President Donald Trump has proposed a merger of the federal departments of Education and Labor as part of a push to reorganize the federal government to make it more responsive to constituents.
This proposal would merge the two cabinet-level departments into a single agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce.
The Education Department has been a separate cabinet-level agency since 1979. Throughout its existence, opponents of the agency, most often Republicans, have called for abolishing it.
"The new merged department would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, streamline access and better integrate education and workforce programs, and allow the Administration to more effectively address the full range of issues affecting American students and workers.," the administration's proposal states.
It would have four main sub-agencies focused on
•Higher education/workforce development
The K-12 agency would administer activities now carried out by the Department of Education's Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education, Innovation and Improvement, English Language Acquisition, and Special Education Programs, the administration proposes. The Rehabilitation Services Administration would be moved to the Higher Education/Workforce Development agency.
The American Workforce and Higher Education Administration would bring together Department of Labor workforce development programs and the Department of Education's vocational education, rehabilitation, and higher education programs.
The Enforcement agency would include worker protection agencies from the Labor Department that are responsible for enforcing statutes relating to workers’ pay, safety, benefits, and other protections. It also would include the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, which is
responsible for ensuring equal access to education.
The Research, Evaluation, and Administration agency would include centralized offices focused on policy development, research, and evaluation.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the merger proposal "a bold reform."
“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective," DeVos said in a prepared statement. "Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality.”
The National Education Association, through its president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, called the proposal ill-conceived and poorly timed.
"The Trump administrations plans to reorganize the federal government, including the possible radical merger of two federal agencies, the departments of education and labor among other changes, are at best ill-conceived and poorly timed, and at worst are an attempt to distract the American public from the humanitarian crisis he created along the U.S.-Mexico border," Garcia says.
"The public outcry over the Trump administrations inhumane policy to separate children and families seeking protection is unequivocal. The Trump administration should focus on fixing this problem, stop traumatizing children, instead of manufacturing distractions. Trump needs to get serious about governing and about addressing the real pressing matters facing our country."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says she is "extremely skeptical" of the rationale behind the merger proposal.
“In any normal administration, combining some of the core functions of the education and labor departments might make sense in terms of bringing together programs that educate children and prepare Americans for the jobs of today and tomorrow," Weingarten says.
"Having workforce development—also known as adult education—in one department, and K-12, career and technical education, and college education in another, may not have made sense. But there is nothing normal about this administration, so we’re extremely skeptical of the motivations here given how hostile Betsy DeVos and President Trump have been to public education, workers and unions.
"It seems like this move is just cover for continuing their agenda to go after public schools, gut civil rights and equity protections, provide support for predatory student loan companies and prey on workers. We strongly oppose this move, and Congress should reject it.”