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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Questions for GOP Contenders Promising Dept. of Ed Will Be “Gone”

By Rick Hess — November 14, 2011 1 min read
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Hidy, all. I’m back. Thanks to Melissa, Sheara, Celine, and Roxanna for three weeks of stellar guest turns. While I was out, in last week’s Republican debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry promised (in the course of a major gaffe) that the Department of Education would be “gone” if he’s elected President. Rep. Michele Bachmann and others have made similar pledges. While I’ve some sympathy for the premise, I’m not sure what it actually means to “turn out the lights” at ED. Here are six questions I hope an enterprising reporter asks Perry, Bachmann, et al. on this score:

It isn't clear that abolishing the Department would itself end any federal education programs (since they can migrate elsewhere). So, specifically, which programs and activities will you eliminate? Do you intend to push to eliminate federal funding for special education? If not, who will be responsible for ensuring that states and districts spend those tax dollars in accord with statute? If yes, how will you argue the case to families with children enrolled in special education? Do you aim to eliminate the Pell grants and student loans that make up the lion's share of ED's activity? If you don't intend to eliminate them, who will be charged with administering and policing them? If you do, how will you make the case to millions of families and students that use them? Do you hope to eliminate Title I funding for schools serving low-income students? If not, who will be responsible for ensuring those dollars are spent in accord with statute? If so, how will you justify cutting federal aid for the neediest students? Practically speaking, you know that special education and student lending are popular, with influential, outspoken, middle-class constituencies. How will you convince Congress to go along if you intend to eliminate these programs? If you don't intend to zero out federal K-12 spending, do you hope to turn it into a giant block grant? If so, will you seek to eliminate rules requiring that federal Title I aid and special aid funds be spent on low-income children or those with special needs?

Many will think there are obvious right and wrong answers to these questions. I’m not so sure. But I do want to know what the GOP candidates’ bold promises really mean.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.