Fostering Student Achievement For Global Competitiveness

What Is the Department of Education?

The Department of Education (ED) is the executive department responsible for ensuring that people in the United States have access to the education they need. Some of the functions of the ED include federal financial aid programs, data collection on the success of American schools, and assistance to state and local programs designed to improve the quality of education. The ED is responsible for making education more affordable and accessible for all.


For many years, the work of the Department of Education was completed by agencies within other departments, including the Department of Interior. The ED was initially created in 1867, though its status as a department has changed several times. President Jimmy Carter fought to create a separate Department of Education in 1979. His proposal was met with arguments that education wasn’t something covered under the Constitution and thus there was no need for a separate department. President Carter was able to establish the ED by the end of 1979.

Throughout its history, there has been a general opposition to the ED. Many conservatives in government feel the ED intrudes on the rights of the states to operate their educational systems as they see fit. In fact, President Ronald Reagan attempted to eliminate the ED entirely. Though this push was a largely Republican effort, President George H.W. Bush refused to move forward with eliminating the department. President George W. Bush backed the ED and implemented the No Child Left Behind Act in an attempt to provide equal education for all children.

The position of secretary of education is 16th in the line for the presidential succession. This position is appointed by the president and must be approved by the Senate.

Organizational Responsibilities

While the states still have much control over their educational systems, the ED creates policies that are implemented throughout state and local programs. The ED also provides federal funding, which amounts to a little more than 10 percent of the funds schools use. The remainder comes from state and local taxes.
The federal government also offers financial assistance to students, manages other programs that offer help in all areas of education from preschool through higher education, and educates the general public on education issues. All this work is completed under the secretary of education. The current secretary is Arne Duncan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Twelve agencies and office comprise the ED:

  • Federal Student Aid
  • Institute of Education Sciences
  • National Assessment Governing Board
  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • Office for Civil Rights
  • Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Office of English Language Acquisition
  • Office of Innovation and Improvement
  • Office of Postsecondary Education
  • Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools
  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
  • Office of Vocational and Adult Education

Each of these agencies and offices is responsible for overseeing and handling any issues that occur in their given areas. The ED is the smallest of the cabinet departments in both funding and size. The department is headquartered in Washington, DC, with offices in Maryland and Virginia.

Budget and Size

The budget for the ED is one of the smallest of the 15 cabinet departments. When this department was granted cabinet status in 1979, the first budget allotted just over $14 billion to the programs and other aspects of the ED. This budget has shown some steady increases over the years, with some years experiencing cutbacks due to budgeting issues. This has been especially prevalent over the past decade. For the 2014 fiscal year, the ED budget is approximately $56.7 billion, a decrease from the previous two years.

In addition to having one of the smallest budgets of all the cabinets, the ED is also one of the smallest in terms of jobs and employment numbers. This department currently employs approximately 5,000 people. Most of the career options available within this department are located in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.


Many of the careers within the ED are held by individuals who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in their field. While some of the positions are related to the education industry, many of them are administrative or involve managing the programs the ED operates. Some of the jobs currently available within the ED include:

  • IT specialist
  • Program specialist
  • Research scientist
  • Statistician

Many jobs require an appropriate degree, and all require candidates to pass a background check. Security clearance is typically not necessary.

Current Issues

Education is an issue that remains at the forefront of Americans’ concerns. Some current issues surrounding the ED include: