What Presidents Can (And Can’t) Do about Education

Published November 2, 2016

With less than a week until Election Day, and early voting already well underway, The Economist examines the role the nation’s chief executive plays in education policy:

For a president, making education policy can be like running a school with thousands of unruly pupils. He can goad states and coax school districts, offering gold stars to those who shape up. But if a class is defiant he can do little. Just 12.7% of the $600bn spent on public education annually is spent by the federal government. The rest is split almost equally between states and the 13,500 school districts. Many presidents end up like forlorn head teachers. America spends more per child than any big rich country but its pupils perform below their peers on international tests.

Will either of our presidential aspirants “use the regulatory power of the federal government to spur reform,” as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did? Not likely, says The Economist:

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in December as a replacement for NCLB, hands back power to states over standards and tests, making it hard for a future president to seek to micromanage school reform. And in any case, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are inclined to imitate the past two presidents. Mr Trump is “totally against” and “may cut” the Department of Education. Declaring that “it is time to have school choice”, in September he pledged to give states $20bn to fund school vouchers for parents of poor children.

Mrs Clinton has also been keen to defer to states. This is partly because she knows ESSA shrinks her room for manoeuvre. But she has also made a political calculation. Unlike Mr Obama, she is backed by teachers’ unions.

We don’t know what our next president will do about education during his or her first term, but we do know what our president should do: nothing. The Home School Legal Defense Association reminds us:

The federal role in education is a violation of the 10th amendment of the United States Constitution which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government delegated the power to regulate or fund elementary or secondary education.

SOURCES: The Economist, Home School Legal Defense Association


School Choice Roundup

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

  • PRE-K WARNING: The Atlantic warns research on early education programs is light and doesn’t show much value for children, yet governments are pouring heaps of taxpayer money into the programs.

Education Today

  • TEACHER NO-SHOWS: The Washington Post reports on federal data showing “More than 1 in 4 of the nation’s full-time teachers are considered chronically absent from school.”

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