Before 1980 there was no U.S. Department of Education. Before 1964 there was relatively little federal involvement in education at all. But let a few Republican presidential candidates suggest that maybe Washington’s role in schooling ought to be scaled back somewhat, and the New York Times, reliable barometer of establishment opinion, finds cause for concern. Why, “even Mitt Romney,” the paper frets, “now says, ‘We need to get the federal government out of education.’”
“For a generation,” the Times writes, “there has been loose bipartisan agreement in Washington that the federal government has a necessary role to play in the nation’s 13,600 school districts, primarily by using money to compel states to raise standards.”
Of course, many observers note that the bipartisan consensus on any subject can be — and usually is — wrong. Constitutionalists point out that there is also a bipartisan consensus in favor of Social Security, Medicare, and an interventionist foreign policy — all of which, like federal involvement in education, are both unconstitutional and unwise. There is no shame, they say, in challenging Beltway orthodoxy.
Thus, critics contend, rather than being derided, candidates should be applauded for, in the Times’ words, “arguing that education responsibilities should devolve to states and local districts, which will do a better job than Washington.” Specifically, writes the newspaper:
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