Magazine article Momentum

The 116th Congress: What Can the Education Community Expect?

Magazine article Momentum

The 116th Congress: What Can the Education Community Expect?

Article excerpt

Not much! At the start of each new session, this column presents news of what the education committees in Congress have indicated will be their priorities for the coming year. Unfortunately there is not much to report as there are no signs that the partisan gridlock that paralyzed the last congress will yield to a balanced and bipartisan approach to passage of legislation impacting a range of issues, including education, in the new 116th congress. While President Trump reiterated his support for school choice in the State of the Union address, "To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America's children" he offered no specifics.

The 2018 elections resulted in a divided government with the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives. The shift of leadership in the House affects the Education and Labor committee now chaired by Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia. Representative Scott was one of the four leaders in the efforts to craft and pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and has pledged to continue monitoring its implementation to ensure states and school districts are acting responsibly to close achievement gaps for underserved students in public schools.

A specific bill that may be taken up for consideration in both die house and senate is the Higher Education Act (HEA). Senate education committee chair Lamar Alexander has tried for passage in the last session is promising to get a bill enacted before he retires at the end of the session. From a K-12 perspective, the issues to watch will be the provisions diat deal with student grants and loans, teacher loan forgiveness and teacher education programs.

A critical bill to pass this year is the reauthorization of the SOAR Act (Scholarships for Opportunity and Results) that supports the DC Opportunity Scholarship (DCOSP) that provides low-income families in the District of Columbia with a scholarship voucher to attend a school in DC that is chosen by the family. This bill also supplies equal funding for the support of charter and regular public schools. Two bills (HR.787, S.213) have been introduced in both houses of congress but there is no certainty that both committees will act on them. School choice advocates and parents of students who are and have benefited from the program are organizing and strategizing for political action to assure reauthorizadon this year.

The Rebuild America's School Act (H.R.865) has been introduced in the house diat proposes to invest more than $100 billion in America's public schools. The Rebuild America's Schools Act would fund $70 billion in grants and $30 billion in bonds to help address cridcal physical and digital infrastructure needs in public schools across the country. Efforts will be made to have private and religious schools eligible for grants/ loans to improve health and safety aspects as well as digital infrastructure. A precedent for such inclusion is die 1984 Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act (ASHAA) that provided grants and interest-free loans to public and private schools for emergency asbestos removal actions. Likewise, the E-rate program will be used as precedent to make the case for private school digital infrastructure grants.

Much of the direct impact of federal action on education issues will likely come from other government departments through regulations and guidance documents. The Department of Education has undergone a restructuring process that now places the Office of Non-Public Education directly in the office of the Secretary of Education. …

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