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Apparently, federal politicians in the United States of America have said something about what type of education they want to see or not (see also What does “woke indoctrination” mean? and references therein), with a senior member of the Republican Party commenting on how he wishes certain topics to be less prominent in education.

I'm puzzled. The U.S. is a highly federal country. According to Wikipedia, the federal government and Department of Education are not involved in determining curricula or educational standards or establishing schools or colleges, and where they are (schools on foreign military bases), the responsibility is with the Department of Defense rather than Education. Similarly, Canada apparently doesn't even have a federal department of education, and the one in Germany does not do all that much either beyond coordinating and distributing research funds.

What power does the federal government have over the content of education? Why is this even a topic on a federal level? Does the Republican Party want to increase the power of the federal government in education matters, reducing the power of the states? That would be quite a change, because according to Wikipedia, they have previously sought to abolish the department entirely. Or do they mean something else?

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    You don't have to propose a federal solution just because you notice a problem and you are a federal politician. Jan 9, 2023 at 17:17
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    @user253751 If a federal politician runs on a federal election arguing that X is a problem, I expect they propose a solution for X on a federal level.
    – gerrit
    Jan 9, 2023 at 18:11
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    @gerrit Some few republican politicians have proposed that the solution to the federal department of education problem is to abolish it and repeal the vast bulk of laws connected to it. Sadly, most follow the general pattern of politicians everywhere, which can be summed up as "throw money at it while I stand next to it."
    – Boba Fit
    Jan 9, 2023 at 19:49
  • @gerrit One solution to arguing that X is a problem is to get rid of X, in particular, getting rid of the Department of Education. Go to a local school board meeting. Many of the regular attendees don't like federal or state mandates, and they vote in disproportionate numbers for school board members. Jan 9, 2023 at 20:36
  • "The U.S. is a highly federal country" eh, not especially. More so than say, Switzerland, but less so than many other First-World countries. The DoE operates more by pulling the purse strings that setting curricula. The same is true for many other federal agencies, e.g. the Dept. of Transportation. Jan 10, 2023 at 3:24

2 Answers 2

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In October, the "Stop the Sexualization of Children Act" was introduced in the House of Representatives. Here is the link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/9197

It would deny federal funding to any sexual education programs intended for children under the age of 10. This tactic of providing or denying federal funding to schools is common in federal education legislation.

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  • Is that a significant amount of money? From Wikipedia, the department of education spent a total of $14 billion on Title I grants (are those the ones we're talking about? The rest seems to be mostly student loans or student grants), and that only applies to schools with poor kids? That seems quite limited as a level and would not affect many middle class people at all?
    – gerrit
    Jan 9, 2023 at 18:14
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    According to the summary table at census.gov/data/tables/2020/econ/school-finances/… public elementary-secondary school systems receive about $57.8 billion from federal sources, out of $771 billion total revenue. The large majority of revenue (92.5%) comes from state and local sources. Jan 9, 2023 at 18:34
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    @gerrit: As a rule of thumb, nearly all educational institutions in the US, of any level, will accept some amount of federal funding. Note that this includes things that you might not expect, such as NSF grants. This is why they have to comply with laws such as Title IX.
    – Kevin
    Jan 10, 2023 at 17:48
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The Tenth Amendment says this:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Education is not mentioned in the constitution. Several people believe that the federal government should have no power over it whatever. Even a few Republican politicians.

However...

As JoshBBParker mentions, it is a common tactic to use federal funding to wield power of the states. Indeed, over entities inside states such as contractors to the military, state parks, even individual school boards. The paying or withholding of federal money has been used as a cudgel to get what the federal politicians want no matter what anybody thinks.

And not just in education. It has been used, by both parties and for decades, over a huge array of subjects. Just a few include such things as marriage laws, banking regulations, drug enforcement, medical care, agriculture regulation, and a huge bunch more. If there's money or prestige in a thing, the federal government has probably found a way to leverage it. Even if the constitution explicitly says the federal government is forbidden to do any such thing. Or that it is only permitted to regulate interstate aspects of a thing.

This is also not limited to funding. If control of the direct funding is insufficient, there are numerous other regulatory and funding issues that can be manipulated. Just as an example, federal income tax laws can be manipulated to make certain fund raising activities difficult, and so hamper such things as "band camp" and various other things schools like to do. Say they sell crates of oranges to the neighborhood to raise money for athletic equipment. A single truckload of oranges could provide enough profit to the school to get one of those gymnastic mats that let the students learn that tumbling. The feds can come by and notice this, and make some pesky regulation about transporting agricultural products for charity purposes. And, hey presto, it's a lever over schools.

Some Republican politicians want to reduce the power of the federal government over education. Some think that's nonsense and want to impose their particular form of control instead of the Democratic Party's form of control. Or instead of some state government's control. A third group are happy to go along to get along, provided they get their "15 minutes of fame." As I said in a comment: "Throw money at it while I stand next to it."

These categories are quite similar for the Democratic Party politicians. It may be that the first category is a little smaller and the third category a little larger relative to the Republicans.

The usual result is a tug-of-war among the middle category. There is a fight over which set of controls will be enforced on education (or whatever aspect of society). There is usually very little said about whether the thing should be controlled by the government. Only what controls and how to enforce them.

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    Good answer but it would be helpful to add references for the points you make Jan 9, 2023 at 21:42
  • I don't think those are different fights. I think that "no control" is usually just another option in the debate over which controls should apply. Though even in that case, "no control" usually means there is some control to prevent the institution of more controls. Jan 10, 2023 at 8:27
  • As a student of the Constitution, I have learned that one cannot begin any remarks in the form "The Constitution doesn't say ...", such as was done with "... is not mentioned in the constitution". One must examine the powers granted under Article I, Section 8, and the amendments, to determine what authority is granted.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 10, 2023 at 17:33

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