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Education Issues That Might Get At Least a Tiny Bit of Traction in Congress

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 27, 2016 4 min read
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You’re aware that Congress passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, right? Good. Federal lawmakers aren’t slated to do anything nearly as monumental as the Every Student Succeeds Act when it comes to education before the end of this session of Congress. But that doesn’t mean all the other K-12 bills are automatically dead in the water.

We’re not saying any of the following bills are likely to pass Congress. And we’re not saying President Barack Obama is likely to sign any of these bills. But according to congressional sources and previous reporting we and others have done, here are a few pieces of legislation related to K-12 that might get a whiff of traction before the 115th session of Congress begins early next year.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., talk, before a meeting of House and Senate negotiators trying to resolve competing versions of a rewrite to the No Child Left Behind education law.

  • Career and Technical Education Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is a clear priority for Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., and the Republican chairmen of both congressional education committees, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. Both King and Alexander highlighted it in remarks during a National School Boards Association event earlier this month, and King made a pitch for it in March.

    Perkins, last reauthorized in 2006, funnels over $1 billion into CTE programs at the middle school, high school, and college levels. President Barack Obama’s administration has ideas for how to revamp it, such as including measures of CTE mastery and creating better connections to the job market.

    There’s at least some interest and energy around Perkins in Congress right now—Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, for example, recently filed a bill to amend the Perkins Act. But Republicans haven’t shown a lot of enthusiasm towards the Obama administration’s ideas regarding Perkins, particularly making part of the program competitive.

    You should also remember that Perkins reauthorization got some attention from lawmakers back in 2013. But it came to nothing in that session of Congress. So we’ll see if that enthusiasm near the top of the Washington food chain leads to any action in Congress.

  • Child Nutrition The House education committee approved the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 back in May. and sent it to the full House for consideration. And back in January, the Senate agriculture committee OK’d its own child nutrition bill that covers the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. So there’s clearly interest on the Hill in this issue.

    But it’s not clear exactly how the two bills would be reconciled, if they even got to that stage of the congressional sausage-making process. The Senate measure focuses on loosening nutritional requirements around things like sodium levels and fruit and vegetable servings. But the House version has a different look. Among other things, the House bill would back away from the school nutritional standards pushed by first lady Michelle Obama. But it would also raise the threshold for which schools could offer free meals to all students (a provision known as “community eligibility”), and bolster income-verification requirements for students seeking free and reduced-price meals.

    Republicans say the bill would reduce waste as well as fraud in the current school meal programs. But Democrats were upset that the bill would negatively impact thousands of schools.

  • Education Research Then there’s the Strengthening Education Through Research Act, or SETRA. Several months ago, this piece of legislation looked like it had decent momentum in Congress. But it has hit the skids. Why? There are concerns among student data-privacy advocates about SETRA’s relationship to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. FERPA should be dealt with first, these advocates say, before Congress turns to SETRA, which mentions FERPA in the proposed bill language.

    Still, there might be enough residual momentum left over and interest from various parties to push SETRA over the finish line, or at least further along in Congress. (In case you’re wondering, aside from a March hearing in the House about privacy issues as they relate to educational data, it doesn’t seem that there’s been much of a spark around FERPA reauthorization.)

  • Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Most recently reauthorized in 2002, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has also gotten a look from lawmakers in this congressional session, and might get more attention down the line. There’s a reauthorization bill from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that puts a new emphasis on childhood trauma, addresses the detention of juveniles not charged with crimes, and other matters. But in recent months it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

There’s no GOP bill in the house at the moment to reauthorize the law, although Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. and the House education committee’s ranking member, introduced the Youth Justice Act last year that would amend the act.

Other factors might give bills addressing the act a bit of a boost. Criminal justice reform in general has gotten a lot of attention from the Obama administration and members of Congress, such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. In fact, on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the “Second Chance Pell” program in which Pell Grants would be made available to 12,000 incarcerated individuals for postsecondary and career and technical education.

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