Kevin Williamson and Philip Klein have both been talking about whether we need one. I’m in the “no” camp: I can’t see that federal involvement in K–12 education has done much good, or that it is likely to do much good in the future. But I’d raise two cautions about abolishing it.
The first is that past efforts to eliminate the department would not have eliminated the programs it administers, just relocated them within the federal bureaucracy. If that’s what eliminating the department means, then there’s not much in it for conservatives and libertarians.
The second is that the polling on this issue over the years has been brutal for Republicans. In 1995, an NBC–Wall Street Journal poll found 78 percent opposition to eliminating it. In 2010, the same poll asked how respondents would feel about a congressional candidate who “supports abolishing some federal agencies, including the Department of Education.” Eleven percent said they were “enthusiastic” (our peeps!), 14 percent “comfortable,” 21 percent had “some reservations,” and 46 percent “very uncomfortable.”
A lot of people seem to have the idea that the Department of Education does vital work and that opposing it is roughly equivalent to opposing education. The political cost of opposing it could be pretty high, and the policy reward, assuming it happened, would be pretty low. It’s not surprising Republicans don’t talk about it much any more.