Trump Wants to Merge the Education and Labor Departments — It’s a Small Start

This article appeared on Washington Examiner on June 21, 2018.
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So the Trump administration wants to merge the Education and Labor Departments, which would, at least officially, end the U.S. Department of Education. Should we be celebrating and preparing for an all-out blitz to get this done? After all, isn’t it what Constitution- and local-control-loving Americans have been calling for since the Education Department was created to appease the National Education Association back in 1979?

Sort of.

The good news, were a merger to occur, would be that education would become just a part of a bigger Cabinet-level agency, lowering its profile in the federal bureaucracy. In that regard, it would return to something of the pre-department days when it was a chunk of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, diluting its presence on the national stage and in the White House. A standalone cabinet-level agency was the sort of presence that the National Education Association (both in its union and non-union manifestations) wanted — more influence can be pedaled from your own agency than one you’ve got to share with other interests.

So, merging the Education Department with the Labor Department would be a good thing, but hardly transformative.

Unless a whole lot of programs are eliminated — inflation and waste-fueling college student aid programs, micromanagement-driving federal funding for K-12 education— most of the unconstitutional, expensive problems will continue. And the administration’s plan says it “would merge all of the existing DOL and ED programs into a single department.” So bad programs may not grow quite as quickly with education-interest influence slightly reduced, and they might be a bit easier to trim, but most of the damage will still be inflicted.

If we want powerful change to happen, we cannot be satisfied with some reshufflings, on the off-chance that it even gets done (there’s no sign that Congress wants to take on reorganizations that will launch blistering bureaucratic turf wars). No, the public must come to understand that all that money-spending, service-providing, and rule-making that sounds so good — who could be against “investing” and “doing” more for children and education? — is actually either ineffective, or often straight-up damaging. And that means continuing to do the hard, persistent work of letting the public know that all this great-sounding stuff isn’t so great after all. Indeed, it’s often pretty bad and needs to be completely eliminated.

Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and maintains Cato's Public Schooling Battle Map.