Politics and Policy U.S.

The Case for Abolishing the Department of Education

Since the 2016 election, many media sources have stated that libertarians want to abolish the Department of Education; however, they rarely describe why they want to do so.

The Department of Education is inefficient, and, contrary to popular belief, does not provide “quality education”. The data which I will be providing in this op-ed provide clarity on why libertarians have the positions they do on education and and their solutions.

I. Economic Reasons: The Department of Education Provides a Poor Return on Investment

To the right is a graph from The Cato Institute, showing that since 1970, the Department of Education’s expenditures, adjusted for inflation, have increased by approximately 375%, while K-12 test scores have remained stagnant. In fact, standardized test scores in reading and science scores have fallen in recent years.

Moreover, taxpayers pay a national average of approximately $150,000 per student for education, over the course of a K-12 education. This is an excessive amount to be paid not only by parents who are sending their children to private schools – so they are paying for school twice – but also by parents who send their children to public school, only to receive subpar results.

Some may object to these statistics and graph above, saying increasing test scores is impossible because there are more students enrolled, more students per teacher, and thus higher costs. However, Neal McCluskey, a researcher from The Cato Institute, analyzed the enrollment data trends since 1970. Dr. McCluskey’s data shows quite the opposite of this objection – very, very much the opposite, actually.  

As seen from the graph at left, the enrollment of students (as a percentage) has stayed fairly consistent – with some decreases in the later 1980s and 1990s, and increases since 2000 – but the teaching staff has rapidly increased – especially since the 1990s!

This brings up an interesting question: Is the increase in teaching staff due to teachers or administrative staff? The Brookings Institution did a study which discovered that the New York public school system had six thousand administrators, while the New York Catholic school system had a quarter of students in the public-school system and only had thirty administrators. Moreover, The Baltimore Sun reported that a county public school system had ten times the number of administrators that the Baltimore archdiocese school system had, for the same number of students.

Shouldn’t a school system’s focus be on teaching, not administrating? If a private school system can work with fewer administrators, shouldn’t the public-school system to be able to do so? I believe teachers are highly underpaid; perhaps their salaries would increase if school systems didn’t have so many administrators, who make six-figure salaries, on their payroll. It is evident that some school systems are inefficient in their staffing, and that these inefficiencies not only affect students’ test scores, but also limit teachers’ salaries and their ability to get hired. If we had more schooling options than just those in local public schools, the inefficiency could be decreased.

II. Constitutional Reasons: The Department of Education Violates the Constitution

Federal Agencies, such as the Department of Education, are a violation of Article I and Tenth Amendment. Article I, Section 8, enumerates certain powers to the federal government – which, in this case, is Congress. Article I, Section 8, makes no mention of the power of education to be within the jurisdiction of the federal government. This is where the Tenth Amendment comes in.

The Tenth Amendment states that all those powers not enumerated to the federal government will be conferred to the states or the people. this is where education should, constitutionally, be governed.

Our founders did this on purpose. The needs of education for students in Massachusetts is vastly different from those of Iowa, and so are the educational needs of Webster, MA, compared with those of Boston, MA. Why should both states be subject to the same regulations issued by the Department of Education? Shouldn’t each state, or better yet, each town, or even individual, set the standards for education? Shouldn’t parents have the right to choose where their children attend school, if the school meets the family’s cultural or religious needs?

So how do libertarians want to fix this?

Libertarian Solutions on Education: School Choice

Given the advances we have in sites such as Khan Academy, we could have education similar to that, and have competition among schools to provide the best education. Competition among schools encourages experimentation among schools to innovate more advanced ways of learning. This experimentation always leads to someone finding the best way to do something, which can then be followed by everyone else (in this case, all the other schools). Competition, by definition, helps drive down costs; so, having competition among schools will also help drive down the costs of education – which is clearly needed, since the expenditures by the Department of Education have done nothing but increase over the past forty years while scores have remained constant. Providing school choice, however, has had positive outcomes on academic performance and money spent— as can be seen in a report on the empirical evidence of school choice by Dr. Greg Foster.

Additionally, providing more choices to students — such as through the voucher system, charter schools, online learning, or not restricting students to public schools in their zip codes — students and their parents would have more options dependent on their needs, religion, and culture. More importantly, this could give some inner-city children – many of whom lack access to quality education, the most, since inner-city education typically is of poor quality — access to better education.

As mentioned, the Department of Education is both unconstitutional and has are provided a poor return on investment for students. Additionally, school choice could help parents who struggled to send their children to private school, but still had pay the taxes that funded public education, not only have the choice of where to send their children but also save money. School choice is an option worth exploring.


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