Bleak Future for Public Education in the United States?

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By Kaitlyn Burns, Staff Writer

Amid highly publicized political and legal controversies that have swept the nation since Donald Trump assumed Presidential office on January 20, 2017,[1] there is one issue that has only garnered mild media attention until recently: reform of the American public education system.

Coverage of this issue exploded, however, when Republican Congressmen introduced H.R. 899, a one-line bill in the House of Representatives that would eradicate the United States Department of Education.[2] Although there has been no movement within the House of Representatives on H.R. 899 since its introduction on February 7, 2017,[3] the bill serves as a somber presage of the direction of public education in the U.S.

The Department of Education is charged with the task of ensuring that state and local school systems comply with federal equal opportunity laws and satisfy minimum federal educational requirements. It plays an integral role in ensuring that children across the nation receive adequate and comprehensive education needed to succeed in a world that values scholarship and learning.[4]  Thus, if the Department of Education were terminated, states would be left to their own devices to devise and implement educational standards. This action could have deleterious effects on the nation’s youth, as states would no longer be held accountable for reaching educational goals and striving to improve educational opportunities for students.[5]

Acknowledging that this proposed bill could have negative consequences on the education of America’s youth for generations to come, the question becomes: Is H.R. 899 constitutional?

The short answer, as legal scholar Laurence Tribe stated in an interview with Business Insider, is, yes, this would bill would pass constitutional muster.[6] The Department of Education was created in 1980 by the Department of Education Organization Act.[7] According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to repeal any prior law by passing a new law that makes the prior law ineffective.[8] If H.R. 899 were to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate by a majority vote, and was then signed by Trump, it would constitutionally eliminate the Department of Education by December 31, 2018.

Nevertheless, because this H.R. 899’s goal is very ambitious, and there have been less radical education reform bills introduced in the same Congressional session,[9] it appears unlikely that H.R. 899 will obtain the votes it needs to get to Trump’s desk. Yet, if the 2016 presidential election tells us anything about American politics, anything is possible.



[1] See, e.g., Jeremy Diamond & Steven Almasy, Trump’s Immigration Ban Sends Shockwaves, CNN (Jan. 30, 2017, 11:34 AM), (describing the fallout of Trump’s decision to issue executive orders barring citizens of certain countries to enter the United States); Aaron Blake, Stephen Miller’s Authoritarian Declaration: Trump’s National Security Actions ‘will not be questioned,’ Wash post (Feb. 13, 2017), (explaining the Trump administration’s clash with the media as well as federal judges’ decisions on executive orders issued in January and February of 2017).

[2] See H.R. 899, 115th Cong. (2017).  See also Brandon Morse, Rep. Thomas Massie Introduces Bill to Eliminate the Department of Education, The Blaze (Feb. 7, 2017, 5:55 PM),; Nate Madden, Hours Before DeVos’ Confirmation, Rep. Massie Dropped Bill to get rid of her Job Forever, Conservative Review (Feb. 7, 2017),

[3] H.R. 899: To Terminate the Department of Education,, (last visited Mar. 13, 2017).

[4] See Mission, Dep’t of Educ., (last visited Mar. 13, 2017).

[5] Id.

[6] Abby Jackson, Here’s How Rand Paul could Legally Dissolve the Department of Education, Bus. Insider (Apr. 9, 2015, 10:05 PM),

[7] See generally Department of Education Organization Act, 20 U.S.C. § 3401 et seq. (West 2017).

[8] U.S. Const. art. I, § 7.

[9] See, e.g., H.R. 610, 115th Cong. (2017) (limiting the power of the Department of Education to place conditions on states that receive federal funding for education programs, proposing expansion of state school voucher systems in lieu of supporting the traditional public school system, and eradicating the Department of Agriculture’s nutrition requirements for school breakfasts and lunches).

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