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Some GOP candidates seek to eliminate Dept. of Education

BY KRISTEN EAST | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

Candidate Positions:

Michele Bachmann
Bachmann would abolish the Department of Education, and she has said she would give all the money previously invested in the department to state and localities.

Newt Gingrich
Gingrich, who called the student-loan program an "absurdity," would not abolish the Department of Education, instead saying he would make it a research and education center. He would dramatically shrink the department and remove all of its regulations. Gingrich would support forcing more students into work-study programs.

Jon Huntsman
Huntsman prefers local control on education and plans to abolish No Child Left Behind. The former Utah Gov. defied No Child Left Behind in 2005 by signing a law that gave Utah's education standards priority over federal requirements.

Gary Johnson
Johnson would abolish the Department of Education, and he is an advocate for homeschooling.

Ron Paul
Paul's "Plan to Restore America" calls for the elimination of the Department of Education, among others. Though his plan makes no mention of what would happen to them, Paul does not intend to eliminate federal student-loan programs. He believes the student-loan aspect should be taken out of the federal government and handled elsewhere.

Rick Perry
Perry would abolish the Department of Education, and he believes the federal government should get out of education altogether.

Mitt Romney
Romney was in favor of eliminating the Department of Education in the 1990s but praised the department in 2007. He has been a supporter of No Child Left Behind and President Obama's "Race to the Top" program.

Rick Santorum
Santorum said he does not have a "hit list" of departments he wants to eliminate. He would not eliminate the Department of Education, but he wants it to play a less prominent role in higher education.

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The U.S. Department of Education could take a major hit if any of the Iowa caucus candidates are elected in 2012.

Four candidates want to eliminate the department. The rest want to see less federal regulation of the country's education policies and student-loan programs, providing more control to the states and local governments.

One local GOP backer said the case against the Education Department is based on the Constitution.

Bob Anderson, the chairman of the Johnson County Republicans, said eliminating the Education Department is a philosophy based on states' rights.

"Education is one of those various issues that is principally reserved for the states and the localities," he said. "Reserving privacy to the states is the strong principle of the overwhelming majority of Republicans. None want to see [the Education Department] as a controlling, dominating influence in the education process."

One aspect of the Education Department that receives much of the GOP's ire is the student-aid program, a hot-button issue in the higher-education community.

The Education Department administers Pell Grants and student loans and provides access to higher education for millions of low-income students at more than 6,000 postsecondary institutions, said Jane Glickman, a press officer at the department. In 2011, it's operating on a roughly on a $71 billion budget.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created the federal student-loan program, distributing student loans through two different federal programs — Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans.

The U.S. Department of Education, which opened in 1980, became the sole administrator of all federal student loans in 2010 following the elimination of the Federal Family Education Loans program.

No GOP candidates have laid out a specific plan for the future of federal student loan and financial aid programs.

Mark Warner, the University of Iowa director of Student Financial Aid, said state agencies would need to be created in order to administer student loans and financial aid if the Education Department was eliminated.

"We don't know any details of the plans," Warner said. "Often times, there are these high-level ideas and plans, but with no exact details. It's extremely difficult to project the implications. There are so many unknowns. I would challenge anyone to try to make a judgment."

Some financial-aid experts maintain the biggest concern in eliminating the Education Department would be the states' capacity to handle programs previously administered by the federal government.

"Most of the money comes from the federal government," said Mary Fallon, a student-aid communications consultant. "The question is, how do they divvy it up between the states? That would be the most disruptive thing."

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the FastWeb and FinAid websites, said different states have different priorities and would likely handle allocations differently.

"It would be a hit or miss depending on the state," he said. "The cost of the loans would considerably vary from one to the next. It would be a complete mess. It's not something that can be handed off to the state level."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry want to eliminate the Education Department.

Blake Whitten, a UI statistics lecturer and faculty adviser for UI Youth for Ron Paul, said he favors eliminating the Education Department because the candidates' plans are proactive in making budgetary cuts before they're forced on students.

"It would be good for us to house clean a little," he said. "Eliminating the department seems drastic because most of us have a hard time conceiving what it was like before the department was around. Was the quality of education in the United States poorer before 1979? I don't think that's true."

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, disagrees.

He said having some federal role in education is very important, and the idea of eliminating the Education Department is "ludicrous."

"Now more than ever, the prosperity of our country is going to based on the skills and the education and the creative knowledge that Americans have," Bolkcom said. "Eliminating the Department of Education flies in the face of everything we know about being competitive globally."


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