Magazine article Momentum

What Can the Education Community Expect in the 114th Congress?

Magazine article Momentum

What Can the Education Community Expect in the 114th Congress?

Article excerpt

Ithough the Republicans hold the majority in both houses of Congress, there are few encouraging signs that the partisan gridlock that paralyzed the last Congress will yield to a balanced and bipartisan approach to passage of legislation affecting a range of issues - including education - in the new 114th Congress. Along with "divided government," in which one party holds the White House and the other Congress, there also is division within parties that has prevented legislation from moving to final votes. Some of the key education issues impacted by partisanship and intra-party differences are discussed here.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization: After seven years of postponing reauthorization, a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill, Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, was passed unanimously by the Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. It was a truly bipartisan effort on the part of the chair, Senator Lamar Alexander, and the ranking member Senator Patty Murray. They permitted 57 amendments to be proposed and 29 of them were approved, most of which were proposed by Democrats. The bill is headed to the Senate floor for additional debate early this summer.

Unfortunately, a similar bill did not go as well in the House. The Student Success Act (SSA), the proposed House version, is similar to the one passed by only Republican votes in the 113th Congress. It was voted out of committee again on a totally partisan basis. While SSA appeared to have enough Republican votes to pass the vote of the full House, the infighting among the Republicans about the extent of the "federal footprint" that some sought to reduce forced the leadership to pull the bill before it went down to defeat. A new vote has not been scheduled while the leadership continues to bolster support among Republicans. The president has indicated that he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk in its present form.

Most of the contentious issues in the bills refer to the federal role in testing and accountability measures, standards, portability of funds to follow students to other public schools and transferability of funds among titles. These do not directly impact private and religious schools. The provisions in both bills requiring the equitable participation of students and teachers in private schools are robust and will greatly enhance benefits for them. Private school representatives are working diligently to preserve the gains and ensure equity in amendments passed.

Student Privacy: A Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act (H.R. 2092) was recently introduced into the House and referred to both the education and commerce committees for further action. The bill would prohibit third-party online services providers from using information they collect to target advertising to students, creating student profiles for other than school purposes or selling personally identifying information to other party. It would, however, allow the company to utilize the information to market their own products or develop new ones.

Student access to online sites often requires that personal identification, such as name, contact information (email or social media presences) or other familial data. Online sites and apps also make use of "persistent identifiers" that track frequency of usage over time as well as geolocations and audio and video recordings. The bill would require online providers to have "reasonable security procedures" to protect the confidentiality of data collected and would allow school officials, and in some cases parents, to request that student information be deleted.

The significant issues to be addressed in consideration of the bill will need to focus on safe and secure ways to allow student access to advanced learning technologies while protecting them from commercial exploitation and unsafe or unsavory activities. While Congress debates the merits of the bill, it is also essential that educators examine school policies and practices regarding selection, use and access to the websites and apps teachers use and recommend as part of their instruction and homework assignments. …

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