Washington Update: Education and a Preview of the 2016 Election

We are on the eve of a very important and feisty political election season. Before the two political conventions, we have the two presumptive nominees, for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and the Republicans, Donald Trump. At the same time, 435 members of the House and one-third of the Senators are gearing up for their own election season. This includes the controlling majority in both the Senate and House at stake for the Republicans. How will each of these, if any, have an impact on education as well as the state gubernatorial and legislative elections?

At the same time, several education policy controversies have surfaced that will have some impact in each of these elections mentioned above as well as many local elections. So, education will have some role during these elections, but how prominent it will be is yet to be determined.

Education and the Upcoming Election
During the primaries we received a glimpse of some the education and related policy positions or proposals of each of the two presumptive nominees. These have included Common Core and assessments, free tuition for students at state postsecondary institutions, state and local role in education, transgender civil rights, early childhood education, immigration, school choice and the future status of the U.S. Department of Education.

Two key issues that have recently risen to the forefront are supplement not supplant, as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation and regulations, and the transgender and civil rights directive by the White House directed at state and local policy and practice.

The Obama administration's guidance/directive on Title IX and transgender students, issued Friday, May 13, has incited the political right — taking one of the most socially divisive fronts in America's culture wars and intensifying it across the full spectrum of a well-established battleground: state and local education roles and responsibilities. Members of Congress, governors, state legislators, national education associations, and local education leaders have taken positions and commented on the issue. See: http://politico.pro/1OoCKrV.

The former evolved as a result of the ESSA mandated negotiated rulemaking process. It was unable to arrive at a regulatory policy language recommendation on supplement not supplant. Thus, the U.S. Department of Education will determine the regulatory language. However, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Representative John Kline (R-MN) are challenging the proposed language. They believe the current position runs counter to the intent of Congress as written in ESSA. Read Alexander’s Senate floor speech.

Final resolution for the former will not take place before the November election because it takes time to write, publish and review comments on proposed regulations, and then issue final regulations by which the ESSA will be implemented at the federal, state and local levels. The transgender presidential policy directive may be changed depending on the election outcome. It will clearly be a part of the education policy debate during the campaign and possibly become a court case or challenged by Congress.

Congressional Actions Before November
It is unlikely that an education appropriation will pass prior to the November 2016 elections. Congress will be unable to avoid having to once again pass a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government open past Sept. 30 to buy time for final spending negotiations later in 2016. The Senate is also unlikely to pass all 12 individual bills, but even completing work on a handful would mark a stark contrast with the past few years. The outcome of the election for both President and Congress may dictate whether a majority of appropriations bills will be passed prior to the Presidential inauguration in January 2017.

As for any education specific legislation passing prior to November, it is unlikely. The only bill with a possibility is the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative John Kline, held a key hearing on May 17, and there is a bipartisan effort underway in the Senate. The question is, can a bill get through the committees and be scheduled on the floor prior to November or be a part of the legislative agenda during the lame duck session. One will have to wait and see.

While there were hopes for a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, no bill has surfaced. However, one may be introduced prior to the end of this session, and used as the impetus for the next session beginning in January 2017. The same could be for the Perkins Act, if there is no action before the December recess.

What else?
I am sure there will be numerous state and local education issues raised and debated in state and local contests for governor, state board, state legislature, local school boards and even in some cases for mayor and city or county council. While it is too early to indentify them, they will most likely include the state and local roles over policy and practice; assessments — opt in/opt out, when and how many; early childhood education; school choice and vouchers; transparency; school reform strategies; and education budgets, bonds and taxes.

The best way to end this piece is to say, “To be continued.” There is too much up in the air to make any predictions or state definitively what will be. All of us will have to wait and see in what direction education policy and practice will take as a result of the 2016 November elections. It may take different directions as a result of the national, state and local final outcomes.

I am sure each and every reader has his or her own wish list and preferences. Time will tell what direction education will take and will be more apparent by the middle of November.

About the Author

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in Public Private Action. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations, business development strategy, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. To subscribe, write [email protected].