Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
By Ese Olumhense
One Line, One Page Bill Would ‘Terminate’ Education Department
Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would abolish the federal Department of Education. The bill, just one sentence long, reads “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”
“Neither Congress nor the president, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn," Massie said in a statement about the bill, which was significantly longer than the legislation itself.
“States and local communities are best positioned to shape curricula that meet the needs of their students," he added.
The bill, co-sponsored by seven other GOP members of the House, outlines no specific plan for the department's abolition, but came at a strange moment. On Tuesday, Betsy DeVos, a top GOP donor from Michigan, was confirmed as the department’s secretary by the Senate — with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote.
Since 1989, DeVos and her family have given more than $20 million to Republican candidates, committees, PACs and super PACs, one analysis shows.
DeVos’s confirmation process was the most contentious yet of any of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, and hers was the only cabinet vote in history to come down to a 50-50 split.
“I appreciate the Senate's diligence and am honored to serve as Secretary,” DeVos tweeted after the vote. “Let's improve options and outcomes for all U.S. students.”
‘End Federal Meddling in Our Schools’
Massie and his co-sponsors are not the first to call for an end to the Education Department. During his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan recommended that the department — then about a year old — be abolished, but by the beginning of his second term, he abandoned the plan because of heated resistance from Congress.
Other Republican leaders, including Trump, have spearheaded campaigns and pushed platforms which angled on eliminating or slashing funding to the Education Department. During his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign, Former Texas governor and current Energy Secretary Rick Perry also said he’d eliminate the Education Department.
Perhaps the most coordinated of such pushes was packaged in the 1996 Republican party platform. “Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the workplace,” the platform read. “That is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.”
Republicans lost that presidential race and, though since they controlled Congress, none of the education-related legislation it passed abolished the department.
How Hard Would it Be to Eliminate the Department of Education?
Given how difficult it would be to dissolve the Education Department (let alone to eliminate the jobs of its more-than-4,000 employees), introducing the bill might be more of a way for Massie, first elected in 2012, to make a clear statement of his ideological leanings than have a substantive impact on policy.
Legal scholars say that, because the department was created through the Department of Education Organization Act and passed by Congress, the only way to repeal it would be through doing so with a replacement act, rather than by executive order, for instance.
“It would of course require another Act of Congress to eliminate the United States Department of Education,” Laurence Tribe, Harvard legal scholar, told Business Insider.
Any attempts to kill the Education Department by a Republican-controlled Congress will likely encounter serious pushback from Democrats, who also fought hard against DeVos’s confirmation.
Still, the new secretary is likely to make major changes, given that she is a staunch supporter of charter schools and school choice vouchers. The president’s education platform had pushed for a $20 billion voucher program for low-income families, which would allow parents to use taxpayer money for tuition and fees at private, parochial, or for-profit schools.
It’s not exactly known where that money would come from — Trump’s plan only urges a “reprioritizing of existing federal dollars” — but experts suggest that DeVos, who has no experience with the public school system or in higher education, could cut the department's Office of Civil Rights or overturn Obama-era policy on college sexual assault.