Harkin says cutting Education Dept. is a terrible idea

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, calls it “nonsense” for politicians to suggest doing away with the U.S. Department of Education, saying “that flies in the face of 200 years of U.S. history.”

Several GOP presidential candidates have called for eliminating the department, including U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Others have called for at least weakening it.

Tom Harkin

“How much it’s involved and how it’s involved is open for debate obviously, that’s open for discussion,” Harkin said of the department. “But to say that the federal government has no role in elementary, secondary education, or any education is just nonsense. We have a role, we have a very important role to play.”

Harkin said since the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 there’s been an expression of the federal government having a role in education of the territories, and even suggested the preamble of the U.S. Constitution calls for the federal government being involved in education.

“I submit to you that you can’t promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty without education,” Harkin said.

He also said the United States is “still one nation,” and every state and district has an interest in making sure children don’t fall through the cracks.

“A child who’s ill-educated in one state may not just be a burden in that state, that child can move to Iowa or Nebraska or Minnesota, you get my point,” Harkin said. “So we have a national interest in this from that standpoint.”

But Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was quick to acknowledge there is a division in Congress and among the American people about the role of the federal government in education.

He said his committee has had that debate over the last year as they’ve worked on the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011, which was just approved out of committee on a bipartisan vote.

“That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean they’re irrevocable differences,” Harkin said. “It just means we have to get together and try to find a meeting ground, a common ground on which we can move forward, and I believe we’ve done that in this bill.”

That bill largely does away with No Child Left Behind, Harkin said, a controversial act passed in 2001. Harkin made the comments during a tour of the Des Moines Public Schools’ Downtown School on Friday morning.