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Arne Duncan’s Chief Deputy: Second-Term Agenda Is Same as First

By Alyson Klein — February 04, 2014 1 min read
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Jim Shelton, the acting deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, isn’t putting his money on a big, bipartisan preschool bill coming out of Congress anytime soon—even though it’s a high priority agenda item for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the two top Democrats in Congress: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

Shelton told a group of New York state school board members on Capitol Hill today that, despite this story in the New York Times, which showed early education gaining bipartisan momentum in states, he doesn’t expect “legislation out of the federal government” for preschool anytime soon.

Just six months ago, Shelton’s boss—Arne Duncan—said in an interview that the push for expanding preschool was “not a wild goose chase.”

And Shelton acknowledged that the Obama administration’s education agenda is essentially set for the forseeable future.

“What’s the big new thing for the second term? The big new thing for the second term is that there is no big new thing for the second term,” Shelton said. Instead, he said, the administration will continue to push on issues it began working on in the first term.

Case in point: The School Improvement Grant program, which has gotten blowback for some less-than-exciting, but early, student outcomes. The program recently got a major congressional makeover, which could result in a lot more flexibility for local and state officials on how to spend the federal dollars. Shelton said the schools that have gotten the best results from the program are the ones who “took on the political battles” necessary to see big change.

When it comes to SIG and other K-12 initiatives, local districts are in the driver’s seat, Shelton said.

“You will decide whether these things play out or they don’t,” he said.