The Role of the Feds in Local Public Schools

Turmoil certainly exists within our federal government, no matter where you sit on the politics. From an unorthodox President to a House and Senate who have difficulty working together (save the latest budget agreement), there’s little consistency or predictability for those of us watching from the sidelines.

Through the years, the Feds have had relatively little role in the day to day operations of schools. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979 during the Carter Administration that the US Department of Education (DOE) was even established. Before that, schools were under the auspices of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HUD). The irony is that President Reagan tried to eliminate the DOE during his first term. The DOE itself maintains a brief history of their department on their web site.

In our New Hampshire world, there are certainly effects of the Feds in our schools. In Hopkinton where I work, we receive a small amount of “Title” funds that are used to support literacy instruction as well as professional development for teachers. There is a fair amount of bureaucracy too from keeping copious amount of data to the state assessments the kids take every spring, which are really mandated by the Feds. The Federal monetary contribution to our national schools average only about 8% of a school’s typical budget.

But the Federal government does not mandate curriculum whatsoever as that is the domain of states and local school districts. While supported through specific grant funding, the influentia lCommon Core State Standards were not the product of any federal initiative.

In my work with NAEP (The National Assessment of Education Progress) as a member of the Principal’s Select Committee on NAEP, I’ve had the chance to see up front the professionalism and dedication of scores of DOE employees as well as the many professionals that the DOE contracts with. There is no doubt that under the current administration, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is certainly controversial in many areas, but for the most part, she has not chosen to impact NAEP in general or the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In fact, she and the Department are primarily focusing on approving states’ ESSA plans with the recent legislative change from NCLB.

The impact of the federal government on the life of Americans is obviously significant. But one year into the Trump Administration and the reign of Secretary DeVos, life in our schools has not changed dramatically because of the Feds.

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