Department of Education

Proposed Spending Cuts

Chris Edwards

May 2010

The Department of Education should be closed and its programs terminated. The main activity of the department is to provide grants to state and local governments. However, channeling taxpayer dollars through Washington and then back to the states is an inefficient way to fund local activities such as education. It would be better if the states funded their own education programs free from all the paperwork that comes with federal aid.

Federal intervention into primary and secondary schools has steadily increased since the 1960s, but there have been no obvious improvements in educational achievement. Indeed, standardized test scores for K-12 students have been stagnant for decades. Interestingly, Canada has virtually no federal involvement in its schools, but Canadian students generally score higher on international tests than do American students.

The sad truth is that rising control from Washington has probably damaged American schools by reducing local flexibility, retarding innovation, and burying school administrators in regulations. Federal involvement should be ended, and it should be up to the states, the schools, and parents to boost school performance. Cato scholars have proposed many ways to improve school quality.

Department of Education loans and grants to college students should be ended. Personal savings, financial institutions, and charitable organizations are more efficient funding sources for college costs. For decades, federal student aid has suffered from inept administration and large amounts of fraud and abuse. Another problem is that rising federal aid has generated inflation in college tuition and other educational costs. Thus, ending federal student subsidies would create beneficial pressure on colleges and universities to trim their bloated budgets and reduce their tuition.

The table shows that taxpayers would save about $107 billion annually from closing down the department, or more than $900 annually for every U.S. household.


Department of Education
Proposed Spending Cuts
Spending in 2010
($ million)
Elementary and Secondary Education $61,527
Special Education and Rehabilitation   $21,022
Student Aid   $17,116
Postsecondary Education   $2,960
Vocational and Adult Education   $2,095
Innovation and Improvement   $1,177
English Language Acquisition   $754
Education Sciences   $697
Safe and Drug-Free Schools   $675
Departmental Management   $614
Other   ($1,693)
Total proposed cuts   $106,944
Total department outlays   $106,944
Source: Estimated fiscal year outlays from the Budget of the U.S. Government, FY2011. Student aid nets out a temporary spike in proprietary receipts.