On this day in 1867, under President Andrew Johnson, the Department of Education (E.D.) was created. The country was just two years out of the devastating Civil War, and Johnson created the agency to “collect information and statistics about the nation’s schools,” according to the Department’s website.
Its status as a full department was short-lived, as in 1868, fears that the federal government would exercise too much control over local schools led to the E.D. being demoted to the Office of Education.
Starting in the 1950s, federal funding for education increased, until eventually, in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter, the Department of Education Organization Act was passed by Congress, and the Department of Education was re-born into the agency that is currently headed by Betsy DeVos and, according to the department, has a $68 billion budget.
Though the Department is only 40 years old, according to NPR, “many of the Education Department’s programs predate its creation.”
Over the years, Republicans have called for the Department’s dissolution more than once, including notable supporters like President Ronald Reagan, Rick Perry and Newt Gringich, a fact highlighted by NPR in comparison to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which grew the federal government’s involvement in local schools significantly.
Today, the E.D. (not the DoE, which is the Department of Energy), still fulfills its original mission to collect statistics about schools and submit that data to Congress, but it also administers federal financial aid for education, like the FAFSA, which all students looking for need-based financial aid must fill out, as well as investigates and brings attention to nationwide educational issues.
Despite this hefty mission, which impacts public schools across the nation, the E.D. has only 4,400 employees, according to their website. Though this may seem like a lot of people, it pales in comparison to the Department of Commerce’s 46,608 employees, the Department of the Interior’s 70,000 employees or the Department of Treasury’s over 100,000 employees, according to each respective department.
President Trump has limited the E.D.. As a part of this undertaking, he appointed the aforementioned Betsy DeVos who has called for private school vouchers for families that do not wish to send their kids to public schools, much like Trump’s own family. According to JSTOR Daily, this “might end up being the biggest move the Education Department has ever made.”
However, DeVos’ pro-charter schools and anti-public schools stance is not what she is best known for. She is known for her infamous quote calling for arming teachers in order to protect from “potential grizzlies.” That being said, the E.D. hasn’t been silent since that notable 2017 incident. Instead, President Trump aims to cut the Department’s budget by 7.8 percent, which would reduce funding for academic research, federal financial aid for higher education and federal work-study programs, an unsurprising fact when coupled with the president’s intended cuts in education funding during every year of his presidency. It should be noted, however, that the plan also increases funding for career and technical education.