Federal U.S. Department of Education – Backgrounder 2016


R.W. Sweet, Jr. – 11/21/16

  • DOE was first approved by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
  • The 1980 DOE budget was $14 billion.
  • The 2016 DOE budget is about $200 billion.
  • The 2016 DOE discretionary budget is $69 billion.
  • The DOE budget has increased 20 times from 1980 to 2016.
  • Yet 84% of African American 4th grade students cannot read proficiently.
  • And 78 % of Hispanic American 4th grade students cannot read proficiently.
  • Even 51% of white American 4th grade students cannot read proficiently.

July 23, 1979 The Washington Post wrote a “sarcastic” editorial, “Wherein We Confess All:”

“We have been fighting the creation of a separate Department of Education since 1953.  There. We said it. We feel better already.  Permit us to continue this cleansing confession…we have opposed this turkey of an idea with the regularity of a cuckoo clock.”

Opponents of DOE argue that the federal government had no constitutional authority because the word “education” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of DOE point to the following Commerce Clause as the justification for establishing DOE.  “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”  This is interpreted as assigning authority to the federal government over any matter that influenced national commerce.  Advocates claim that an educated populace is a national concern.

Republicans counter with the Tenth Amendment in the Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”

The Constitution does not specifically enumerate, nor does it give the federal government the right or duty to superintend education.  For more than 200 years that responsibility was held by those in the best position to oversee it:  families, local school committees, and State governments.

The current enlargement of the federal government far beyond constitutionally admissible bounds is routinely justified in the name of “implied powers” meaning powers that can be inferred from enumerated powers.  The “General Welfare” clause in the Constitution has been reinterpreted to grant unlimited power to the federal government.  Any policy that can be claimed to be for the “general welfare” becomes permissible.  Such distortion of the Founder’s clear intent has all but destroyed the operation of enumerated powers as a check on the federal government.  Only by re-enshrining the doctrine of enumerated powers will limited government be restored.

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