President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:
Garfield and the draft took mutual possession of each other from that point onward. He practically ran to place it before the House. A bipartisan special committee, swiftly formed, mostly rubber-stamped the plan White sketched out in the Garfield home. One key change was made, however; the committee—headed by Garfield—decided the new authority should be named a “Department.”
This rang as a mighty title for what was, per the fine print, a modest proposal; if Congress went along with Garfield’s pet project, America’s first Department of Education would pop into being as little more than a few statisticians based in Washington—its purpose, to gather educational data from states for distribution among the country’s teachers, academics, and lawmakers. A lone commissioner (retained for a few thousand dollars a year) was to be entrusted with overseeing such work.
Yet Garfield’s speeches defending the measure showed he thought its potential return to be boundless. He made the novel argument that improving the education of citizens was the wisest expenditure a government could make. “A tenth of our national debt expended in public education fifty years ago would have saved us the blood and treasure of the late war,” Garfield told the House in June.