The presidential candidate who wants to close the Department of Education

'I don't think you'd notice' if it was gone, says Paul

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)—a known advocate of closing the Department of Education—announced Tuesday that he will run for president.

Paul has suggested that the Department of Education is an unnecessary branch of the government. "I don't think you'd notice if the whole department [was] gone tomorrow," he said in a 2014 speech at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics.

In its place, Paul has suggested that funds should be shifted to the state and local level, according to PBS NewsHour.

Paul is not the first politician to call for shutting down the department, Libby Nelson reports for Vox. The same proposal has been made by Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Rick Perry.

Most of the department's work involves distributing grants and financial aid to schools and students nationwide. Nelson reports that about 95% of the department's budget is dedicated to distributing grants.

Nelson proposes four possible political scenarios for closing the Department of Education:

  1. Eliminate the department and all current programs. Nelson points out that this scenario is endorsed by libertarian think tank The Cato Institute—and Paul introduced a similar bill in 2011.

  2. Scrap the department, keep its money. Suggested by Rick Perry in 2011, this plan would convert education funds into block grants that would preserve some funding but remove the department's oversight.

  3. Convert the department into an agency or foundation. This idea was suggested to Reagan by his education secretary but never fully detailed.

  4. Abolish the department, keep its programs. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office explored whether shifting programs from a Cabinet-level agency to a lower organization would save money for the federal government, but decided that the logistics would be too expensive in the short term.

However, none of these scenarios is likely, Nelson says, because the department has survived several prior attempts to abolish it. She adds that eliminating federal grants is even less likely—given how unpopular it would probably be among schools (Nelson, Vox, 4/7; Sullivan, Forbes, 4/7; Desjardins, PBS NewsHour, 4/7).

The takeaway: Sen. Rand Paul has called for abolishing the Department of Education—but it's unlikely that he would be able to do it, Libby Nelson reports for Vox.


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