Washington Update: A 2016 Post Election Update

Few pollsters predicted the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. Education was not a primary talking point during the campaign. And yes, it is President-elect Donald Trump.

The initial questions people who have an interest in education are asking: “What will he do? and what is on his agenda?” Currently, the answers are murky and the policies are unclear.

Insiders can only guess what is on the Trump education agenda. Here are some obvious questions:

  • Who will be the next Secretary?
  • What will happen with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) draft regulations?
  • What about the gainful employment regulations and the status of for-profit schools?
  • Will the student loan program be restructured?
  • What will he do to the Education Department?
  • Will the agency’s budget be significantly reduced?
  • Will staffing be reduced?

The guessing game will continue until after Inauguration when the Trump Administration begins to make policy choices and decisions. The first indication should be when the Secretary of Education is named as well as some of the senior staff. (See below Rick Hess’ list) Expect the FY 2018 budget proposal to be introduced in late February or early March. You will have to sit on the edge of your seat and partake in the guess game. Just don’t fret.

The transition is underway as you read this, even though it has seemed a bit rocky. Leading the effort at Education are Bill Evers, Gerard Robinson and Jim Manning. Evers served in the Department during Bush #43. Robinson is a former Virginia Secretary of Education and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Manning served as Chief of Staff to Bill Hansen when he was Deputy Secretary during #43, and then moved over to the independent Student Financial Aid agency.

For more information on the transition there are two key websites:
www.greatagain.gov and the education transition website:

The Lame Duck Congress’ Education Plate
First and foremost on Congress’ agenda is the Dec. 9 deadline to address the FY 2017 budget and keep the government open. On Thursday, Nov. 17, House Republicans settled on a plan to fund the government through March and avoid a final budget deal with President Obama. Lawmakers decided during a closed-door meeting to back a path toward a short-term spending bill instead of a broad, year-end package. GOP leadership had been eyeing a continuing resolution, rather than a massive omnibus funding the government for a year, since the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

"The bottom line is that we must fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government, and do right by the taxpayers who have elected us. To this end, my Committee will begin working immediately on a Continuing Resolution (CR) at the current rate of funding to extend the operations of our government through Mar. 31, 2017," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said in a statement.

This does pass the buck to the 115th Congress to address funding the government for the rest of Fiscal Year 2017, which ends on Sept. 30, 2017.

What seems to be the leading education issue on the table is the (ESSA) Supplement Not Supplant draft regulations. These have been very contentious. Republicans Congressional leaders have voiced serious concerns that the draft rule does not meet the intent of the statute. Twenty five members of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary King. Civil Rights groups are adamantly in favor of the draft rule, and many education organizations and associations have voiced their displeasure with the draft regulations. The department must review all of the comments before issuing a final rule or they could issue an interim rule as negotiations and discussions continue for a final rule or issue no rule at all. With the election of Trump, it is not clear if final regulations will be issued by the end of December or totally reworked once Trump takes office with new leadership at the U.S. Department of Education. This should be the same for the accountability draft regulations. What will the Department (Administration) and Congress do?

Another recently published draft regulation governing teacher preparation has divided those concerned with education. Republicans in Congress have voiced their concern over the rule versus the intent of ESSA. Similar options are available as stated above for Supplement Not Supplant.

The House has already passed H.R. 5587, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which reauthorizes the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Now it is a wait and see game — will the Senate act during the lame duck or put it off until the 115th Congress?

Other legislation that may be addressed during the lame duck includes an infrastructure funding bill and possibly some tax reform measure. And if they don’t, these will surely be on the top of the legislative agenda for the 115th Congress along with a Supreme Court nominee, changes to the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, reducing regulation and, of course, some education items.

The Transition
President-elect Trump has selected Reince Priebus as chief of staff, putting an establishment figure in a key White House post and Stephen Bannon will serve as chief strategist and senior counselor.

He has also named Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor and will nominate Senator Jeff Sessions (Alabama) for Attorney General and Rep. Mike Pompeo (Kansas) for CIA director.

Expect several White House staff and cabinet members to be named by Thanksgiving. Probably the next to be named are Secretaries of Defense and State, and others should follow. The Education “landing team” will not get going until this week or after Thanksgiving. To indicate the importance education has, the transition team is in the third (and last) wave to get going.

Remember there are 4,000 political appointees to be named across the federal government of which 1,000 will require Senate confirmation. This does not happen over night.

One big question is whether President-elect Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will become an appointee and continue his very close advisory role to his father-in-law. Potential conflicts of interest are being raised.

Education Transition
Rumors abound whom will Trump nominate to be the next Secretary of Education. Will it be an educator, someone from business, a former elected official, or someone who has served in government before?

The initial list mentioned Gerard Robinson, Carl Palladino (school board member in Buffalo), Dr. Ben Carson (former presidential candidate). Carson has now stated he is not interested in a cabinet post. But others will be considered before someone is named including the following:

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Tony Zeiss, a former president of Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, are the latest names on the list of rumored education secretary candidates. But Moskowitz has taken her name out of consideration.

