One of many encouraging policy changes President Donald J. Trump has inaugurated to date is his executive order requiring federal agencies to conduct internal reviews. Agencies are directed to find ways to operate more efficiently and eliminate wasteful spending. If President Trump seriously wants to reduce wasteful spending and reform government, the United States Department of Education (DOE) is a good place to start.
The DOE was created in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, basically to satisfy the teachers’ unions, and is little more than a social engineering organization, constantly promoting big government ideology through new regulations which cost taxpayers a lot and adds little value to students. The DOE consumed $78 billion in fiscal year 2016 in discretionary and mandatory spending only to have a minimal impact at best.
It may seem unimaginable but education existed in the United States before President Jimmy Carter. Prior to the establishment of the DOE, graduation rates were higher, student debts and college tuitions were lower, and there was more skilled labor in the workforce. So what value has the DOE added? It appears to be another example of an unnecessary federal agency, this time, tragically, impacting our schools and children.
The American education system needs to evolve to meet 21st century challenges, and this starts at the DOE. Cutting unnecessary regulations would lower tuition costs and make college more affordable. Eliminating wasteful programs like the Community Services Block Grant, an exercise in failure costing taxpayers $715 million per year, would be a good start. This program is so bad even the Obama administration wanted to get rid of it.
The one size fits all approach mandated by the federal government ignores the varied needs of students in the diverse communities throughout our nation. We should nurture parental choice and involvement rather than top-down government control. How can anyone think that Washington bureaucrats understand the education needs for our students here in southwest Florida and around the country better than our parents and school boards?
Education in America began as a local enterprise, and would be best served by returning its administration to the state and local levels of government. Local control allows greater flexibility for curricula to meet each student’s needs, affords greater input from parents, teachers, and community leaders, and is more accountable to the voters. Government closest to the people governs best.
Another important concern is the legend that college is appropriate for everyone. Many students have aptitudes and career goals that do not require and are not enhanced by college. Perhaps this is why only about one-half of college students today manage to graduate within six years.
Students who wish to pursue careers in technical fields should have this opportunity. We should place more emphasis and resources on career and technical education (CTE) to assure that students who are interested in these technical and applied skill careers can pursue them. Encouraging students to participate in CTE will increase the volume of skilled labor in the job market, which has been in decline and is much-needed all across our economy.
Germany uses a “dual training” method to prepare students to meet their unique education needs. German students can participate in apprenticeships with companies in their desired career fields to learn the necessary skills to be successful in their trade along with receiving traditional classroom education related to their field. Dual training covers many industries, including technical and applied skill fields, banking and manufacturing. A similar apprenticeship program in the United States could help eliminate skill mismatches and deficiencies in the workforce, respond to the employment needs of today and tomorrow’s economy and assure that more young people enter the workforce free of oppressive levels of debt incurred to finance an education to which they are not suited.
The DOE in its current state is a duplicative and unnecessary agency and should be reformed. President Trump’s executive order gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos more flexibility in cutting unnecessary DOE initiatives and redirecting funding to programs that will increase parental choice, improve learning and stimulate employment in our country.
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district. He serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and previously served as U. S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.