieve progress towards its stated goals. At a bare minimum, this bloated Department should be tasked with evaluating where its programs have overreached into state prerogative in areas such as curricula and instruction, school administration and personnel, and selection of instructional materials.

The states are forging ahead into the choice and individually-based future of American education. This new Executive Order from the Trump Administration is not a solution, but it is the beginning of one. Through this order, the Trump administration is hopefully signaling that it will ratchet down the federal government’s failed experimentation, and restore control over education to where it should be—with the states.

In Depth: Federalism

Genuine accountability to hardworking taxpayers results when state and local legislators work with members of the community to determine a plan of action that is right for each individual state, city or town. Real solutions to America’s challenges can be found in the states – America’s fifty laboratories of democracy…

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