Department of Education
October 17, 1979
The Department of Education Organization Act created the modern U.S. Department of Education. The best way to administer federal education programs had been a chronic source of debate both in and out of government. Those who wished to protect the traditional role and prerogatives of state and local governments in education fought to keep the federal administrative structure small and weak. Those who wished to see the federal government play a more active role in setting the country's educational agenda pushed for a more pronounced and influential administrative structure. A department of education was first created in 1867, but it was quickly downgraded to a “bureau” and then to an “office.” During the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, the Office of Education was folded into the new Federal Security Agency, which would become the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). When the federal government expanded its role in education during the 1960s, there was growing concern that the existing Office of Education within HEW was both inadequate to the expanded administrative task and unable forcefully to advocate on behalf of education. In the 1976 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter formally endorsed the idea of a new separate department of education, and his victory initiated the process that culminated in the Organization Act in 1979.
During the fight for passage, the politics over the Department of Education were hard fought. The effort to pass the act failed in 1978, when it was killed by a unique coalition of the most conservative and most liberal members of the House of Representatives.