Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the USDE

"I have never talked to anyone who can explain the value add of this organization. Not one person."

This issue is once again starting to raise its ugly head. It is one of the organizations many conservatives love to hate. It was on Ronald Reagan's hit list. He wanted it gone. It was a waste of space - a bigger waste of taxpayer money. It is what the insiders refer to as USDE. The rest of us call it the Federal Department of Education.

From 1953 to 1979, federal education matters were dealt within the Department of Health Education and Welfare. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter thought education was so important to be handled at the federal level, he created a new cabinet position just for education. And it is still here today. With over 5,000 employees and an annual budget of over $70,000,000,000, one might ask what they do all day. I know I have asked that question many times. 

At our last BPOU meeting, a local superintendent and his board chair were there to ask our congressman a question about special education funding. And since my wife was involved with special education for over 35 years, I know a bit about this subject. It seems the costs for special education is eating away at the district budget. Why? For one reason, federal statutory requirements are not followed by enough federal money to pay for them. It is ye old unfunded (or underfunded) mandate issue once again.

Under the IDEA law of 1975, the Federal Government was supposed to contribute up to 40% of the needed funding. The states and the local districts were to pick up the rest. Unfortunately, many school districts have forgotten the "up to" part of the 40%. In fact, federal funding has not even come close to the 40%. The states and districts were left with expensive mandates and scarce funding to handle them.

Now I am not here to bash special education. My purpose is to show what happens when you have three layers of control over the education of our youth. First there are the mandates (many of them statutory) which come from the USDE. Then, many states also have a state Department of Education. Finally, there is the local school district. Trying to keep the statutory, regulatory, and procedures clear and untangled can drive just about anyone to the liquor cabinet. And because of it, special education alone has become a paperwork nightmare.

It is long past time the USDE needs to go. Enough. Finish. There is no need for this level of bureaucratic control. The states can handle it, thank you. I remember getting into an interesting conversation not too long ago with a friend. The topic was which department was more worthless, education or energy? We finally agreed it was a tie and they both needed to go.

As the old saying goes, "the longest journey starts with the smallest step". To put our federal genie back in the bottle, we should start with the USDE. It is small, but a good start. Then we can focus on the Department of Energy. After that, we will be getting someplace.   

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