On several occasions Aristotle has contended that he believes that education is the foundation upon which society is built and has value for its own sake and that, “The purpose of the state is to educate the people — to make them virtuous. Virtue is the life principle of the state. The goal of the state is to educate with a view toward its own institutions (to preserve them) – political education of all citizens” Aristotle goes on to say that “Education is a function of the State, and is conducted, primarily at least, for the ends of the State. “
History of the role of the state in the education of its citizens has raged for quite some time in the United States. The primary target of this debate of late has centered on the U.S. Department of Education. The 1996 platform of the Republican Party stated that, “The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education.” Prior to this, in January of 1982 President Ronald Reagan issued a statement as follows, “The budget plan I submit to you on Feb. 8 will realize major savings by dismantling the Department of Education.”
The first Department of Education was created in 1867 as result of legislation signed into law by President Andrew Jackson. The mission statement of the initial non-cabinet-level agency read that the department was created for the purpose of, “… improving American education by disseminating sound education information to local-and state-level authorities.” Since its inception the department has undergone a plethora of cosmetic and organizational changes. Despite bi-partisan opposition to his plan to create a free standing department devoted to furthering the education of the people of the United States, President Jimmy Carter, in 1978, proposed creation of the U.S. Department of Education; On May 4, 1980 the department came into formal existence. Per the Department of Education Organization Act (1979), the seven principles the Department sought to establish were spelled out as follows:
1. Strengthen the federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.
2. Supplement and complement the efforts of states, local school systems (and other instrumentalities of the states), the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education.
3. Encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in federal education programs.
4. Promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information.
5. Improve the coordination of federal education programs.
6. Improve the management and efficiency of federal education activities, especially with respect to process and procedural funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of federal funds.
7. Increase the accountability of federal education programs to the president, the Congress, and the public.
A report recently disseminated by the U.S. Department of Education makes the following statement regarding the federal role in education. “Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States. “It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation…” Moreover, the department estimates that of the $1 trillion dollars being spent for education in 2008-2009, almost 92 percent of such funds will come from state, local, and other non-federal sources. Specifically, contributions to state elementary and secondary education by the department and other federal departments constitute fewer than 8 percent. From the data cited previously it is clear that the mission of the department is to act as a support resource filling vital gaps in State and local funding of education. Why then is the department often the source of controversy and the target of those proposing reform of the federal government’s infrastructure? Arguments of those opponents of the department range from the fact that the Constitution does not specifically mention education and that the intrusion of the department in state affairs constitutes a violation of the 10th amendment. Also cited is the fact that the budget for the department has increased rapidly since the department’s creation. Most important is the argument that the department represents nothing more than a boon for the National Education Association (NEA).
In conclusion, it is clear the debate over the existence of the Department of Education will continue with proponents of the department arguing that it aids the States in administering effective education and that the cost of providing such support is worth the outcome. Opponents will continue to argue that the benefit is not worth the cost and that the department represents nothing more than a gift that keeps on giving to the NEA.