Governor Bill Haslam’s recent statement to the news media about education is making waves among Tennessee constitutionalists. He said:
“Obama administration’s efforts on education, by and large, are right on target. The things they’re putting influence on and emphasizing are on target. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, we’ve probably averaged calls once a week since I’ve been in office to (talk about) things I’m working on and how they might help.”
Ay yi yi, where to start? When taking the oath of office, Governor Haslam swore to support the Constitution of the United States. So let’s compare his statement with what the U.S. Constitution says about education.
The U.S. Constitution states that the role of the federal government in education is … um … well … oops, there’s absolutely nothing in the Constitution about education. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
(If you want to verify this for yourself, go to the full text of the Constitution online, and press Ctrl + F to open your browser’s word search feature. Search for the words like school, education, teaching, etc. in the full text of the Constitution. You won’t find them, because they’re not there.)
Hm, so then why is Gov. Haslam saying that Obama is right on target with his education efforts? According to the Constitution, President Obama shouldn’t be creating any education policies, agendas or efforts. The Constitution gives the federal government no role in education whatsoever. Because education is not an enumerated power granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, it is clearly a power left to state and local governments, or to individuals, per the Tenth Amendment which states:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
If Gov. Haslam is serious about his oath to support the U.S. Constitution, he cannot support any educational initiatives coming out of Washington DC. According to the Constitution, the educational buck stops with the state and local governments, and most importantly, with parents.
Let’s look at the next part of Gov. Haslam’s statement. Gov. Haslam says that he is talking to the U.S. Secretary of Education on the phone approximately once a week. Certainly it is wise for a governor to seek outside counsel on the varied responsibilities that go with the governor’s office. This is no less true for education, as constitutionally the state government does have a role to play in education. But his choice of counsel here is troubling.
As education is not an enumerated power granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, the Department of Education is unconstitutional. This includes the position of Secretary of Education. After all, if the federal government has no role in education, then what need is there for someone to advise the President on education? Yet Gov. Haslam has chosen to call the unconstitutional head of an unconstitutional federal department for this counsel on a weekly basis.
Our Founders recognized that one-size-fits-all government is really one-size-fits-none government. This is no more true than in the world of education. Tennessee’s students have distinct and unique needs from students in other states. Even individual children attending the same schools often have vastly different needs. How does Gov. Haslam violating the U.S. Constitution by going to the Obama administration for one-size-fits-none national education policies from Washington DC that sacrifice Tennessee’s constitutionally guaranteed powers to control its own educational system benefit Tennessee children? The answer – it doesn’t.
Lesley Swann is a Co-Host for Tenther Radio and the state chapter coordinator for the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center. She is a native of Anderson County, Tennessee.
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