By far, the biggest, boldest move under the Trump administration’s proposed executive-branch reorganization would be consolidation of the departments of Education and Labor, two behemoths of social policy. Given combined annual spending close to $90 billion (with Education devouring two-thirds of that) and employment of 22,000, this duo is fertile ground for cost-cutting.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has indicated that eliminating duplicative job-training programs is a major rationale. More than 40 workforce-development programs sprawl across 15 different federal agencies, complicating the efforts of job seekers or employers to find help — if any exists within this vast federal maze. Numerous studies have given federal job training low grades; however, if the feds should remain in this field, instead of turning it over totally to the private sector, combining it within one department would make sense.
The merger has the appeal of seemingly making the Education Department finally go away, after nearly four decades of churning out mandates that have stifled education creativity and stagnated achievement, instead of stimulating it.
Ah, but would it really be “leaving”? There are potential snares to beware.
The proposed name of the new beast, the Department of Education and the Workforce, sends chills down the spines of proponents of limited government, many of whom recall the many disastrous education-labor programs that have been implemented in recent decades, including Outcome-Based Education, Goals 2000, School to Work, and the (Labor) Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS).
A de facto merger of the Labor and Education departments went well down the track during the 1990s presidency of Bill Clinton, during which Hillary Clinton became a key player in concocting schemes to nationalize education and plug it into fulfilling the needs of a government-managed workforce. Indeed, it was amusing when partisans from the left reacted harshly to the Trump administration’s proposed combining of Labor and Education.
Perhaps the vitriolic reaction from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia owed in part to anxiety about losing their bureaucratic babies. Perez, after all, was labor secretary in the Obama administration. As for Eskelsen Garcia’s angst, creation of the Department of Education was President Jimmy Carter’s payoff to the NEA for its support and it is a gift that keeps on giving to the national teacher union. Nevertheless both Labor and the NEA were big supporters of the Clintons’ 1990s dream of having national labor policy drive education under a unitary set of national standards — something the Trump reorganization, however unintentionally, might make easier to accomplish.
In my 1995 book “Not With My Child, You Don’t,” I did my best to expose the plan in all its complexity. In some ways it is as pertinent today as it was 23 years ago, because large segments of the Clintons’ utilitarian scheme are still alive in the Common Core standards most states still use.
The SCANS blueprints, which Hillary helped initiate, give an idea of the scope of the labor-education nexus. The labor secretary’s plan envisions replacement of report cards with student resumes rating their “workforce competencies,” such as interpersonal skills, systems thinking, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, and honesty. One SCANS blueprint flatly asserted that “all school systems should make the SCANS skills and workplace competencies explicit objectives of instruction at all levels.”
Elsewhere, the blueprint called for collecting data on students’ personal qualities and making that information available to prospective employers. The School-to-Work law anticipated steering students, from an early age, toward jobs aligning with national workforce goals.
The Constitution simply does not grant the federal government the authority to manipulate education to statist specifications. The 10th Amendment reserves power over education to the states, or to the people.
Of course there is no reason to believe President Trump or Mulvaney have any desire to breathe life into Hillary’s ultra-intrusive scheme. The problem is that the Department of Education and the Workforce would continue into succeeding administrations. All the SCANS blueprints remain active on government websites, and may well be feeding into such new atrocities as assessing children’s social and emotional qualities. Common Core lingers like a bad cough that won’t go away.
In my view, the most logical plan for assigning USED to the dustbin of history came in a simple resolution offered last year by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, setting a date certain for its termination. Prior to that deadline, Congress and the states could decide which parts of USED, if any, might be parceled to other federal agencies or devolved to local or state jurisdictions. Much surely could be eliminated, with education all the better for it. There just shouldn’t be room left for a “Nightmare on Elm Street” scenario.