This election season, "Forward" was the watchword of President Barack Obama's campaign.
During the election battle, it stood for moving ahead with four more years of his leadership, and for the future-focused thinking the president espoused as a candidate. But what does "forward" mean for President Obama's second term in office as far as education is concerned? What changes and challenges can we expect in 2013 and beyond?
During Obama's first term, his educational agenda was marked by serious plans to improve the nation's schools through signature reforms. Ambitious competitive programs were introduced, and many new dollars went to education through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation (i3), and School Improvement Grants.
All these measures were aimed at getting our students to be college- and career-ready, to create great teachers and leaders, and to turn around low-performing schools. There has also been a continuing emphasis on the important role of early childhood education and STEM. More than $100 billion has gone to these programs, most of which have been under way for two to three years now.
The Race to the Top-District (RttT-D) competition was introduced this past summer, and awardees will be announced this month. Successful districts will receive $5 million to $40 million each to implement rigorous plans required by the competition. RttT-D continues to focus on underperforming schools, college and career preparation, and teacher quality. Additional requirements include promises to deliver a personalized learning environment, plus upfront buy-in of the strategic technology plan from the district, the superintendent, the local teachers union, and the school board--a tall order that some districts have not been able to meet.
So what will happen to this and other programs in Obama's second term? Here are some specific challenges that will need to be addressed.
According to exit polls conducted by CNN during the November elections, 60 percent of American voters reported the economy as their number one issue, and without a doubt the economy will have a powerful effect on education in 2013. We are still waiting for Congress to reach agreement on the Budget Control Act, and the president faces a huge challenge in trying to get a bipartisan agreement on this issue, especially in a lame-duck session.
If, by January, Congress does not come to an agreement or take measures to prevent sequestration, we will see shocking trigger cuts that could hit education programs with reductions of between 7.8 and 9.1 percent.
These cuts would not be felt until the 2013-14 school year, but many school districts are tightening their belts right now. If sequestration happens, it would be the biggest cut to education in recent history, and could result in job losses of 75,000 or more.
A Partisan Congress
Once the lame-duck session works through the tough challenge of sequestration by either coming to an agreement or delaying it, then it's on to the 113th Congress, which is arguably just as divided as the 112th. With a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House, it will be challenging to reach consensus, especially if the parties hold to their lines. Congress is fairly evenly divided: The Senate will be 55/45 Democratic and the House 234/201 Republican. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act during this period seems unlikely, particularly in the first year.
Will there be new dollars for education? That remains to be seen. Both parties have similar stated goals for education, but their approaches are starkly different. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, favored having funds "follow the child," whereas the Obama administration favors a proactive approach to distribution of federal dollars through competitive programs like Race to the Top. …