How Will the Republican Control of Both Houses of Congress Impact the Reauthorization of ESEA and Other Education Policies?

The Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate; they control the flow of legislation to the President’s desk, yes, the cloture rule requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote and the Dems can replace the Repubs as obstructionists.

While Democratic candidates tried to distance themselves from the President the election was a referendum on Barack Obama. In 2008 and 2012 the Obama team created a “new” coalition – millennials, new voters, well-educated women, Afro-American and Hispanic voters, in the midterms, 2010 and 2014 the coalition never came together.

I will leave deep analysis to the endless array of talking heads, for me a simpler question: How will the Republican congress impact education.

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

At the core of the Republican mantra is a smaller government, and smaller government means fewer federal dollars. The major source of federal education dollars is Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Congress determines the total pool of dollars and the formula by which the dollars are distributed. While the current funding formula is complex (Read description here) the formula is driven by levels of poverty. A Republican controlled Congress might shrink the total pool and change the formula to give states more flexibility and send a larger share to poor rural areas and away from urban areas.

The 2013 bill that passed the House contained policies that might be attractive to teachers and their unions.

The July 2013 House bill would dramatically reduce the federal “footprint” on education by

§ eliminating the current federal accountability system of adequate yearly progress (AYP) and allow states and school districts to set their own testing standards;
§ eliminating the corrective actions for failing schools;
§ repealing the “highly qualified teacher” definition;
§ eliminating “more than 70” existing programs, consolidating others, and granting broad autonomy to states; and schools in the administration of education.
§ Removes a policy, requiring school districts to use student test scores in teacher evaluations
§ Allows parents to take federal education money and use it to send their children to other public schools, including charter schools.

The chairs of the education committees in both houses will change from 2013 and there is no way of knowing whether the Repubs will recycle the 2013 bill or start from scratch with a new bill.

The Rulemaking Authority of the US Department of Education

There is no question that any bill would curtail the role of the Department of Education. The Duncan USDOE has been more aggressive than any predecessor in driving policy through their rulemaking and budgetary powers. The four plus billions in Race to the Top dollars required a commitment to the Common Core, teacher evaluation and a host of other requirements. Two examples: students who have been in the country for more than a year, regardless of their English skills must take state tests and the data included in the school, school district and state assessments. Requests to move the requirement to two or three years have been denied by the USDOE. Student with Disabilities, except for the lowest functioning 1% must take state tests, and, once again, all the data redounds to the school, district and state. Requests to change the reg have been denied.

Advocacy organizations have supported the intensive rulemaking fearing that states may divert dollars for other purposes. Currently the feds require that all testing data is disaggregated by sub-group, by race, ethnicity and handicapping condition, and the data made public, if the requirement is removed states may not be so anxious to release, or even collect the data.

The Feds and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards are not a federal program, although the Duncan Department strongly endorses the CCSS. No Child Left Behind (No Child Left Behind is the name given to ESEA in the 2002 reauthorization) requires testing in English and Mathematics for all children in grades 3-8 and passing exams in English, Mathematics and Science to graduate high school. Federal law does prohibit the feds from requiring any specific curriculum and the CCSS are not a curriculum. A reauthorized ESEA could curtail any endorsement of the Common Core; the abandonment of the Core is a state responsibility.

Repeal/Changing the Testing Requirements of NCLB

The annual testing requirements of NCLB are the most politically sensitive of all education policies. The revolt among parents is not dying, it continues to escalate, and, it is neither left or right, it cuts across the political spectrum. Will the Republicans try and steal the thunder and replace annual testing with tests every third year, or, use a sampling technique similar to NAEP tests to monitor academic progress?

A simpler approach is to leave the testing to the states, deflect the public anger away from Washington and move it to state capitals.

Charter Schools, Vouchers and the Marketplace Solutions.

Whatever the legislation a movement to competition, to use Governor Cuomo’s phrase, “to end the monopoly” of public schools will be part of any federal legislation. While charter schools and vouchers are a state responsibility the feds can write legislation to remove any barriers and provide dollars to encourage states to take a charter or voucher path.
You may notice that soon to be majority leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell held a press conference followed by a lengthy press conference by President Obama: both love fests; on Friday the President is meeting with the Republican leaders, over the length of both news conferences not a word about education.

In the democratic corner Joe Williams the leader of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER): supports charter schools and vouchers, the common core and opposes unions, Diane Ravitch, the leader of the Network for Public Education: opposes charter schools, the common core and works with the unions. Both democrats; miles apart. On the Republican side the Tea Partiers speak of Obamacore, revile the federal role in education as well as the dismantling of public education, also in the party are the supporters of Chambers of Commerce, supporters of testing and the common core.

Educational politics today is complicated, really complicated.

As the new Congress convenes in January committees in both houses will begin to craft reauthorizations of ESEA, and by next summer the conference committee will reconcile the bills from both houses, I suspect the many advocates of current USDOE policies and practices will urge the President to veto any bill.

Bill Gates and Eli Broad will lobby behind the scenes, the Tea Partiers in both houses will cry for returning education authority to the states.

Stay tuned.

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