Lt Governor O’Brien defends US Dept of Education against GOP attacks

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, the administration’s top education advocate and the lead author of the state’s Race to the Top grant applications, this weekend fired back at Republicans like Colorado U.S. Senate Candidate Jane Norton. In December, Norton told supporters she would work to eliminate the Federal Department of Education should she be elected to office. O’Brien wrote a brief op-ed for the Denver Post Sunday listing some of the benefits states like Colorado derive from the federal department, outlining the substance behind the soundbite.

From Sunday’s Post:

[T]he U.S. Department of Education is a partner that should not be dismissed lightly.

For example, Colorado just received $17.4 million to build a data system that will allow us to track information on students throughout their student career, while keeping the data private. This system will give us a broad view of our education system, as well as what works for individual students.

[…]

The U.S. Department of Education and other departments fund programs for special education, Head Start, school lunch and others that ensure equality in schools. It has many grant programs that support innovative ideas that can fill gaps where state funds are unavailable, such as creating new assessment to measure achievement, creating new data systems and providing start-up funding for charter schools.

Since its creation 130 years ago, the U.S. Department of Education has conducted research and studied innovations nationwide. While each state has its own unique education qualities and needs, the sharing of these “best practices” assists the states in tailoring new trends to their own circumstances.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Education plays a critical role in retraining workers during times of economic transition by providing student aid. With fewer jobs available, some students will decide to stay in school longer and others may return to strengthen their credentials or change their career path. Without student loans and Pell grants through the federal government, there would be fewer options available.

After Norton first announced her position on the department at a small gathering Alamosa, the Post tried to ask Norton to elaborate.

Her spokesperson refused to comment, however, telling The Post, “It’s a holiday. Nobody cares.”

The Norton campaign said the candidate would provide more details after the first of the year, but those details never materialized.

As O’Brien’s op-ed pointed out, Norton primary rival Ken Buck has also targeted the Department of Ed for downsizing. His plan is both less dramatic and more nebulous. He proposes trimming down the department because it is “encroaching on local parents and educators” but details of the plan remain absent, including which programs he would cut and who or what state or local departments would pick up the slack.

The U.S. Department of Education is a major government office. It runs a budget of roughly $78 billion and shutting it down or stripping it back in steps would be a major policy move, much of it likely to effect students who can least afford to sacrifice. The process and its effects goes way beyond stump speech talking points.

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