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Throwback Thursday: Abolish Education Department, Secret Federal Report Urges

By Alyson Klein — July 17, 2014 1 min read

The U.S. Department of Education should be abolished because the federal government doesn’t have a direct responsibility for education policy—that’s the responsibility of states and districts, according to a closely guarded, top-secret memo about the future of the agency, obtained by Education Week...almost 33 years ago. (Yes, it’s Throwback Thursday, and we fired up the DeLorean for this one. To be clear, this was five presidential administrations ago.)

If you needed any further proof that, like in fashion, everything old in education policy becomes new again, this memo is it. In Much of it seems to be channeling the tea-party conservative wing of the GOP. (In fact, if you happen to be a staffer for a conservative policymaker on the hunt for a new K-12 policy strategy, you could probably do worse than running with the suggestions in this memo, written by Terrel H. Bell, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s education secretary.)

According to the memo, prior to 1981 (yes, 1981) there had been a 25-year “sea change” in federal K-12 policy which resulted in “overly intrusive federal role” on education.

The memo goes onto make some suggestions to right the course, including:

•The Education Department should be abolished and reconstituted as a “foundation” that would essentially do nothing but administer block grants, collect information from districts, and conduct research.

•The feds should reassign the department’s other functions to other agencies. For instance, the Treasury Department could take responsibility for Pell Grants, and the Office of Civil Rights could be shifted to the U.S. Department of Justice.

•The feds should offer districts way more flexibility in local decisionmaking with federal funds using block grants, and relax regulations. while reducing overall funding levels and the number of overall programs. (Sound sort of familiar, House Republicans?)

So whatever happened to this report? It apparently caused quite a stir, and was sent to the White House—and then the recomendations never came to fruition.

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