In a January 11 speech to the Professional Educators of Iowa, a group of teachers and school administrators who oppose mandatory teacher membership in unions, Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes called for the abolition of the 21-year-old U.S. Department of Education, saying it was part of a trend towards “bureaucratic imperialism.”
Instead of concentrating more education decisions in Washington, DC and in state capitals, Keyes said that decision-making authority should be placed in the hands of parents and local communities–for example, by providing them with school vouchers.
Although Keyes’ call for reducing the role of the federal government in education is out of step with the proposals of the leading Presidential candidates to augment Department funding, his views on this issue are on target constitutionally, according to the Cato Institute’s Handbook for Congress. As the Handbook points out, education is not the concern of the President, nor of the federal government.
“[N]either the importance of education nor its poor quality means that education is an important function of the federal government. In fact, education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Certainly they saw no role for the federal government in education.
“Once upon a time, not so many years ago, Congress understood that. The History of the Formation of the Union, published by the United States Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission, under the direction of the President, the Vice President, and the Speaker of the House in 1943, contained this exchange in a section titled ‘Questions and Answers Pertaining to the Constitution.’
Q. Where, in the Constitution, is there mention of education?
A. There is none; education is a matter reserved for the states.”
The continuing expansion of the federal role in education has prompted no constitutional challenge. By contrast, all recent attempts to redirect even minor amounts of education funding to families by means of vouchers have attracted constitutional challenges.