Teachers Unions

Why Do We Have a Department of Education? Jimmy Carter's Debt to a Teachers Union.

Public education existed well before 1980, but an unpopular President Carter wanted the nation's largest union on his side before an election.


School Daze Malaise

With Betsy DeVos just confirmed as the new Secretary of Education, it's worth taking a look back at the events that led the creation of this cabinet-level department.

Public education (including federal involvement in public education) was a thing in the United States for a couple hundred years before 1979, when Congress narrowly approved the cleaving of a new Department of Education (DoED) out of the already existing Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. But the newly created federal bureaucracy was more of a favor to a large and powerful special interest group on behalf of a beleaguered president than a necessary reorganization to allow the federal government to "meet its responsibilities in education more effectively, more efficiently, and more responsively," as then-President Jimmy Carter put it.

Upon signing the Department of Education Organization Act Statement in October 1979, Carter said:

Primary responsibility for education should rest with those States, localities, and private institutions that have made our Nation's educational system the best in the world, but the Federal Government has for too long failed to play its own supporting role in education as effectively as it could. Instead of assisting school officials at the local level, it has too often added to their burden. Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing. Instead of simulating needed debate of educational issues, the Federal Government has confused its role of junior partner in American education with that of silent partner.

Essentially, Carter's argument—similar to the argument President George W. Bush used to create the bloated, expensive, and ineffective Department of Homeland Security—is that because of all the "bureaucratic buck passing," a new bureaucracy must be created.

Creating the DoED was Carter's fulfillment of a 1976 presidential campaign promise, when he earned the endorsement of the largest labor union in the United States—the National Education Association (NEA). As the Washington Post reported in 1980:

The NEA gave its first presidential endorsement ever in 1976, when Walter Mondale promised them, at an NEA annual meeting, that the Carter administration would form an education department. At the 1976 Democratic National Convention, more delegates — 180 — belonged to the NEA than any other group of any kind. They've endorsed Carter for 1980, and were a major force in getting delegates to the Iowa caucuses…

Is the department, then, a creature of the NEA?

"That's true," says NEA executive director Terry Herndon. "There'd be no department without the NEA."

By the time the bill calling for the creation of the DoED had been passed in Congress, President Carter's approval rating was at its nadir—below 30 percent—in large part thanks to an international oil and energy crisis contributing to a tanking economy and a national "crisis of confidence."

A study of the DoED's creation by Georgia State University found that although the department "was fairly low on the list of priorities," President Carter's "Domestic Policy staff did its research, sent people to testify on behalf of the department in Congress, and hoped that their endorsement of the Department would help ensure the backing of the NEA and its members for the 1980 election."

A section on the DoED in the Cato Institute's Handbook for Congress includes a passage about the lukewarm support from even congressional Democrats for creating the DoED, who were more motivated to keep a Democrat in the White House than to create a new federal bureaucracy:

According to Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), Congress went along with the plan out of "not wanting to embarrass the president." Also, many members of Congress had made promises to educators in their home districts to support the new department. The Wall Street Journal reported the admission of one House Democrat: "The idea of an Education Department is really a bad one. But it's NEA's top priority. There are school teachers in every congressional district and most of us simply don't need the aggravation of taking them on."

Just today, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has introduced H.R. 899, a one-sentence long bill which would eliminate the Department of Education in its entirety by the end of 2018. Check back later for more Reason coverage of Massie's bill.

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  1. The NEA gave its first presidential endorsement ever in 1976…

    And it never looked back.

    1. …and they endorsed Ford. Ha JK

      1. You will never guess how many times they’ve not endorsed the Democrat.

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  2. Eliminating the DoEd was a GOP plank in 1980.

    It was gone by 1984, once the GOP caved and decided to try to use the department for their own purposes. They deserve contempt for that.

    We’ll see what happens with the ACA.

