Al Franken left the Senate at the start of this year, and that means there are only ten Democrats on the Senate education committee. Presumably the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, wants someone to step into Franken’s spot and reduce the GOP’s majority on the committee back to one vote. (There are twelve Republicans on the panel).
So who may replace him? We came up with a few possibilities, although there doesn’t seem to be a clear front-runner.
We also reached out to the four senators’ offices to see if they had been approached about or had any interest in joining the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. As you can probably tell from the name, the panel also deals with other big-ticket and controversial issues, in particular health care. So the senator who is ultimately chosen for the slot may not have a long record on K-12. And factors such as Democrats’ positions on other committees, among other things, will play also matter. We’ve listed the potential new members in alphabetical order.
• Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey: He’s probably the most prominent name on this list because of the chance he’ll run for president in 2020, and due to his work on Newark schools while serving as the city’s mayor.
Along with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Booker has previously introduced the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) Act, intended to boost apprenticeship programs with federal tax credits. (Scott is already on the Senate education panel.) Booker has also authored a bill to fund elementary and secondary schools that are open year-round.
• Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware: Coons has written several education-related bills in recent years. Late last year, for example, he introduced the Access, Success, and Persistence In Reshaping Education (ASPIRE) Act with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. The bill is designed to help more low-income students get into and finish college.
In 2017 Coons—along with Sen. Angus King, I-Me., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio—also introduced legislation to provide tax relief specifically to parents of children with disabilities. And he’s worked with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to back the creation of a pilot program for college savings accounts that would serve low-income students.
• Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland: Back when Van Hollen was in the House, he served on the House education committee, so he’s got the relevant congressional experience when it comes to committee assignments. Elected in 2014, Van Hollen has supported the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, which aimed to create a grant program supporting the repair and renovation of schools. Van Hollen has also backed the creation of a database of scholarships focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
• Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia: Warner has backed legislation on a variety of education and education-related topics during his time in the Senate. These include educator preparation, financial counseling for higher education, higher education outcomes, and Pell Grants for those in early college high schools. Warner has also focused on workforce issues.
BONUS: Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota: She’s Franken’s replacement, she’s new, and she needs committee assignments. Swapping in the newly arrived Minnesota lawmaker for the departed one would be straightforward. Smith has a business background, although she’s also worked for Planned Parenthood. Since taking office, she has also highlighted pensions (which the Senate education committee also deals with) as a key priority for her. The same argument about being a rookie and needing committee assignments also holds true, of course, for Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama. He doesn’t have much of a background in education.
It’s also worth noting that Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire was able to get on the committee during her first term. That could indicate that no veteran senator was particularly keen to get on the committee when this Congress began in 2017.
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