Will the Tea Party try to do away with the U.S. Department of Education?

On the campaign trail, it became “cool” among Tea Partiers to support the elimination of the federal Department of Education. The proposals revive an old Republican idea that lost steam last time it was introduced, once winning candidates faced the reality of day-to-day lawmaking. Whether the new crop of Republicans will actually attempt to do away with the department is still unclear.

In a conversation on Errol Smith’s BAM! Radio show, Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute suggested that whether or not the new Republicans in Congress push the issue isn’t that important. What matters is that their stance symbolizes a general attitude about the federal government’s role in education that could complicate President Obama’s education agenda. They’re likely to block any efforts to renew big federal education efforts like Race to the Top, for example, as we’ve suggested here previously.

New Republican opposition could scuttle compromise on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – or not. The real action, however, is probably going to be in the states, where Republicans grabbed large majorities in many legislatures and where the economic crisis has crippled district budgets, even as Race to the Top winners are beginning to implement federally driven education reforms and a majority of states are overhauling standards.