The smallest of all the cabinet-level agencies, the Department of Education (ED) is responsible for supporting the education of American children and adults in schools and colleges across the country. Education is decentralized in the United States, meaning that the task of providing and running schools is left in the hands of state and local officials. The federal government’s role has largely been to provide federal monies to bolster programs that teach children how to read, promote science or help students attend college, among other things. Although it is the smallest of all federal departments, ED has been the source of controversy since its founding in 1980. Conservatives have blasted the department for decades, claiming it is intrusive and detrimental to the education of children. Liberals, while not always happy with the work of the department, have consistently defended ED in the face of attempts by Republican administrations to weaken, if not outright disband the department. The GOP goal of eliminating the department changed, however, with the election of George W. Bush. Instead of trying to eradicate it, President Bush used the department to implement a controversial education reform measure, No Child Left Behind, which has been the source of much criticism and debate.
The Department of Education supports the teaching of students from kindergarten through postgraduate school by providing funding for dozens of programs. With this funding comes a variety of federal rules and requirements that schools and colleges must meet in order to be eligible. The department’s elementary and secondary programs annually serve more than 14,000 school districts and some 56 million students attending more than 97,000 public schools and 28,000 private schools. Department programs also provide grant, loan and work-study assistance to nearly 11 million postsecondary students.
According to USAspending.gov., the Department of Education has spent $10.4 billion this decade on private contractors. A total of 7,222 private companies and other organizations were paid by the department for testing equipment and materials ($1.06 billion), debt collection services ($950 million), ADP systems analysis ($729 million) and banking services ($670 million), among other goods and services.
Government Hires Media Commentator
Arne Duncan is the first Cabinet member who has earned a living playing and coaching basketball. Duncan was born on November 4, 1964, to Starkey Duncan, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, and Susan Morton, who has operated The Sue Duncan Children’s Center on the south side of the city. He was raised in the Hyde Park area of Chicago and attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, before going on to Harvard. Duncan graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1987. His thesis was titled, “The Values, Aspirations and Opportunities of the Urban Underclass.”