President Donald Trump has called for major changes to federal education policy. During his bid for the White House, he vowed to cut wasteful federal spending on education while preserving funding for services; he pledged to champion school choice; and he promised to return educational policymaking to the state and local level. “We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education,” he said in a television campaign ad.
All of these goals can be accomplished during the Trump administration, but not without a major overhaul of the US Department of Education (ED).
Created as a cabinet-level agency in 1979, ED now consists of 30 leading offices and sub-divisions with nearly 4,400 department employees, whose combined base salaries alone amount to more than $479 million. Unfortunately, there is no official inventory that uniformly defines federal programs along with their corresponding annual funding. Thus the number of programs by ED office and sub-division can only be estimated and likely understates the actual number of programs bundled within individual budget line items.
However, based on the latest available budget data, ED currently oversees approximately 115 major programs at a cost of more than $70 billion per year, plus an additional $150 billion in postsecondary student loan obligations. Annual contractual services, supplies, equipment, land, structures, and other ED overhead expenses cost taxpayers roughly $93 billion more.
Although the US Constitution makes no provision for a federal role in education, transferring ED programs to the states will require a strong political will. Nevertheless, such a battle is worth fighting because federal encroachment has stifled local control and undermined effective education.