Call to cut Education Department gets mixed reaction from educators
By GARY WARTH
December 3, 2011
When presidential candidate Rick Perry called for the elimination of the federal Department of Education in a debate last month, teacher Jim Groth did not bat an eye.
"I think it comes up every four years during presidential elections," said Groth, a Chula Vista math teacher who is one of two San Diego County representatives on the California Teachers Association board.
Perry's call to eliminate the department was overshadowed by a now-famous mental slip in which he forgot the third of three departments he said he would cut. He later said he would cut the departments of Commerce, Education and Energy.
The Department of Education was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. According to the department's website, the agency's official task is to establish policies on financial aid for education and distribute and monitor the funds. It also collects data on schools and disseminates the research, focuses national attention on key educational issues, prohibits discrimination and ensures equal access to education.
"As in any bureaucracy, they do some good things, and yes, they do some silly things," Groth said about the department. "It's good in that they do collect a lot of information for us. But at the same time, they are a bureaucracy and it gets frustrating to deal with them."
Asked what they thought of eliminating the department, some local educators and trustees acknowledged that while a federal commitment to education is a good thing, they wouldn't necessarily miss the department if it went away.
"If you go back to our Constitution, education is a federal interest but a local or state responsibility," said Linda Solis, principal of Ramona Unified's Olive Peirce Middle School, which last week was recognized by the state as a model middle school.
Repeating a criticism often heard about the department, Solis also is critical that the federal government mandates programs without providing money to support them.
But the federal department does fund some programs, including Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program, or GEAR UP, which helps prepare underprivileged students for higher education.
Calvin One Deer Gavin, who runs GEAR UP at Palomar College, said he is highly concerned about the prospect of cutting the Department of Education, but understands arguments made by its critics.
"I know there's a debate ongoing that education should be local," he said. "Well, education is local. We have school boards, college governing boards. But the federal government's role is to guide the direction, to complement, supplement and attack some of the issues that the localities can't...