Welcome to the 114th Congress!
On Tuesday, lawmakers will gather on Capitol Hill for the start of the new legislative session, one which we at Politics K-12 hope will be exciting on the education policy front.
Republican leaders in both chambers have highlighted immigration, the Keystone pipeline, and a veterans’ jobs bill as early priorities. But our hope for a busy education calendar is bolstered by the education committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has signaled his intention to send a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to through committee by Valentine’s Day. [A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the chairman planned to send a reauthorization to the president’s desk by Valentines Day.]
Our advice to you, dear readers? Buckle up for what will likely be a fast and furious start for K-12 policy.
The reauthorization policy debate getting the most attention at this very moment? The state of testing, and specifically the growing trend toward grade-span testing, which our own Alyson Klein was the first education reporter to note here.
But what else should we expect from this new, Republican-controlled Congress? After all, leadership in both chambers has vowed to buck the trend of a historically dysfunctional body, and the education committees, which racked up more legislative accomplishments in the last Congress than any other committees, will be eager to maintain their lawmaking prowess.
For starters, if lawmakers aren’t able to get an ESEA reauthorization to the president’s desk—or if the president decides to veto it—look for them to push a pared down bill focusing on increasing access to high-quality charter schools. That’s what happened last year in the House, when Kline teamed up with now-retired Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who was then ranking member of the committee. While the Senate companion bill never saw the light of day last year, that wouldn’t likely be the case in a GOP-led Senate.
If efforts to overhaul the ESEA law get stuck in the mud, as they have since the first major attempt to do so in 2007, lawmakers may try, instead, to rewrite the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. That law, last renewed in 2006, governs the largest federal program for high schools.
Meanwhile, it’s never too early to start prepping for the budget and appropriations process. And while the federal government and its programs are securely funded through the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, lawmakers will likely begin work earlier than usual in order to craft what many congressional- and budget-watchers assume will be a slate of bare-bones spending bills that will likely eliminate, among other things, the Obama administration’s signature competitive-grant education programs.
Spending blueprints from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for example, have sought to shrink the Pell Grant program for low- and middle-income families and eliminate duplicative education programs and those failing to improve student achievement.
Finally, remember that little, old education research bill? You know, the one that lawmakers reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on, but which still failed to make it out of the halls of Congress? That bill is sitting pretty for a reintroduction and swift passage should lawmakers want a quick legislative victory.