The list has gotten even longer in the weeks after the election. Other names include Betty DeVos, Great Lakes Education Project; Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana Education Chief; Tony Bennet, former Indiana and Florida Education Chief; William Bennett, former Education Secretary; Jim Peyser, Massachusetts Secretary of Education; Kevin Chavous, former DC City Councilman and charter advocate; and possibly former Idaho Chief State School Officer Tom Luna.

Other candidates include: former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of the Purdue University System; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Hanna Skandera, the New Mexico Secretary of Education.

Another possibility is William Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who has worked on education matters for the Trump transition team. Evers worked at the Education Department during the Bush administration and served as a senior adviser to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

One can anticipate that several key current and former Republican Hill staff will migrate to the department, as well as a few others who have worked in earlier Republican administrations. There will be a number of people who have never worked at the federal level.

Constantly asked: Will there be an exodus of career employees from the agency as a result of retirement or just a perceived incompatibility with the Trump education agenda?

Despite the president-elect’s calls to do away with the Education Department, Robinson said he expects Trump to streamline, not abolish it. He also acknowledged Trump’s $20 billion school-choice initiative is more of a starting place for policy discussions rather than a specific goal.

Rick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, has put out a list of names he’d love to see considered for a dozen of the top jobs in the department. (If you don't know who someone is, just Google.)

His list:

  • U.S. Secretary of Education:
    Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, Bill Evers, Gerard Robinson
  • Deputy Secretary:
    David Cleary, Brian Jones, Lisa Graham Keegan, Larry Arnn
  • Under Secretary:
    Nina Rees, Paul Pastorek, Jim Peyser, Vic Klatt, Hanna Skandera
  • Assistant Secretary – Civil Rights:
    Joshua Dunn, Greg Lukianoff, Robert Scott
  • Assistant Secretary – Communications and Outreach:
    Jenna Talbot, Joy Pullmann, Holly Kuzmich
  • Assistant Secretary – Elementary and Secondary Education:
    Dwight Jones, Robert Pondiscio, Tom Luna, Matt Ladner, Jim Stergios
  • Assistant Secretary – Legislation and Congressional Affairs:
    Lindsay Fryer, D'arcy Philps, Lindsey Burke
  • Assistant Secretary – Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development:
    Peter Oppenheim, Brad Thomas, Andy Smarick, Robert Enlow
  • Assistant Secretary – Postsecondary Education:
    Andrew Kelly, Jason Delisle, James Bergeron
  • Assistant Secretary – Special Education and Rehabilitative Services:
    Joe Siedlecki, Mike McShane, Max Eden
  • Assistant Secretary – Vocational and Adult Education:
    Tom Stewart, Tony Bennett
  • Institute of Education Sciences – Director:
    Patrick Wolf, Jay Greene, Caroline Hoxby, Martin West, Rick Hanushek

What Can One Anticipate in Education?
Given the results of the election, Republicans have control of the White House, and Congress, state legislatures and a majority of Governor mansions. In state houses, Common Core will be debated since 33 states still have Common Core State Standards or standards closely resembling CCSR.

Senator Lamar Alexander and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx want to reauthorize the Higher Education Act during the first session of the 115th Congress, as well as complete the reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The House passed Perkins reauthorization during the 114th Congress and is waiting for the Senate to act.

Other items to be addressed on the Trump education agenda beginning in January include the guaranteed employment regulations, the accountability and supplement not supplant regulations for ESSA, changing who provides student loans, funding for Pell Grants and can they be year-around, expansion of school/education choice to include Title I portability, status and role of the Office of Civil Rights, and the structure and size of the U.S. Department of Education. Just to name a few.

As stated above don’t expect the agency to go away. Think of it as having a reduced role rather than being abolished, and giving more responsibility to states and local education agencies.

Although the new administration will have significant opportunities to push through education reform, it has a lot of other pressing priorities, said Frederick Hess. He cautioned against expecting too much change too soon in Trump’s tenure. “Remember how far back in the queue education will be,” he said. However, some issues will come to the forefront early.

One can expect many of the program and staff offices in the agency will reduce their oversight of statutes and programs, such as the Office of Civil Rights.

There is much more to say but it is too early to guess what will finally happen. Some may even be resolved while Congress is in the lame duck session.

Of particular interest to the K-12 education community are the Supplement Not Supplant draft regulations. Will the administration publish final regulations? Will there be negotiations to rectify the differences? Will the buck be passed to the next administration? Or will the next administration never issue regulations and let state and local education agencies go in whatever direction they prefer.

In higher education, the interest is with reauthorization, restructuring student financial aid, funding of Pell grants, and guaranteed employment regulations.

One can be assured there will be changes. The tone, priorities and approach to education will be very different. How significantly — only time will tell.

Another article will be written around Inauguration in January, when there is a better understanding of the direction the Trump Administration will be taking with education policy and programs.

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