Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants to close the Department of Education and have state governments “run the education of our children,” pushing for a long-held Republican goal that has been endorsed by several other 2024 GOP candidates.
“We’re going to end education coming out of Washington, DC. We’re going to close it up – all those buildings all over the place and people that in many cases hate our children. We’re going to send it all back to the states,” Trump said in a new campaign video.
But eliminating the US Department of Education would not necessarily give any more power to states over K-12 schools. While the federal agency helps the president execute education policies, the power to set curriculum, establish schools and determine enrollment eligibility already lies with the states and local school boards.
Trump has been floating the idea of eliminating the Department of Education since his 2016 presidential campaign. When Trump was president, his administration proposed merging the Education and Labor departments into one federal agency as part of a larger plan to restructure the government. The proposal needed approval from Congress and was never implemented. Trump, as president, also tried to cut billions of dollars from the Education Department’s budget.
Various Republicans have called for eliminating the Education Department since its establishment as a Cabinet-level agency in 1980. Among Trump’s rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have endorsed the idea.
Generally, the US Department of Education is charged with playing a leadership role “in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students,” according to its website. It also administers federal funding, appropriated by Congress, to not only K-12 schools but colleges as well. It manages the federal student loan and student aid programs, and sets accountability standards for higher education institutions.
But states and local school boards still hold power that can’t be superseded by the department. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the Department of Education could not require schools to close or remain open for in-person learning. In fact, despite a threat from then-President Trump, the executive branch could not unilaterally cut federal funding for schools that did not open.
States also have the power to fund school choice policies, allowing parents to use state dollars to send their child to the K-12 school of their choice. At least four states expanded school choice options for families this year.
Education has been a key issue in the 2024 campaign, and Trump and other GOP candidates have sought to capitalize on the anger expressed by many parents over certain instruction over sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as slavery, inequality and racism in America.
“Across the country, we need to implement strict prohibitions on teaching inappropriate racial, sexual and political material to America’s schoolchildren in any form whatsoever. And if federal bureaucrats are going to push this radicalism, we should abolish the Department of Education,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year.
Trump on Wednesday outlined several other education priorities for a potential second term, including introducing prayer in public schools, teaching children to “love their country” and increasing access to internships for students. Trump has said he wants to allow parents to control where their child goes to school and give parents and local school boards the ability to hire and fire school principals.