Congress is back in session this week after its annual five-seek summer recess comes to a close. But don’t expect lawmakers to act on anything education-related.
In fact, don’t expect them to act on much of anything at all. With the mid-term elections just around the corner, lawmakers are eager to get back to their home states and districts for a final campaign push. They’ll likely be gone before the end of September, not to return until after the Nov. 4 election.
But between now and then, they have only one mandatory task: Pass some type of spending bill for the swiftly approaching federal 2015 fiscal year.
The fact that Congress hasn’t already tackled this shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, I predicted this scenario back in July.
When Congress fails to pass its spending bills on time, which it has done now for multiple consecutive years, lawmakers pass a giant stop-gap measure, also known as a continuing resolution, or CR, in Beltway-speak.
With the end of the fiscal year just around the corner—fiscal 2014 wraps up Sept. 30—Congress is poised to clear yet another CR to fund federal programs, including things like Title I and special education, likely through mid-November.
This will give appropriators more time to work out a deal, and depending on the outcome of the elections, either pass another extension measure, or try to cobble together an actual budget.
Extending current funding levels for education programs won’t have too much of a negative impact because nearly all of them, with the exception of Head Start and Impact Aid, are forward-funded, meaning funding from a spending bill wouldn’t technically flow to states until about July 2015.
The downside is that continuing resolutions generally don’t allow Congress to update any policies that may need fixing.
But beyond averting a government shut-down, which would happen if lawmakers can’t come to a funding agreement before October, Congress won’t have much time to tackle anything major.
The long-stalled Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, an overhaul of the Higher Education Act, which both chambers recently began tackling, and other major education measures will have to wait until after the mid-term elections, or even more likely, 2015 ... or beyond.