Republicans Re-Open Debate on Role of Dept. of Education

“Who is Stella Lohmann?” asks the blog PolicyShop.com. Is she the woman who blogs at stellalohmann.com? Is she the one who posed for her author photo wearing a “Freedom Czar” baseball hat? To most people who have been paying attention to the primary battle for the Presidential nomination, however, Stella Lohmann is the woman who stood up at the last Republican debate, introduced herself as a long-time educator and substitute teacher and asked:

What as president would you seriously do about what I consider a massive overreach of big government into the classroom?

Her question allowed Gary Johnson to draw the first genuinely positive reaction from the audience when he answered:

“I am going to promise to advocate the abolishment of the federal Department of Education.”

Fox News, which sponsored the debate along with Google, reports that with his answer, which was echoed by other candidates, Johnson might have revived an issue that has been considered buried for over two decades: the elimination of all federal control over education policy in the United States. Michele Bachmann, who has spoken about her commitment to giving the states and local communities all control over education, reiterated her stance:

What I would do as president of the United States is pass the mother of all repeal bills on education,” said Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. “Then I would go over to the Department of Education, I’d turn off the lights, I would lock the door and I would spend all the money back to the states and localities.”

Although getting the federal government out of the classroom has been one of the planks in the Republican platform since at least 1980, by the 1990s, it wasn’t considered one of the party’s policy priorities. Speaking at the debate, Ron Paul, who has always been a critic of the U.S. Department of Education, said that when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, the Republicans haven’t always delivered on their promises.

“In 1980, when the Republican Party ran, part of the platform was to get rid of the Department of Education. By the year 2000, (that issue) was eliminated, and we fed on to it,” Paul said. “Then … Republicans added No Child Left Behind.”

Oversight of the No Child Left Behind Act implementation is one of the reasons why the department’s funding has grown nearly 40% in ten years. Now both conservative and liberal lawmakers are aligned against the act, which introduced standardized testing on the national level and pegged funding to test scores, and on Friday President Obama introduced a proposal that would let states “opt out” from some of the NCLB provisions.

“We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee — but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in,” Obama said.

100gf: Politics and Computers blog admits that over the years the DoE has become too hidebound and bureaucratic, but thinks that elimination will not improve education in the country. Blogger Sarah Bosdiccia writes that abolishing the department will lead to lower academic standards as more schools will feel free to teach topics like creationism along with, or instead of, evolution and might also lead to wholesale privatization of schools, which will mean that profit will take priority over lesson quality.