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July 27, 2019

The Purpose of the U.S. Department of Education

According to recent reports, the budget for the Department of Education for 2018 was set at almost $171 billion. It was a slight increase over 2017, which clocked in at $164.6 billion. While these numbers may seem high, they are minuscule when compared to the national debt or cross-referenced to the list of things that this department does.

Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of the public does not possess a detailed knowledge of the duties assigned to the U.S. Department of Education. While almost anyone could easily assume that they oversee the educational sphere, this would be a massive generalization that hardly does it any justice. So, what are the actual duties that this department is in charge?

Administration of Federal Assistance Programs

One of the significant expenses of the Department of Education is related to the application of federal assistance programs. For those unfamiliar, these include a wide variety of grants that are given to students who qualify on an annual basis. For instance, the amount of money spent on Pell Grants in 2017 was over $29 billion. That figure includes an uneven spread between all 50 states and the surrounding territories. California and Texas lead in consumed capital while the Virgin Islands come in at the bottom of the list.

Well, to issue such a massive amount of funding to millions of students from across the U.S. geographical landscape, the department has to establish programs that will analyze eligibility, provide customer service, and offer a smooth application process. To truly gauge how impressive the department’s involvement here is, consider the fact that the share of students who received some form of federal funding in 2016 was 87 percent. In other words, almost 9 out of 10 people who signed up to take college classes were getting free money from the government.

Enforce Federal Education Laws

According to a seasoned educational specialist with over 20 years of experience in the sector, Dr. Leann Smith of Cullman County, the next crucial purpose of the Department of Education is related to education laws. Many Republican politicians have pursued the idea of abolishing this department in the past. One of the most notable examples would be President Reagan. The reason why is the fact that the department was built to interfere with the way that states run their education and force them to obey federal guidelines. These attempts have typically failed, and the department has never come close to being terminated.

A situation that can exemplify why federal upholding of educational laws is essential is the desegregation battle fought in the previous century. For example, in 1957, President Eisenhower mobilized the Arkansas National Guard and commanded it to uphold the federal ruling on school desegregation. Absent the ability of the federal government to get involved; desegregation would have probably taken even longer.

Advanced Data Collection and Analysis

In addition to disbursing funds and passing/maintaining fundamental laws on education, the department is also in charge of the data that facilitates innovation and improvement of operations. Dr. Leann Smith explains this as the government’s idea of examining effective teaching methods and recognizing what type of educational experience works well for students at any given time.

Additionally, this part of the job of the department is what connects them to the teachers and parents across the United States. Namely, they frequently correspond with their state representatives to obtain feedback from people who are involved in the educational sector. So, someone from Cullman County who might have a revolutionary idea about K-12 programs would be able to showcase it by relying on the Department of Education’s efforts to reach higher levels of effectiveness and efficiency.

A Common Myth

Finally, just like it is essential to recognize some everyday purposes of the department, it is equally as significant to step away from the myths that surround it. The most popular one is the belief that the Department of Education creates schools. It is not true as the department is tasked with overseeing essential laws and principles that should be followed when schools are established. They do not, however, actually participate in the creation of any new institutions outside of their duty to approve them.

Some other relevant responsibilities include resolving matters reported by states or educational programs that may not be covered by the basic guidelines. Not to forget that leaders who are in charge of this department often have to convey ideas envisioned by the present leadership of the country. Nevertheless, this type of role takes a backseat to most of the previously mentioned duties that have to be executed daily.

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