Tea Party groups succeeded in pushing the Republican Party platform to the right this year, but they failed to restore a former plank they favor: Eliminating the U.S. Department of Education.
The effort was led by FreedomWorks, the advocacy group chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and a leading force in the Tea Party movement. Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks, told redefinED at the RNC that while the group fell short on the platform language, it succeeded in fostering a debate about decentralized decision-making in education – and the effectiveness of federal involvement. (FreedomWorks, by the way, is a strong supporter of expanded school choice).
“I don’t think that there’s any evidence that education has improved in this country because of the Department of Education,” Steinhauser said.
You can hear Steinhauser’s comments in full by clicking on the recorded interview below, but here are some highlights:
On criticism from former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings (who favors a federal role in education): Those who support a federal role “are technocrats who think you can plan education policy from the top down, from Washington D.C., better than you can at the local level. And I just don’t think that that’s the case. … Allowing for local communities to decide what’s best for their children, what’s best for their communities, is the way to go. So when you give a federal department like the Department of Education more power as opposed to less power, they will use it. And I just am not convinced that bureaucrats in Washington D.C. know how best to educate our children in local communities.”
On ironically being a bit in sync with the teachers unions (which are critical of federal initiatives like Obama’s Race to the Top): “Given all the fights we’ve had with the teachers unions over the years – they’re kind of our arch enemies when it comes to policies we’re pushing – one particular position like this, I don’t think matters a whole lot. I think you can probably find some common position between just about anybody. But no, when it comes to the big battles, the big debates, I think we’re on the right side here and on the opposite side of the teachers union with about 99 percent of the issues.”