    1. Indeed. I’m worried that the R’s, with their new-found obsession with ‘replacing’ the ACA will get cold feet.

      -The ACA has been a tremendous campaign topic for them. Why make that stop?
      -The ‘replacement’ will be awful, and then that will be something for the D’s to campaign on.
      -The idea of just simply repealing the thing is off the table since the media/D’s have already signaled what the narrative would be: “MILLIONS OF POOR PEOPLE LOST INSURANCE BECAUSE EVIL REPUBLICANS”

      They’re truly fucked, mostly due to their own foot-dragging and incompetence.

      1. No matter what the GOP does, the media and the Left will call them monsters, so why not do the right thing?

        1. Because they’re craven and stupid.

        2. Demo?rat hyperbole might not matter at the rate they are becoming synonymous with violent riots. The media has just about zero credibility at this poin too.

      2. I will be stunned if they get rid of it.

        1. Not only are they afraid of the backlash that would come with repeal or replacement, Republicans actually like the law. They’ll never admit it, but they like it.

        2. Bert the Turtle spent most of last year saying that first order of business in 2017 would be repeal.

          Now he and fellow Senate Republicans are talking a lot more about “repair” than “repeal”, and the timeline is suddenly shifting from “right away” to “sometime, maybe, if we feel like it”.

          Establishment Republicans really seem to prefer not being the majority party, so perhaps they’re subconsciously setting themselves up for defeat in the general election.

      3. They’re truly fucked

        They’ll find a way to spin gold from straw, or at least bronze. That’s the magic of partisan politics. We are the ones who are fucked.

      4. Enh… just keep those folks on Medicaid and throw the rest of the carcass out the window. How hard is that.

    2. The ACA, DOE, IRS, and DHS will be standing tall in two years when the democrats re-take one of the houses of congress. It doesn’t matter that the GOP controls the White House and both houses of the legislature. I actually believed they would at least get rid of the IRS back when the GOP had total power from 2003 – 2005. Of course I also thought they would balance the budget and begin paying down debt, instead of overseeing the largest expansion of it that we have ever seen (until Dear Leader took power in 2009).

      1. Why is it that people expect the rot of decades to be fixed in four years or even less? It’s taken us this long since Reagan to get to the point where some non-establishment Republicans have some presence on the National scene. It took the Progressives more thana CENTURY to rot things to this level (not that they were perfect before). It will take decades of serious pushing to make things go in our direction.

    1. My FB: DeVos is the female Trump, aka Hitler.

    2. Never go full retard.

      1. For one thing, the Activist Left will be there before you, using up all the oxygen.

  3. Um dude how the fuck is 1867 to 1979 a “couple hundred years”?

    Try more like 112 years

    1. There have been government-run schools going back to old New England, and it spread from there.

      They put forward their idea of government run schools as an alternative to no schooling at all, and sometimes their narrative resembled the truth. Sometimes the first formal schooling in a poor community was provided by a newly established government school. Plug in the Bastiat (?) quote about if government doesn’t do it nobody will and we see the political advantage the public-school people had.

      1. Actually no that isn’t what happened.

        The reality is the Colonial era Americans had a variety of schooling mechanisms in a largely free market. Yes, there were a handful of tax supported public schools in Massachusetts as far back as the 1630’s but most schooling was done in the home or through a variety of private institutions and they produced what is likely the most educated populace the planet has ever seen. Literacy rates in Colonial America (among whites) is estimated to have been between 91 and 97% and the effective reading level of the average American was well above what we consider t be a 12th grade reading level.

        Public schools were specifically championed in the early 19th century as a means of producing a populace geared for the needs of a rapidly industrializing economy, not as an alternative to no schooling at all.

        That said the discussion at hand is not about public schools but about FEDERAL involvement in education. The very first case of which was the founding of the original Department of Education in 1867 which was then demoted to the Office of Education under the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1868

        1. You’re close but still whitewashing it.

          The push for public schools was a Protestant reaction to Catholic immigration and those immigrants building schools they put all their children through. This was seen as a threat to Protestant power and they rammed through tax-funded schools paid for by taxes which everybody had to pay. Once established, attendance became compulsory. This had the effect of forcing the poorer Catholics into Protestant-controlled public schools and reducing the costs of Protestant indoctrination.

