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Trump, Congress, ESSA and More: Six Issues to Watch in 2019

By Alyson Klein — January 01, 2019 3 min read
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By Alyson Klein & Andrew Ujifusa

Happy New Year! It’s 2019, which means that the Every Student Succeeds Act is more than three years old, and finally having an impact on school districts. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have been on the job for almost two years, with no major school choice initiative in sight. And Democrats are about to take over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here’s what to watch for next year

• Congressional Oversight: Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., will become chairman of the House education committee. And he’s bound to call in DeVos and her team to discuss their rollback of Obama-era civil rights measures. That includes guidance seeking to crack down on discipline disparities, which Trump’s school safety commission recommended ditching late last year. Other areas ripe for oversight: implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, DeVos’ move to delay an Obama rule calling for states to ensure that minority students aren’t disproportionately identified for special education, and the Education Department’s decision to replace Obama-era sexual assault guidance and replace it with a directive that gives more rights to the accused. DeVos’ push to reorganize the department could also come under scrutiny.

• Congress Actually Legislating: With Congress divided, it seems unlikely that major legislation (think a renewal of the Higher Education Act) will make it over the finish line. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t try. Scott, for instance, is interested in trying to push an infrastructure bill that might include funding for school construction. Other legislation to watch: the Education Sciences Reform Act, which governs the Institute for Education Sciences; a rewrite of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA; and an update to child-abuse prevention laws. None of those will get big headlines, but they deal with programs that matter to educators.

• Immigration: Yes, the “Dreamers” are still in limbo. Quick reminder: President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program back in 2012, giving temporary legal status to an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Then, in 2017, Trump canceled the program and gave Congress a deadline for coming up with a fix, which (surprise) Congress failed to do. Federal judges have issued conflicting rulings on DACA’s legality, and its future is currently tied up in the courts. But whatever happens matters for K-12 schools. About 250,000 students have become DACA eligible since 2012, and about 9,000 DACA recipients work as teachers in U.S. schools, according to the Migration Policy Institute. More here from our colleague Corey Mitchell.

• Every Student Succeeds Act: Every state’s ESSA plan has been approved, and states are starting to identify schools that need improvement. Districts get to decide how to fix those schools, and they are supposed to come up with plans that have at least some evidence to back them up. So will that actually happen? And will schools get any better? It’s not an easy thing to track, but it matters a lot. More background here.

• Betsy DeVos: The education secretary told us that she plans to stay through Trump’s first term. But she has had a very difficult time using the bully pulpit to push her message of school choice and individualizing instruction. She had a high-profile stumble last year on “60 Minutes”. And a GOP-controlled Congress largely rejected her plans to expand school choice—that will be an even tougher hill to climb with Democrats in charge. So what does she do next?

• 2020 Presidential Campaign: You thought we forgot? There are dozens of Democrats vying to take on Trump in 2020. And because this is the Democratic primary, they’ll all be sure to talk about K-12 education. Curious who’s in the mix and where they may stand on schools? Check out this blog post.

Photo: Alex Brandon for the Associated Press


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