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Every Student Succeeds Act

Q&A: Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Talks ESSA, K-12 Policy

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 30, 2016 4 min read
Among the House of Representatives’ most conservative members, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., co-chaired the Republican Party’s platform committee at its recent convention.

It’s been a busy summer for U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and member of the House education committee. That’s in large part because Foxx, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 and chairs the higher education subcommittee, was co-chairwoman of the party’s platform committee at the GOP convention last month.

Foxx, who is consistently rated as one of the most conservative members of the House, is also frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the current chairman of his chamber’s education committee. She supported the Every Student Succeeds Act when it passed last year, but has been critical of ESSA regulatory proposals from the U.S. Department of Education.

Education Week recently interviewed Foxx by phone during the congressional recess to get her thoughts on ESSA, on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and on a range of education issues. The question-and-answer piece has been edited for length and clarity.

Right now, you’re back in your district during the congressional recess, so what do you hear the most when you’ve talked to local school leaders?

Foxx: A lot of the regulations coming out of the Obama administration are of great concern to the leaders of the schools. The cost of health care keeps rising and rising and rising, and [their ability] to meet their budgets and pay for that. … Most people thank me for ESSA. They’re very pleased that we’re de-emphasizing testing and that we’re doing everything we can to push decisionmaking down to the local level, which is the way it should be.

What potential obstacles for that do they see?

Foxx: What they are most concerned about, again, is the fact that the [Education Department] continues to come up with ways to maintain control when Congress has clearly stated that that’s not the intent [of the law].

I’m quite aware of the feelings these people have. You often get conflicting rules, conflicting interpretations, and commentary from the folks who are supposed to be telling you what the rules are that don’t quite jibe all of the time.

When you think about the education part of the GOP platform, what are the notable changes or additions from the 2012 platform?

Foxx: I don’t think [the Common Core State Standards] had a prominent place in the platform in 2012. Always with Republicans, you’re going to see the platform say: We don’t need a federal Department of Education, that we should be letting locals again make the decisions. Teachers, principals, local school board members should be making the decisions as to how to run local schools.

We, I think, emphasized a little bit more the issue of lack of success, despite the fact that we’ve spent a huge amount of money, hardworking-taxpayer money, at the federal level. And we’ve really basically seen no change.

How comfortable or confident would you be working with a President Donald Trump on issues like school choice? Do you think he would have, or wants to have, a major impact on education policy?

Foxx: I do. One of the good things is that he will want the Congress to work with him and formulate the policies that will work for the country. I think that will be a very, very positive thing.

I don’t think he’s going to come in day one and try to dictate to the Congress what should be done. I think it’ll be the other way around. And that’s a very healthy thing. … He has stated that he wants to restore the traditional division of authority. And I think that’s the first step.

What’s your reaction when you get mentioned, as you do, as a possible successor to John Kline as the leader of the House education committee?

Foxx: I’m focused on getting us through this year. I have the absolute, utmost respect for Chairman Kline. … I’m not going to deal with the chairmanship now. It’s just too early to talk about it.

When you look at Hillary Clinton’s proposals for education, whether it’s expanding early-childhood programs or increasing the affordability of higher education, do you see those getting traction?

Foxx: No. She has primarily adopted [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders’ positions on that. And I don’t think those are viable positions. So if we maintain our majorities in the House and Senate, even if she’s elected president, I think you’ll see quite a different kind of legislation than what she might propose.

What’s foremost in your mind about the proposed ESSA accountability rules?

Foxx: All of us on the committee on both sides of the aisle—and frankly, I wish our colleagues on the other side of the aisle were more concerned about it—is that we don’t allow the Department of Education to overstep its bounds. It tends, I think, to put in the reforms it wants to put in and not respect the letter and intent of the law that we passed.

Is it as bad as I thought it would be? You know, I’m an optimist. … But I’m telling you, you get a bunch of bureaucrats together, and there seems to be no end to their ideas for gaining control.

What would be your priorities on the education committee heading into the next Congress and presidential administration? You have a career and technical education bill that passed out of committee—would that be something you’d be focused on, or other things?

Foxx: We’re hoping to get that passed by the Senate. I know they have a different version. We’d certainly like to see that passed this fall. There’s a lot of interest in getting that passed. And certainly if it doesn’t get passed this fall, it would be high on the agenda for whomever the next chairman is.

The child-nutrition program is another one. … We’ve got plenty on our plate right now to deal with.

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2016 edition of Education Week as Q&A: Talking K-12 With a Force in the House GOP

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