Education Overview

The original Department of Education was created in 1867 to collect information on schools and teaching that would help the States establish effective school systems. While the agency's name and location within the Executive Branch have changed over the past 130 years, this early emphasis on getting information on what works in education to teachers and education policymakers continues to the present day.

Responsibility for education lies primarily at a State and local level in the United States. States, communities, and public and private organizations of all kinds, establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation. The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant State and local role. Of an estimated $1 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2008-2009, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources. This is especially true at the elementary and secondary level, where just over 92 percent of the funds will come from non-Federal sources.

All said the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is a little less than 8 percent, which includes funds not only from the Department of Education, but also the Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture's School Lunch program.

In 1980, Congress established the Department of Education as a Cabinet level agency. Today, the Education Department operates programs that touch on every area and level of education. The Department's elementary and secondary programs annually serve nearly 14,000 school districts and some 56 million students attending roughly 99,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools. Department programs also provide grant, loan, and work-study assistance to more than 13 million postsecondary students.

Although the Education Department’s share of total education funding in the U.S. is relatively small, the department tries to target its funds where they can do the most good. This targeting reflects the historical development of the Federal role in education as a kind of "emergency response system," a means of filling gaps in State and local support for education when critical national needs arise.

In 2009, President Obama took office promising to do the following:

  • Boost Head Start; Create Presidential Early Learning Council
  • Boost Teacher Mentoring Programs
  • Coordinate With Local Officials To Improve Education
  • Create Online Report Cards For Parents To View
  • Create Voluntary Teacher Performance Gauge
  • Double Charter School Funding
  • Double Funding For After-School Programs
  • Double The Number Of High School Students Taking College-Level Courses
  • Improve High School Graduation Rates
  • Improve No Child Left Behind
  • Include More Technology In Public Schools
  • Increase Assistance To Land-Grant Colleges
  • Issue Annual Education Progress Report
  • Lower Dropout Rate
  • Pay Tuition For Students Going Into Teaching
  • Provide Incentives For Rural Teachers
  • Provide Pay Raises For Teachers And Principals
  • Recruit Science And Technology Teachers
  • Replicate Harlem Children's Zone
  • Require All Schools Of Education To Be Accredited
  • Steer Work-Study Funds To Public Service Jobs

The President’s first major action on education occurred in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Of the $787 billion) signed by President Obama on February 17, approximately $100 billion is designated for education.

The Show-Me State series, along with the Republican Party, believes maintaining a world-class system of primary and secondary education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential, is critically important to America’s future. We believe in the power of school choice, that giving parents the ability to send their children to better schools-not keep them trapped in failing schools—is an important way to enable children to get the quality education they deserve.

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Sources: ED.gov; NationalJournal.com