Back to Constitutional Basics in Education

Jennifer Marshall /

In the mid 1960s, education policy took a wrong turn, away from America’s founding principles. That was when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a part of his War on Poverty, created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). It was the first major federal foray into local schools.

But the Constitution doesn’t provide for a federal role in education, and public schools had traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

What’s more, Washington’s intervention seemed to bring out the worst in education governance: State officials became the middlemen to administer federal funding and bureaucratic bloat followed. Staff at state education agencies doubled in the five years after ESEA became law.

In 1965, ESEA was about 30 pages long. Today ESEA is known as No Child Left Behind, and its prescriptions for American schools run on for almost 600 pages.

After multiple reauthorizations, the law has accumulated program after program to intervene in everything from English as a second language to after-school care.  Meanwhile, federal education spending has tripled, while student achievement has generally stagnated. (more…)