Education Department in Crosshairs of New Administration?

The Education Department is one agency that could see major changes under the incoming Trump administration.

With a new president bringing a different philosophy and agenda to Washington, what are the implications for the federal workforce? A hiring freeze and reducing the federal workforce through attrition is a focal point in the “Contract With America”.

One agency likely to receive attention in the Trump administration is the Department of Education. It has a small agency with about 4,500 employees but has an annual budget of approximately $68 billion. The average salary of Education Department employees is $108,137.32 according to data in

Will the Education Department Be Eliminated?

As a candidate, Donald Trump has not focused much attention on the agency or the topic of education. What he has said may cause some of the 4,500 employees to start sending out resumes.

For example, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked candidate Trump what he would do to cut spending if elected President. He said the Department of Education may be on the chopping block.

“But I may cut Department of Education. I believe Common Core is a very bad thing. I believe that we should be — you know, educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education.”

In his book Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America, Trump wrote: “A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don’t eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach.”

The president cannot eliminate the agency with an executive order or otherwise. It would take an act of Congress to do that. According to Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe:

“There is no constitutional obstacle to the enactment of such a law. With a Republican in the White House and a GOP-controlled House and Senate, Republicans will have their best chance yet to scrap or seriously cut back the size and budget for the agency.

In effect, it remains to be seen if a call for abolishing the agency will be resurrected. In looking at the overall goals of the incoming administration, abolishing the agency seems unlikely.

Restricting Reach of Agency Likely

It seems likely the reach of the agency will be restricted.

The common core curriculum has been directly mentioned by Trump on occasion and there is no doubt about his philosophy on this issue. In a tweet distributed by the candidate earlier this year, he said, “I have been consistent in my opposition to Common Core. Get rid of Common Core— keep education local!”

Common Core has been a political lightning rod for some time but it is not a federal policy. It is a set of standards states have adopted for what students at each grade level should be able to do. Many states have adopted the standards, although there will likely be less pressure to have other states do so. States that have adopted the standards may go their own way in the future without pressure or policies from the Education Department.

Some Trump representatives have said a Trump administration would at least “downsize” the department to an organization that allocates funding. The department’s Office for Civil Rights is likely to be a target within the agency. This is the organization overseeing Title IX enforcement. It has come under a political spotlight under the Obama administration.

As a candidate, Trump has also stated often the Education agency should not be in the student loan business.

A federal voucher program for school choice may reallocate funding. The topic may also make is less likely the agency will be eliminated.

“Political correctness” has also been mentioned during the campaign, usually in a very negative context. This philosophy will likely impact funding and  a change of emphasis with the Education Department.

Selection of Secretary of Education Will Be Significant

President-elect Trump’s philosophy on education has not received the same attention as other topics, such as immigration. Selection of the next secretary of education will provide better insight on the Education Department’s role.

One strong candidate to become the next secretary of education is a former Education Department official, Williamson (Bill) Evers. He is a member of the Trump presidential transition team for education.

Evers was an advisor and an assistant U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. He also was named by two California governors to serve on commissions for evaluating academic standards.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47