EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

What does abolishing the U.S. Dept. of Education mean? Expert weighs in

Sep 11, 2023, 10:05 AM

A child completes a worksheet. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)...

A child completes a worksheet. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Last month, four candidates talked about eliminating the U.S. Department of Education during the first presidential debate. One expert said Republicans have long used the ‘sound bite’ at debates. But they haven’t done anything about it since it was first created in 1979. 

Rick Hess, a senior fellow and the director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, told Inside Sources that republican presidential candidates need to talk more about their solutions before they immediately jump to abolishing the department altogether. 

Eliminating the Department of Education

“[Eliminating it] can mean almost anything,” said Hess. 

Moving all of the bureaucrats, programs, and funding to a different department such as the Department of Labor or Health and Human Services wouldn’t change anything, according to Hess. 

He said that the first thing politicians should do is try to downsize programs. “The reason the candidates don’t talk about that is because the programs tend to be pretty popular,” Hess said. 

The four largest programs in the department are student loans, Pell Grants, special needs funding, and money for low-income K-12 students. 

“Republicans who are serious about wanting to reign in Washington tend to be hesitant to talk about cutting any of those four programs,” Hess said. 

Another option would be to block grant money back to the states. The problem with doing that, Hess said, is that some superintendents will “start using this money on whatever flim flam stuff is popular,” instead of what best benefits students. 

“The trick with block grants from [a perspective] like schooling is that history tells us that pretty quickly we start asking Washington to put a lot of conditions on those block grants,” Hess said. 

He said this creates a ‘swamp’ to navigate, rather than considering how to give education power back to the states. 

Candidates should focus on what they will do to make sure school districts are serving their students. They are currently only focusing on eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, according to Hess. 

“If a candidate answers those questions, then I think it’s great for them also to talk about abolishing the department … too many of them are using the sound bite of abolishing the department to get around talking about the more important stuff,” said Hess. 

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What does abolishing the U.S. Dept. of Education mean? Expert weighs in