While the next president will play a key role in figuring out the future of the No Child Left Behind Act, the membership (and leadership) of the two education committees in Congress - the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee - is also going to be very important to reauthorization. And it looks like there’s going to be some interesting match-ups this year for voters concerned about education.
In the House, just on the Democratic side, 28 members were elected to Congress this year by a margin of less than 55 percent, according to Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. And five of them are on the House Education and Labor Committee: Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa and Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania.
Also, teacher-turned-congressman Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota just barely won his race. (Rumor has it Walz sought a seat on the education committee this year, but didn’t get it. He might have better luck in 2009).
Judging from my observations at the many, many, marathon committee hearings on NCLB this year, these five vulnerable panel members are fairly engaged on the school improvement law. And it appears that their presence (and that of other freshman) on the committee has already had an impact. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, proposed new flexibilities in a draft NCLB bill released in August, including a local-assessment pilot project championed by Yarmuth.
But it remains to be seen whether that dynamic will continue and what kind of support these folks get from Democratic-leaning education voters in their districts (i.e. unions and folks more along the lines of Democrats for Education Reform).
Over the next couple of months, we’ll be monitoring these races and will let you know how NCLB is playing out in these districts, who these Democrats are getting support from, and what (if anything) their opponents have to say about the law.
And we’ll look at Who’s Vulnerable over on the Republican side of the aisle and in the Senate.