Federal Authority

As stated above, the federal government has historically played a minor role in education. In fact, the Constitution relegates most of the responsibility for education to the states. Thus, until the 1960s, the federal government largely stayed away from education. While the trend for the federal government to become involved in education issues has continued, even today, the total spending by the federal government accounts for less than 10 percent of the total spent for K-12 education. But because of heavy federal regulation, these federal dollars wield a disproportionate amount of influence.

Federal programs and regulations increased dramatically after 1965. As of 2002, the Department of Education spends over $30 billion per year on K-12 and higher education expenses, and hundreds of education programs are scattered throughout many other federal agencies. Most are designed to help disadvantaged children, though their records of success vary.

Perhaps the most prominent role of the federal government in terms of curricula has been to enforce and enhance rights to educational opportunities and educational equality. This function has involved the enforcement of constitutional rights to education and an adequate curriculum. These federal efforts have generally focused on guaranteeing equality of access to educational content rather than the content or purpose of the instruction itself. Other than these affirmative efforts, the federal government has hesitated to establish or control a school’s curriculum. Rather, the government’s role has been more to encourage schools to modify and improve curriculum, and currently, these suggestions are being backed up with funding and do not merely rely on persuasion.

Inside Federal Authority