Republicans have kept their control of Congress, according to election returns reported Tuesday night, meaning that the push by GOP lawmakers against what it perceives as heavy-handed oversight by the U.S. Department of Education regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act will likely continue. However, the House of Representatives will soon have a new leader of its education committee, thanks to the retirement of its chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.
The election of Donald Trump as president could shift a lot of power over education policy to congressional Republicans, in part because Trump has not shown a great deal of interest in K-12 on the campaign trail—apart from his plan to create a $20 billion federal program to fund school choice at public and private schools. Congress previously rejected a similar idea during negotiations last year over what became ESSA, but Trump’s presidency may get the proposal a fresh look from lawmakers.
The membership of education committees in Congress emerged largely unscathed from the election. Among lawmakers on the Senate education committee, for example, only Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., lost his bid for re-election to Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. In the House, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. and who was in one of the closest-fought election battles among House education committee members, also held onto his seat.
Although public school policy wasn’t a particularly big issue during the 2016 campaign, Congress could still get very busy when it comes to education in general.
First, there’s ESSA oversight. One of the big questions is whether the next presidential administration will keep, reconsider, or trash ESSA accountability and spending regulations put forward by outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration. These proposals do have allies in certain cases, but GOP lawmakers, along with state and district education groups (and the teachers’ unions) dislike them for various reasons. So a Republican Congress could move quickly to push a Trump administration to rescind the Obama proposals and start the regulatory process all over again.
During the lame-duck session, the Senate could in theory take up two reauthorizations already approved by the House: those covering juvenile-justice and career and technical education law. The latter in particular might have a shot, although progress on a CTE reauthorization has stalled in the Senate due to a partisan fight that has echoes of ESSA disputes, namely how much authority the education secretary should have over state plans to handle CTE programs and hold them accountable.
A new session of Congress starts in January, and lawmakers could consider reauthorizations of the Higher Education Act and IDEA (the special education law), as well as a reauthorization of Head Start. And they’ll also have to decide what to do with mandatory budget caps on discretionary spending, including on K-12, imposed through sequestration.
Trump has proposed addressing higher education costs by proposing to cap repayments at 12.5 percent of income, and forgiving loans after 15 years for certain borrowers. But it’s unclear to what extent he’ll push those proposals to a GOP-controlled Congress.
Photo: Fall foliage frames the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 8. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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