In the 3rd Congressional District debate held Oct. 18 at BYU, my Republican opponent, Mayor John Curtis, implied that he favors eliminating the Department of Education. This was a position Jason Chaffetz, our predecessor, took before he quit Congress.
Do we need a Department of Education? I consulted their website and found this mission statement: “ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
“Fostering educational excellence” means ensuring equal educational quality across the 50 states, just as our national highway system ensures that we have quality roads across all 50 states.
“Preparation for global competitiveness” is especially important in Silicon Slopes. If Utah is to continue attracting new businesses, our schools must produce graduates who can compete with graduates from around the world. Skilled workers won’t want to move to Utah if their kids will receive an inferior education.
Thirteen percent of Utah’s education budget is derived from federal funding — according to the National Education Association, that’s $76.6 million for 3rd District schools. This money is earmarked to protect kids with disabilities — kids with cerebral palsy, autism, blindness, deafness and other special needs. Without federal protections, these children are at risk of losing the accommodations they need to have an equal chance at learning. Statewide, according to the Center for American Progress, 104,133 students could lose funding, and 4,541 Utah teachers could lose their jobs.
Besides direct federal funding, there are also federal grants, which are the main source of funding for various programs. One that is invaluable for kids, parents and the community at large is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, otherwise known as after-school programs. Operated directly after school until 6 or 7 p.m., these programs obviate the need for parents to pay for daycare. They give parents peace of mind, according to Kelly Riding, director of the Utah Afterschool Network: “Rather than worrying about their child’s whereabouts when school lets out, parents are assured that their child is productively occupied.” In fact, according to Riding, students who take full advantage of the program for an entire school year receive 70 extra days worth of education.
Today, 57,686 Utah students are enrolled in after-school programs. There are an additional 257,482 Utah kids who would enroll in a program if it were offered at their school. Almost 100,000 Utah students are latchkey kids with parents still at work or otherwise unavailable when school lets out. A study in South Salt Lake has demonstrated a decline in juvenile delinquency in the population of students involved with after-school learning.
These programs were on the chopping block of Trump’s budget earlier this year. Though their funding appears secured for now, it would certainly be lost if the Department of Education were eliminated.
Another role of the Department of Education is to protect certain populations from discrimination. From the original act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, several Title programs emerged and have been amended over the years. Title 1 protects low-income students and has grown to include accountability mandates such as No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Title IX deserves special mention because it protects women from sexual discrimination in sports, in school clubs, but also in life. With 1 in 3 female students at UVU stating they have been the victims of unwanted sexual contact, it is plain to see that Title IX is still relevant.
Other programs are also at risk if the Department of Education is eliminated, including school lunch programs that improve the nutrition of low-income students.
Those who argue that federal funding for education can be rescinded in favor of block grants to states ignore the issue of uneven quality of education across the country and the need to protect women, low-income kids and the blind, the deaf and other disabled kids. Eliminating of the Department of Education is a bad call.
Kathie Allen, M.D., is the Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District.