In March, a key aide to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney summed up how his candidate would pivot from playing to the GOP base to a more mainstream audience, “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
Over the weekend, Romney was overheard by reporters telling a Republican audience in Florida how he would govern as president. Among the suggestions Romney said he would consider were shutting down the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and eliminating or vastly shrinking the Education Department.
In Republican presidential debates of last year, this sort of chit-chat could pass muster with barely an eyebrow raised. Those days of Tea Partying like it’s 2010 are well past us. Better give that Etch A Sketch another shake or two.
The U.S. Department of Education was created in 1980 when the Health, Education and Welfare department was split into the Education Department and Housing and Urban Development. The notion was never popular with conservatives. Ronald Reagan sneered at it. Bob Dole, running for president in 1996, suggested taking an ax to it. None of these grand plans went very far.
Then along came George W. Bush, who as president put the department to work overseeing his 2001 No Child Left Behind education reforms. This should have retired the old saw about eliminating the Education Department as unnecessary and unconstitutional.
As the Republican presidential primary debates proved, it did not. The promise to put the department in its (lowly) place proved popular once more.
However, this view clashes with several American ideals, not the least of which is national pride. A strong, prosperous country must have an educated population. Quality education is a cornerstone in the United States’ rise among nations of the world.
Imagine the signal the United States would send to its global competitors — the ones whose students are surging ahead of American students — if we threw in the towel and decided to shut down the Department of Education.