Betsy DeVos

President Trump, Betsy DeVos Want To Reduce the Education Department's Size and Power

It's a solid budget proposal—too bad it won't go anywhere.


President Donald Trump's 2021 budget proposal doesn't do nearly enough to address the country's trillion-dollar budget deficit: As Reason's Eric Boehm explains, federal spending would increase next year, and even under the most favorable circumstances the government would continue to run a deficit until at least 2035.

But it's not all bad news, particularly on the education front. The proposal would halt the federal government's management of a large pile of education dollars, block grant the funds and distribute them to the states, and ultimately trim about $5 billion from the Department of Education, according to The Washington Examiner:

The Obama administration in 2009 pumped $3 billion into a program that awarded an extra $2 million to underperforming public schools, so long as they made certain reforms. The money came from the School Improvement Grants initiative. And yet, according to a study by the education department published at the start of 2017, "Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any [School Improvement Grant]-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment."

Placing virtually all K-12 funding into the hands of states and school districts would essentially cut the department's responsibilities in half—a move in the direction that DeVos has pushed for with some success.

Specifically, the budget would consolidate nearly all competitive K-12 grants into a single $20 billion block grant. Rather than having the federal government tell schools how to spend the money, the proposal would allow for local control.

"This budget proposal is about one thing—putting students and their needs above all else," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement.

If implemented, these reforms would reduce the federal government's influence over schools, which would be a welcome development. The U.S. is ill-suited to a national, one-size-fits-all education approach, and local officials are far more accountable to taxpayers than federal bureaucrats.

The budget also expands a school choice program known as the Education Freedom Scholarships, which provides tax incentives for people to donate money—on a voluntary basis—to state-based opportunity grants for students. Kids can then use these grants to find the right school for them. (Trump mentioned a similar program in his State of the Union address.)

Sadly, these proposals are unlikely to become law. Presidential budget suggestions are frequently overridden and revised by Congress. That's a shame. Shrinking the Education Department and block-granting funds for the states is precisely the kind of common-sense thinking that is often missing in D.C. policy maker circles.