Legislative Update: What’s Ahead for Federal Education Policy (and Funding) in 2019?

Welcome to 2019. As of January 3, Congressional leaders and President Trump are still working on a final agreement on FY2019 spending and the federal government remains closed for business. As you will recall, federal education funding, including programs at the U.S. Department of Education, is not affected by this current shutdown.  The full-year appropriations bill for education H.R. 6157 (115) will fund the Department of Education programs, including Title II and Title IVA, through next September.  

So looking ahead, what can we expect from federal lawmakers and the federal agencies in 2019?

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) may happen this year, largely because Senator Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) , has announced he will not seek re-election in 2020.

Senator Alexander has served as the secretary of education under former President George H. W. Bush, as governor of Tennessee, and as president of the University of Tennessee. He was one of the key architects of the Every Student Succeeds Act and has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and working with Democratic colleagues. Many believe he will make reauthorization of the HEA a priority and move the bill forward in the coming months.

HEA reauthorization in the Senate went nowhere in the last Congress, and a Republican bill last year in the House to reauthorize the legislation failed to garner any Democratic support and did not come up for a floor vote.

Rep Bobby Scott, incoming chair of the House Education and Labor Committee (recently renamed from the Education and Workforce Committee), has indicated that HEA is also a priority for him and that he is willing to work with Senate colleagues to get the legislation passed.  

Earlier in December during remarks to the American Council on Education, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that “Like all of education, higher education is due for a rethink.”  The Secretary released the administration’s white paper on higher education  which includes broad goals for an overhaul of higher education policy in 2019.

Many also believe that Congressional Democrats and Republicans could work together in 2019 on a massive infrastructure bill that would include schools/education.  Rep. Scott’s infrastructure bill—Rebuild America’s Schools Act, (H.R. 2475 (115)—would create a $70 billion grant program and $30 billion tax credit bond program for high-poverty schools.

Also in 2019 look for work on rulemaking, as an ED panel begins work to rewrite federal regulations around college accreditation, religious schools and nontraditional education providers; and the Departments final rule for Title IX outlining how schools should handle allegations of sexual assault.

School Safety Report Issued December 18

The school safety advisory panel, formed by President Trump after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, issued their report in mid-December. The 177-page report provides information on 93 best practices and policy recommendations for improving safety at schools nationwide.

As expected, the report criticized the “Rethink School Discipline” Guidance issued during the Obama Administration that placed an emphasis on tracking school disciplinary actions by race and largely intended to end minority students’ more frequent expulsions and suspensions from schools.

The commission found the guidance “likely had a strong, negative impact on school discipline and safety.”  Conservatives have long viewed the guidance as a burden and possibly dangerous for its potential to keep violent children in school. Civil rights groups and Democrats have vehemently complained that the administration would connect the guidance with school shootings.

The panel also encouraged more coordination between schools and law enforcement that could include programs that arm highly trained school personnel. It did not address if firearm purchases should be subjected to age restrictions.

The school safety panel also denounced the prevalence of violence in video games and movies, social media, music and more.  The report says “it is estimated that depictions of violence are present in 90 percent of movies, 68 percent of video games, 60 percent of television shows, and 15 percent of music videos,” noting that “violent content is ubiquitous across these platforms and continues to grow.”  The panel report also notes the conflicting research on the influence violent media actually has on children.

Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House education panel, said in a statement that the report “promotes a longstanding, conservative agenda to undermine policies that protect students’ civil rights” and was not a “serious or good-faith effort” to make schools safer.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, said of the report that “The gun industry itself could not have written a more blatant and obvious distraction from the real problem gun violence poses to students across our country,”

Senate Confirms New Head of OSTP

And finally, after a nomination hearing in late August, the Senate confirmed Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier on January 2 to be the next Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). More here.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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