          Over time, public schools became larger and therefore more powerful than individual churches. They have essentially become the sacred institutions the churches had once been.

  4. Shut it down and let the states handle education, or, better yet, let the private sector (for-profit, not-for-profit, charities, churches, homeschoolers, etc.) do it.

    1. “You must hate children, and prefer a world with no education at all.”

      /My prog friend, who sends his own kids to private school.

  5. That Massie bill is spectacular. He should call it the “Remove DeVos from the Department of Education Bill” and see how many get on board without checking what it actually does.

    1. LOL. The ‘Make Sure DeVos Can’t Corrupt the Children Bill’

    2. I like the cut of your jib sir.

    3. *Uproarious applause*

  6. Democrats unified opposition to DeVos came after a nomination hearing where she failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of education philosophy.

    “Education philosophy”?

    Like, “The More You Know …”?

    1. More like “funneling money to Democrat organizations”

    2. I thought about going into teaching until my older brother ran screaming from the same profession just as I was entering college. A quick look at what goes on in teacher’s ed these days sealed it.

      1. I went through about a year of the education program in college. I enjoyed student-teaching, I liked some of the teachers in the education department, but the department administration was horrible and the intellectual standards for prospective teachers were non-existent. I quickly soured on the program, and the fact that I would have to spend one semester teaching part time and one semester teaching full time without pay and with full tuition costs ended that plan entirely.

        1. This policy weeds out the wise asses who understand economics.

    3. “Teach the controversy”

        1. That’s what (((they))) want you to think!

    4. Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.

      1. and those who can’t teach, teach teachers

        1. Those who complain about teachers should home-school. Which of you is qualified to teach AP Chemistry? How about which of you has a PhD in Chemistry? I have both and I LOVE teaching in high school. If you choose not to teach that’s all well and good, but don’t lump all of us into your preconceived little notions.

          1. My wife and I. Without a PhD. We taught AP chemistry, reading, math, history, and anything else our children wished at whatever level they wished to learn.
            Our teacher to student ratio was two to one.
            All of our students did all assigned homework every day.
            All of our students had access to faculty tutoring on request.
            All of our students interacted with age groups from infant to adult and senior adult every day. There was not a single day any of our students followed a heard of other students of their exact age, and spent the day more involved in gossip and bullying than in studying.
            One achieved national silver medal standing in her chosen sport.
            All of this without complaining about teachers who chose to work in public or private schools.
            We just decided it was better for our children to home school, and did it.
            (And the students were in the top category when their learning levels were assessed by the county professionals.)
            It’s called freedom, and this country is supposed to support it.

    5. As far as I can tell, 90% of what he s wrong with the Public Schools,comes,down to the existance of “Education Philosophy” as something that should be said with a straight face.

  7. Regarding the aca

    It drives me crazy that progs give themselves credit for getting people healthcare as if they were so caring (insurance isnt care and what about jacked up premiums deductibles and taxes)

    1. I just love the “Look at all of the people that are insured now!” argument when the law forced you to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

      1. “See?! If we had better public education, people would *get* that!”

      2. Funny is they were arguing it was needed due to non covered people going to er and jacking up costs for others

        As the aca results mainly in expanded medicaid

        Dishonest or just stupid?

    2. When the ACA first passed, one of my leftist relatives heralded it as something that would finally make healthcare affordable for everyone and cut down on the excessive profits of those evil insurance companies.

      A few days ago, he mentioned that he’d better “suck up that sweet Obamacare while I still can”. I mentioned that the health insurance that I’m forced to purchase costed me $135 per month (I’m currently stuck in a job that pays $11 per hour, so I’m not rich by any means whatsoever). When I pointed out that forcing me to buy health insurance at this rate was not helpful at all, he said, “eh, I’m in favor of spreading the costs of healthcare to everyone.”

