by Courtney A. Collins
Mercatus Center
August 27, 2014
Working Paper Series
Since its inception, the education system in the United States has been structured in a very decentralized way. The federal government has historically played a limited role in public schools, leaving the majority of decisions to be made at the state and local level. The extent of federal involvement began to widen, however, in 1965 with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While the original legislation was relatively narrow in purpose, its scope broadened dramatically with subsequent amendments and reauthorizations. This study provides a survey of how federal education legislation and associated regulations have increased across time, highlighting the changes generated by the ESEA and its successors, as well as recent developments in programs like Race to the Top and Common Core. Both the descriptive summary and empirical measurements show strong—and sometimes very rapid—growth of federal influence.



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