Publication Title

Washington University Law Review


The ongoing expansion of federal influence over education in the United States provides a particularly salient time to consider how education federalism should be structured to achieve the nation’s education goals. One of the nation’s unfulfilled and yet essential education goals is to ensure that all students receive equal access to an excellent education. A variety of scholars and, most recently, the federal Equity and Excellence Commission have offered proposals for advancing this goal. By building on this growing momentum for reform, I argue that disrupting the nation’s longstanding approach to education federalism—which I define as the balance of power between federal, state, and local governments that emphasizes substantial state autonomy over education—is necessary for a successful national effort to achieve this goal. I then provide a foundational theory for strengthening the federal role in education by analyzing the essential elements of a successful reform effort based upon research regarding the strengths of federal education policymaking and upon identification of the missing elements of current reforms. Finally, I respond to many of the potential arguments against disrupting education federalism. For instance, I argue that National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius continues to provide ample room for Congress to expand the federal role in education in ways that are needed to build a more equitable education system. I also explain that although strengthening the federal role in education will reduce some forms of state and local control over education, it also will provide states and localities new forms of control.