      Hmm… That’s not what the supporters of the law promised…


    1. Calm down, you’re going to have an aneurysm.

  9. Just today, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has introduced H.R. 899, a one-sentence long bill which would eliminate the Department of Education in its entirety by the end of 2018.

    Nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

      1. Nuke it from orbit. It,s the only way to be sure?

    1. “Oops… we also took out the EPA, the DEA, the TSA, and the IRS.”


    2. According to massie.house.gov the text of hr889 is

      “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

      1. That’s a thing of beauty. I was hoping for “February 7, 2017” but oh well.

    3. Speaking of such bills, I like the cut of congressman Matt Gaetz’s jib.

      1. As of 02/07/2017 text has not been received for H.R.861

        Love it.

    4. The Repubs will kill this thing in committee. None of them will want to have to vote on this bill.

      Look no further than No Child Left Behind for the Repub’s real view on the DOE

      1. Thanks to gerrymandering there aren’t that many contestable seats.

  10. Instead of assisting school officials at the local level, it has too often added to their burden. Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing.

    Bang-up job, Jimmy.

  11. Don’t they say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?”

    Chuck Schumer is imitating Trump on twitter:

    “Today @VP Mike Pence did something no one else has ever done: cast the tie breaking vote on his own cabinet nominee. #RiggedCabinet”

    https://twitter.com/SenSchumer/status/ 829019731717918720

    He’s calling it a rigged cabinet!

    If Trump were a Democrat, he might have tweeted exactly that.

    1. #Moobs

      1. Yeah, with such a nice rack I can almost forgive him his stupidity.

        Hubba hubba.

    2. Is he… is he not supposed to vote with his party? Does some kind of moral rule say he is supposed to vote against his running mate’s nominee, because damn it there’s a whole 50 votes against it? What does he think a tie-breaking vote is?

      1. Maybe this hasn’t been done for the cabinet, but this is standard political theater — I recall Cheney casting some tie-breakers…

      2. The next time someone says Ppence would not be that bad”

        Remember THIS day. Pence now gets to teach kids the exceptional sort of stupid that comes from American Christianity, which means the Chinese overlords will barely consider them useful as cattle feed.


        1. Um… I think Pence is already free to teach his kids whatever the hell he wants…?

          And to think that’s probably the least racist thing posted on DU today.

        2. Brace for the yellow scourge because DeVos. Point set match.

          1. DU always wins the retard race.

        3. Reminds me of baseball commentators who manage to find some combination of statistics that has never happened before in every single game they cover.

          1. This is why I never watch sports with the sound on.

    3. Why would pence not vote for devos if pence supports her as the choice?

      That makes no sense.

      1. It’s Chucky Schumer, he doesn’t make sense any other time, so why would he make any sense when issuing a twit?

    4. Maybe Schumer didn’t get the news, but Pence is the Vice President. It’s not his cabinet. Also, breaking ties in the Senate is quite literally his only constitutional function as long as the President is alive and kicking. Pence quite literally has one job, and he just did it.

      1. And pence is a republican. Who appears to support devos

    5. OMG I can’t wait for him to squeeze out of few more tear’s for tonight’s news.

      1. Is it less comforting to know they will be of the crocodile variety?

        1. I expect nothing less from that fraud.

      2. maybe they can get Mr. Fake Tears himself, former VP JoJo Biden to weigh in with a couple of fake drops too.

        1. Where is SugarFree when you need him?

    6. Chuck Grassley needs to take Chuck Schumer aside and show him how to Tweet.

      Windsor Heights Dairy Queen is good place
      for u kno what

    7. Shorter Chuck: I was too ineffective to get just one more Republican to vote against her.

  12. “Enjoy your only term, sir.”

