A few weeks ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that “I don’t think the federal government has a role” in education, a position that, if taken literally, would eliminate all federal assistance to low-income students and strip millions of college students of their Pell Grants and federal student loans. At yesterday’s GOP presidential candidate’s forum, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) decided that she wants a piece of that action as well:
The Constitution does not specifically enumerate, nor does it give to the federal government the role and duty to superintend over education that historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state governments. To put that into the federal government, as we saw a Department of Education in the late 1970s, has eviscerated the constitutional understanding that the control of education truly lies with the parents.
Bachmann is once again revealing that she does not understand the Constitution. The Constitution does not need to specifically mention the word “education” to allow the United States to provide for it because it permits Congress to raise revenues and use them to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States.” Ensuring that everyone growing up in the United States has the skills they need to become productive citizens clearly fits within this grant of power.
Moreover, it is not even clear what Bachmann is talking about when she claims that the Constitution ensures that “control of education truly lies with the parents.” Although the Supreme Court held in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that states cannot forbid parents from sending their children to private schools, Bachmann seems to think that the mere act of providing federal grants to public schools somehow undermines parents’ ability to raise their children as they choose. If this were actually true, then it’s not clear why state governments don’t also step on parents’ rights when they fund and administer public schools.
But of course, Bachmann doesn’t have any real interest in developing a coherent theory of the Constitution. In Michele Bachmann’s America, there is only one rule: the Constitution says whatever Bachmann wishes it said.