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a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
January 12, 2000

Why Should Congress Abolish the Federal Role in Education?

Why is Straight A’s Important?

A Violation of the 10th Amendment

The federal role in education is a violation of the 10th amendment of the United States Constitution which states, “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.” Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government delegated the power to regulate or fund elementary or secondary education.

Department of ED: A Bureaucratic Spending Trough

In the face of stiff opposition, the federal government formed the Department of Education (ED) in 1979. Supporters promised that the ED would have a relatively small budget of only $14.5 billion and less than 100 employees. Today, the ED enjoys a hefty budget of over $32 billion and employs 5,100 people (89.4% of whom were deemed nonessential during the November 1995 government shutdown).1 The education spending rate since the department’s founding has risen three times as fast as non-defense discretionary programs (29.5% versus 7.9%).2

Federal Programs Actively Seek to Usurp States’ Authority

In 1989, most of the nation’s governors drafted a comprehensive set of federal education goals. These goals would center on a ten year plan to improve education by setting high achievement standards (federal standards) which states would have to meet by the year 2000. Thus, Goals 2000 began its unpopular legislative career. States would be given partial funding for the Goals by the ED. Several states (Alabama, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Montana) balked at the program, fearing the federal regulations which would naturally follow the money. This did not matter to the ED, who simply made the funds available directly to the local school districts regardless of the Governor or legislature’s position. Again, this represents a radical, unconstitutional usurpation by the Federal Department of Education.

Federal Funds Create Red Tape

Although statistics show that only seven percent of an average school’s budget is subsidized by the feds3, local districts complain about massive paperwork and red tape required to receive these skimpy funds. A 1991 survey of Ohio school districts found that each district was required to fill out an average of 330 forms, of which 157 were from the state and 173 were from the federal government.4 The federal government, responsible for only seven percent of the budget, causes 55% of the red tape.

The Cost

On February 28, 1996, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives held a comprehensive meeting on abolishing the Department of Education. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), flanked by Congressman Goodling (R-PA), McKeon (R-CA) and others, produced the results of an investigation by the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. The committee documented 760 unconstitutional federal education programs located in 39 separate agencies, departments, commissions and boards. The combined, unconstitutional funds totaled $120 billion! Further, the committee found that only six percent of these programs have as their primary function the teaching of math, reading, or science!

Goodling stated, “This massive list of federal education programs clearly demonstrates what many of us had suspected for quite some time that Washington is out of control and out of touch.” Pointing out a huge stack of papers required for all the Education Department’s programs, McKeon remarked, “The Clintons say that it takes a village to raise a child, but that is only because it takes a village to fill out this paper work.”

“Dollars Do Not Make Scholars”

We have seen that not only is federal involvement in education unconstitutional, but extremely impractical. The ED refuses to acknowledge this and continues to throw money at problems it cannot fix. Since 1979, the ED has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on education resulting in the following:

Since 1970, per pupil spending has risen from about $3,000 to almost $5,600, adjusted for inflation.

SAT scores have dropped from a total average of 937 in 1972 to 902 in 1994.

30% of college freshmen must take remedial education classes.

17-year olds scored 11 points worse in science than in 1970.

66 percent of 17-year olds do not read at a proficient level and reading scores have fallen since 1992.

U.S. Students scored worse in math than all other large countries except Spain. There has been no significant improvement in scores since 1973. 5

Even “Big Government” Politicians Warned Against the ED

“This is a back-room deal, born out of a squalid politics. Everything we had thought we would not see happening to education is happening here.” Senator Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) 6

“No matter what anyone says, the Department of Education will not just write checks to local school boards. They will meddle in everything. I do not want that.” Representative Pat Schroeder (D-CO) 7

“A national Department may actually impede the innovation of local programs as it attempts to establish uniformity throughout the Nation.” Representative Joseph Early (D-MA) 8

“We will be minimizing the roles of local and State education officials; we recognize that the States are responsible for the education policies of the children in the is country.” Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) 9


The federal government’s involvement in education represents everything that is wrong with so many of our government agencies: they are unconstitutional, wasteful, expensive, and out of touch. It is the duty of our congress to abolish not only the Department of Education, but the entire federal involvement in education. If Congress refuses to do its duty, the bureaucracy will continue to grow, and education will continue to decline. In 1979, Representative L.H. Fountain (D-NC) made an accurate prediction about the Department of Education which could be applied to the whole federal role in education. Fountain stated,

I am opposed to this ill-advised and unnecessary legislation to establish a department which will grow and grow, cost the taxpayers of this nation unnecessary billions of dollars, and ultimately become an unmanageable monster bureaucracy. 10

Reprint permission granted. Prepared by the legal staff of the National Center for Home Education.


  1. Berthoud, Dr. John E., Who Got It Right? What Proponents and Opponents of the Creation of the Department of Education Promised & Predicted, The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, January 18, 1996, p.11.
  2. Ibid.
  3. U.S. Department of Education: Digest of Education Statistics 1994, Table 157, Page 152.
  4. Jacobson, James B., The Restoring Local Schools Act, The National Center for Home Education, 1995.
  5. Sources: NAEP, 1992 Trends in Academic Progress, NAEP, 1994 Reading, NCES Education in States and Nations:, NCES, the Condition of Education 1995, Projections of Education Statistics to 2005, NCES Survey, 1991.
  6. Berthoud, p.3
  7. Ibid. p.8
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid. p.11