Smithfield Herald

Rouzer looks to dismantle federal education department

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer has introduced a bill he knows will never pass.

Dubbed the States’ Education Reclamation Act of 2015, the legislation would dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and return its nearly $65.7 billion in annual funding to the states. That money would remain earmarked for education, he said, and could go to fund teacher raises or build new schools, among other uses.

Rouzer introduced the bill May 12, and it now awaits action in the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

But the congressman does not expect the bill to make it to the president’s desk, he said, because it lacks strong support on both sides of the aisle.

“The Democrats would never go along with eliminating the federal Department of Education. That’s well known,” Rouzer said. “And there may be some much-more liberal Republicans who have a difficult time with that as well.”

So why introduce the bill at all?

For one, congress will reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the coming months. Rouzer said his bill should help shape the narrative of the debate. The goal is to steer the conversation away from the status quo of federal control, he said.

From a personal standpoint, Rouzer said, the bill allows the freshman congressman to stake out where he stands on the issue.

“It lays my marker down, and I think it will help to push the final product toward more state and local control,” he said. “You make gains in small increments. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Rouzer emphasized that his plan would not reduce education funding. In his estimation, the plan would free up funds by eliminating the bureaucracy in Washington. For instance, he said, the average annual salary is $108,571 for an Education Department employee. Average pay for U.S. teachers is $56,103, he said, and that number is even lower in North Carolina.

“Salaries are a part of recruiting the best and the brightest to any profession, including teaching,” Rouzer said.

Rouzer’s proposal is far from unprecedented. In fact, Republicans have called for scrapping the Education Department for about as long as it has existed.

In 1980, Congress enacted legislation under President Jimmy Carter that split the Department of Education out of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and gave the new agency additional powers and responsibilities. Less than a year later, Ronald Reagan made the agency’s elimination a key point of his successful presidential campaign. In 1995, congressional Republicans made a strong push to break up the agency under House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

While response to his bill has been cool in Washington, Rouzer said, residents have voiced their support across his 7th District, which stretches from Johnston County to the South Carolina border.

“It’s not a new idea by any means, but I think it’s gaining a little more support day by day,” he said. “Back home, they like the idea of the flexibility; they like the idea of local control. And rather than sending their money to Washington to go into a black hole … they like the idea of states and localities using the money the way they see fit.”

Hamlin: 919-836-5768