The Role of Government in Education
The United States Constitution does not explicitly mention education. According to the 10th Amendment, the federal government can only exercise powers granted by the Constitution, and states or individuals can exercise control over matters not delegated to the federal government. The Amendment allows for state autonomy and self-governance. The federal government passes education-related laws, which federal agencies implement through regulations. States then create statutes and rules, while local education agencies, such as school districts, develop policies to enforce state laws and regulations.
The U.S. Department of Education aims to promote educational excellence and equal access and provides financial support to states. The National Defense Education Act was the first education legislation enacted by Congress in 1958. Since then, various laws have been passed that address equal access to education for all students. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race in public education, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on gender, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides protections against discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
In addition to providing protections against discrimination, these laws also prohibit discrimination by recipients of federal funds. For instance, any state or local education agency that receives federal funds is forbidden from discriminating against students based on race, sex, or disability. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 provides federal grants to enhance the quality of elementary and secondary education. The ESEA’s Title I program provides federal aid to local education agencies and schools with high numbers of low-income children. This funding is meant to help schools offer additional resources to help all children meet state academic standards.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 updated the ESEA and made schools accountable to the federal government for educating disadvantaged students. The law mandated states to test all K-12 students to measure educational progress and linked federal funds to test results. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2015 to replace NCLB and continue the federal government’s requirement for schools to strive to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. ESSA offered new grants and funding for schools to support districts, schools, and teachers to work towards providing a “full educational opportunity” to all students.
Federal money is primarily distributed to states via grants designed to minimize funding gaps, determined using formulas that consider each state’s needs, the average cost of education for students, and poverty data from the Census. Therefore, some states receive more funding than others. For example, in 2019, Alaska, Mississippi, South Dakota, and New Mexico received at least 13% of their revenue from the federal government, while New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York received less than 5%.
Of the approximately $771.1 billion expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools during the 2019-2020 school year, only 8% came from the federal government. This funding included contributions from the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services (which runs the Head Start program) and the Department of Agriculture (which runs the School Lunch program). Title I funds, special education programs, and child nutrition programs are the primary sources of federal funding.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act, specifically Part B, provides supplemental funds to K-12 schools for educating children with disabilities. The U.S. government offers financial assistance to states to provide special education and related services to ensure that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education, also called FAPE.
Another significant role of the government in education is the establishment of educational standards. Standards ensure that students receive a quality education, regardless of location or school district. While states can set their standards, the federal government has also played a role in establishing national educational standards.
In 2001, the Bush administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to adopt educational standards and administer standardized tests to measure student progress. The Obama administration later introduced the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which aimed to create consistent, high-quality educational standards across the country. While the Common Core Standards have faced criticism and controversy, they continue to be used in many states today.
In summary, while education is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the federal government plays a significant role in establishing legislation and standards, providing funding, and ensuring that all students have access to quality education. However, the 10th Amendment reserves the power to govern education to the states, allowing them to set their policies and regulations. Ultimately, education is a collaborative effort between the federal government, states, and local school districts, all working together to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
K-12 education plays a crucial role in the development of children and young adults.