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Implications of Changes in Congress to Education

 

The Advocate, November 2014
Dan Domenech, executive director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The mid-term elections are over and anticipated changes in Congress have taken place. The Republicans now control both houses. What are the implications for education?

Last July, at AASA’s Legislative Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander spoke to our group. Alexander will be the next chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. During his presentation, he referred to the U.S. Department of Education as the National School Board. This was a not very subtle reference to the increased intrusion into local school affairs that we have witnessed during the current administration.

During the current Congress, which expires at the end of the year, both the House and Senate made serious progress toward ESEA reauthorization. The House moved its bill (which AASA endorsed) through both the Education & Workforce Committee and the full House floor. The Senate moved its version through committee, but momentum stalled and the bill has yet to go to the floor. The bills are expected to expire at the end of this Congress without any additional action.

It’s expected that during the remainder of the current administration’s term, we will see efforts by Congress to curtail the dominance that the Department of Education has exerted over local affairs. Sen. Alexander has already indicated that reauthorizing ESEA will be a priority. We anticipate the House to move a bill much like the one they moved this Congress, and for the Senate to consider a bill similar to one Alexander floated in the chamber a few years ago.

We can anticipate that both the House and Senate will continue to rail against the administration’s continued reliance on waivers as a way to deliver limited relief from NCLB. Both chambers will complement this effort with a proposal to reauthorize ESEA and tighten language around how the Secretary can (and cannot!) use waivers and will be devoid of reference to Race to the Top and other competitive programs that the Department has instituted that we have opposed. We could also expect the bill would return the responsibility for accountability and assessment back to the states—positions we have supported.

Our problem will undoubtedly be with elements of the bill that will be favorable to the growth of charters, vouchers (including portability) and choice. We will be watching closely for any effort to provide Title I portability that would enable children leaving public schools to take their Title I allocation. Whatever happens to Title I as it relates to vouchers and portability is likely to be what will happen to funding in other major K-12 education programs, including IDEA and Perkins.

The legislative process has always been about compromise, something that has been in short supply in recent legislative sessions. As we develop our strategies for the upcoming legislative session, it will be important for us to know our priorities as defined by you, our members.

Do we want pooled Federal dollars giving us greater discretion in how to spend them but with the risk of reducing the pot, as will undoubtedly be the case as the Republicans cut the budget?

Can we hold our noses and go along with charters, vouchers and choice in exchange for lessening Federal intrusion in local affairs? Are we ready to support changes to NCLB accountability framework and current mandates for teacher and principal evaluation?

Let us know what you think. Email me with your ideas. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.