This action resulted from the immense pressure applied by the “all powerful” teacher union—the National Education Agency (NEA)—which sought to nationalize education removing it from local control. Carter rewarded their support in his election with the new cabinet post.
But an executive order is not enough and can be rescinded by the next president, as Trump is doing to his predecessor. The EO restricts itself to “under the law” and Congress (both parties) clearly passed these major education laws identified in the order. Trump must more fully hinge his argument on the Constitution and on the doctrine of federalism, which preceded the Constitution as a carry-over from the Articles of Confederation, our first national constitution. He should do so by arguing that he has no authority to enforce law that violates the separation of powers as created by the Constitution, which he has sworn to uphold. He must also encourage Congress to rescind those laws or, through the states, create a new amendment to the Constitution using Article 5 of the Constitution. Otherwise this immediate victory, his EO, will be short lived.
One of the first questions I ask students in an into to government class, since every textbook has a chapter on federalism is, “Who cares most whether Johnny can read, his mother or federal bureaucrats located hundreds often thousands of miles away.” It is generally agreed his mother does and is in a position to do most to remedy the problem by direct access to his teacher and school and can run for the school board if not satisfied.
A second question, “Who suffers most if the school fails Johnny?” Again, his mother as responsible bureaucrats have moved on and she is left long term with the consequences of their failure with Johnny. As a life-long student or instructor I have never seen evidence that the federal government can administrate the needs of Johnny better than most parents.
My best and most caring teacher did her “magic” in a remote country school of two rooms; one a library the other a classroom. She taught all grades 1-8 at once with two or more students from each grade. No electronic aid or devices—only a chalkboard and books. Government policies and money raining down from afar generally discourage individuality in teaching and creativity. Instead they often spawn collective thought, (the enemy of real education), by their distribution of money favoring some ideas and groups.
Federalism and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers to retain it and to specifically list the powers of the federal government in Article I Section 8 leaving all other powers, in this case education, at state and local levels, was brilliant. Hopefully the Trump E O will strike a new public debate eventually removing all federal influence and funding in education. Trump is not yet a constitutionalist but this move alone shows him closer than the vast majority of presidents in my lifetime.