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Four Things to Know About Trump’s Plan to Merge Education, Labor Departments

By Alyson Klein — June 21, 2018 3 min read
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So President Donald Trump has proposed merging the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor into a new U.S. Department of Education and the Workforce. There would be four new sub-agencies, focused on K-12, Higher Education/Workforce Development, Enforcement, and Research/Evaluation/Administration.

But what exactly would that mean for educators? And will it actually happen?

Here’s a quick look at what educators need to know:

1) The proposed K-12 sub-agency doesn’t look very different from the main K-12 offices in the Education Department ... with two big exceptions. The new sub-agency would include key programs from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of English Language Acquisition, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. That includes Title I programs for disadvantaged students, Impact Aid, school improvement programs, school safety and citizenship programs, Indian education, and innovation and improvement.

But the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research arm that has a budget of $613 million, would join the Research/Evaluation/Administration sub-agency. And the office for civil rights, which has a budget of $117 million, would be folded into the new Enforcement sub-agency, which would also include worker-protection agencies from the former Labor Department.

2) The Trump administration says this is about workforce readiness, not cutting resources. The administration is billing the proposal as a way to more seamlessly prepare children and adults for the needs of a rapidly evolving economy. “The goal isn’t to downgrade the mission of the two organizations,” said Margaret Weichert, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget on a call with reporters. Instead, she said, it’s to “upgrade our thinking of preparing children for the workforce.” She noted that most other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have a single agency focused on career development. “We absolutely believe this proposal has rich merit,” Weichert said. She wasn’t clear on whether it would lead to staff cuts.

3) Educators and their advocates are opposed, or at least deeply skeptical. One superintendent worried about the message the proposal sends. “I continue to be fearful that by burying the [Education Department] in another agency, the message is basically, ‘You can all go home,’” said Eugene Schmidt, the superintendent of the Farmington Municipal Schools district in New Mexico. The two national teachers’ unions, AASA, the School Superintendents’ Association, and Educators for Excellence all blasted the plan as unnecessary at best, and an assault on students’ rights at worst.

4) Congress probably won’t go for this. There have been other attempts to get rid of the department, or mesh it with another agency. Back in 1981, the Reagan administration tried to bust the department down to a sub-cabinet level agency, to no avail. And former Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., pitched a similar plan back in 1995. That plan also failed to gain traction.

The reaction on the Hill this time around has been predictably partisan. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House education committee called the proposal a “recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American workforce.” But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee called it, “unrealistic, unhelpful, and futile.”

In short: Any legislation enacting the proposal would likely have to be bipartisan, and it’s tough to see Democrats getting on board.

Want much more? We have a more in depth story tracking the reaction to this proposal and you can read it here

Photo: Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney presents a plan for reorganization of federal agencies during a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump on June 21 at the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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