Was Representative Michelle Bachmann correct when she said that, constitutionally, the federal government has no role in education in the United States? During a town hall in South Carolina, Bachmann, one of the leading contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination, answered a question posed to her by Senator Jim DeMint by pledging to get rid of the Department of Education if she is elected:
"Because the Constitution does not specifically enumerate nor does it give to the federal government the role and duty to superintend over education that historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state governments," she said, responding to a question by DeMint, a popular figure among the tea party movement.
Tina Korbe, writing for HotAir.com, backs Bachmann's reading of the Constitution. Although the DoE is not unconstitutional, it is not specifically listed as one of the duties that the federal government must undertake. But the true question, as Korbe points out, is would it hurt or help American kids if the responsibility of their education were to devolve to the local and state governments. The answer to the question is not straight-forward.
Naturally, questions of right and equity enter in. It is, after all, commonly accepted that children have the right to an equal education (although even that could be debated). But as regards efficacy, it's pretty clear flexibility and freedom to address the needs of individual children enhances education.
As the 2012 election season is ramping up, the quality of education in the country is once again the focus of great debate. The Washington Times lists education as one of the central issues for this election.
Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center of Education Policy thinks that Republicans will be using the issue to attack President Obama this time around, in a similar way that they used Administration's health care policy in 2010:
Education "is traditionally more of an issue that is discussed, but it doesn't reach the top tier. This time, it's possible that it can, because there seems to be more of a clear difference between the parties," he said.
Shortly after announcing his candidacy for President, Texas Governor Rick Perry called for abolishing the Department of Education, prompting the current Secretary Arne Duncan to say that he "feels bad for the children of Texas."
Although elimination of the DoE was part of the Republican platform in the 1990s, after President George W. Bush was elected, one his first legislative priorities was passing the No Child Left Behind law, which greatly expanded the Department's role in American education. This time around, several candidates are calling for a return to the previous policy.
Jennings is unsure about the effectiveness of this strategy, however.
The "business" wing of the party, he said, supports efforts to better educate the nation's students to compete in the global economy. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, earlier this year released a blueprint for reforming the federal government's role in education, not eliminating it.