Schoolhouse On the Hill


An idea kicked around Capitol Hill for more than 110 years finally emerged from committee this year when Congress passed a bill establishing a Cabinet-level Department of Education.

The legislation did not meet with Harvard or President Bok's approval (Bok feared excessive government intervention would accompany increased centralization). Nevertheless, both the White House and the National Education Association threw their weight behind the legislation and guided it through the House and Senate.

The department, initiated, supported and quickly signed into law by President Carter, went into effect on May 4 with Carter's surprise choice for secretary--California appellate judge Shirley M. Hufstedler--at the helm.

Many were surprised that Carter would choose a non-educator, non-administrator to head the 13th Cabinet department, which will employ 17,000 and incorporate 131 of the 152 programs from the old Office of Education in the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW).

Many observers say that Carter sought the department's creation solely as a political payoff to the powerful NEA. The association issued its first-ever endorsement of a political candidate in exchange for Carter's agreement to find the orphan-child education a home of its own.

After some intense lobbying, Carter's pet project passed over-whelmingly in the Senate and then squeaked thorugh the House by a slight margin.

As Carter enthusiastically penned the legislation into law--and picked up the NEA endorsement for 1980--some observers wondered what field Carter, who promised to trim down the bureaucracy when he came to Washington in 1976, would look to next.