Congress Returns to Washington with Many Education Issues Still on Its Plate: With Midterm Elections Looming, K-12 Education Bills Are Expected to Be a Priority While Higher Education Takes a Back Seat

Article excerpt

If politicians and educators have anything in common, it's that both are judged by results.

In the past year, the 111th Congress has struggled to find ways to provide elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education the resources they need to increase student achievement and access to postsecondary education and, most recently, save jobs. With the economy and jobs topping voters' concerns, members of the House of Representatives left their districts in August to cast a rare recess vote on the Education lobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which is expected to save 161,000 education jobs nationally.

Although lawmakers have passed some significant pieces of legislation, there is much left to be done. But with the midterm elections looming, politics will likely play the biggest role in what they choose to accomplish in the few remaining months left in the session.

"One of the difficulties for Congress with regard to higher education legislation is the lack of focus and coherency on new bills," says Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "Obviously, there are various lawmakers attempting to satisfy their constituents and/or address local issues, but, when it comes to federal legislation, there's no coherency."

Flanagan believes that lawmakers' top priority should be access and degree completion if the nation has any hope of accomplishing President Barack Obama's goal of making the U.S. the world leader in college-degree attainment by 2020. But if they are going to successfully tackle the issue, she adds, the House and Senate education committees need to develop a list of priorities and work more collaboratively.

"From immigration policy to federal financial aid and regulations on proprietary institutions, there's this array of issues addressed by various bills," Flanagan says. "If they try to address everything, they run the risk of not accomplishing very much."

Dr. Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, would like to see lawmakers complete the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would provide a path to legal status for students who are living illegally in the United States.

"The DREAM Act is important because a number of states would like to allow students who may otherwise be considered illegal immigrants to have access to in-state tuition. …