  13. Have you heard the news
    It’s all over town
    If you ain’t heard it boys
    You better sit down

    I got the story here
    It’s hot off the press
    Brace yourself now
    And take a deep breath
    Grob a hold of something
    Hold on tight
    Betty Devos’ gettin’ out tonight

  14. Is that ‘Dick’ Gephardt on the far left of the photo?

  15. Didn’t know there was a bill on the table that would eliminate DoE. That would be glorious. It’ll never happen in one million years. Oh well, business as usual.

  16. Before the Department of Education, the United States was a wasteland of illiteracy and ignorance. Only the rich sent their children to school while the poors had to work in factories earning pennies.

    What a terrible world it was before the Department of Education.

  17. The proggie hyperventilating over this is just plain funny, considering that the “Department of Education” doesn’t actually educate anybody.

    In fact, I hope someone posts a list of “Department of Education Accomplishments” so that I can get a good laugh.

    1. The name itself is a joke, right?

    2. “Department of Education Accomplishments”

      I don’t understand what that is supposed to mean. But I suppose I Foyt spend all day moving words around you can make anything look like a realism entence. I think the order of those words is gibberish though.

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  19. Oh my god my facebook is such derp right now.

    “Republicans established their dominance in confirming Devos”, “Conservatives who CARE about kids educations should be outraged”, etc.

    Jesus fucking Christ.

    1. What is their problem??? The Republicans wouldn’t get rid of the Department of Education if they held every seat in the house and senate, and if they had the White House! It will never happen! This is the same GOP that gave us DHS and Medicare Part D. Does anyone really think they will get rid of even one department of the bureaucracy, or shrink the debt or budget by even $1? If so, I have some oceanfront property in Iowa….

  20. I can’t find “has introduced H.R. 899” on congress.gov/bill.

    But this was dropped there on the third:

    H.R.861 – To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency


    Only the title, no text (or even alt-text!”), but I got a little chubby when I saw that. Made me all warm inside. Like when Navin found his name in the phone book and excitedly said “Things are going to happen now!”

    OT WTF is with Trump all in on assett forfeiture?

  21. One of my friends expressed on Facebook how unhinged she is about this. I commented that if it passed DeVos wouldn’t be Secretary of Education any more, and a number of her progressive friends clicked like. Who knew that there was a way to get proggies to roll back government overreach?

    1. You must provide updates later…

  22. Dept. of Education: ED or DoED
    Dept. of Energy: DOE not DoE.
    Homer’s catch phrase: Doh or D’oh
    H/T @CostaSamaras

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  27. Department of education along with most of the federal government is un Constitutional. Get rid of it – problem solved!

  28. A “progressive” leftist told me that Trump’s education policy means that “poor people aren’t allowed to have an education.” This must have been what she was talking about.

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  31. My as of one of dissertation writers for hire immediate reaction is what if it were on the front page that the Pentagon was deciding to reduce their staff so that their work would double, and their budget was cut by 7 1/2%? What if the Office of the Inspector General no longer had enough people to oversee military installations where the BOMBS and other munitions are kept?

    While the military is its own entity, it clearly affects the lives of all Americans in its position of defense. In a similar sense, the Dept. of Education, while small and comparatively new, also affects the lives of all Americans: Someone’s children will be one day taking on the responsibilities for the quality of decisions and life that the rest of us will either benefit or suffer from.

    It is outrageous that the kind of responsibility that the future of Education represents is now in the hands of someone so unqualified. Back to the military comparison, it is as if a powerful billionaire who happened to have strong religious leanings but no knowledge of weaponry, military history, no service experience, had never visited military outposts, etc., were put in charge of the Pentagon. ….after, of course, the Commander-in-Chief.

    1. ……
      As to down-sizing Government? While people want to be free to do what they want, adults will remember that we have a system of checks and balances, which is why there is Federal oversight on states’ actions on the behalf of the American people, and that includes childrens’ educations and civil rights….and we have MORE children now, not fewer.

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