Preparing for a New Congress and Administration

by Sasha Pudelski, Assistant Director, Policy and Advocacy AASA, The School Superintendents Association

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Washington D.C. is in a bit of a funk. As the 114th Congress draws to a close, Congress is set to leave town in a few days without fully completing its federal budgeting process (yet again). There is a sense of bewilderment by lobbyists, congressional and agency staff and even members of Congress about what kind of political environment they will face when they return in January.

As a staunchly non-partisan organization, AASA is in many ways lucky compared to other key education groups. We have great relationships on both sides of the aisle. We know that our members depend on us to advance the best policies possible for students and school systems regardless of who thinks of them. This allows our team to be flexible, pragmatic, aggressive and independent in our defense of the public policy interests of superintendents.

While this election was devoid of much serious conversation about education policy, now that we know we are working with President-elect Trump, we are determined to make it a meaningful relationship. We didn’t hide our displeasure with the Obama Administration’s Race-to-the-Top initiative, or conditional ESEA waivers or expansion of the Civil Rights data collection. The Department knew what we thought and they chose to do things differently than we would have liked, which is their prerogative. Similarly, we will call it like we see it with the Trump Administration. And, as we look ahead to next year and try and crystalize what Trump may want to do in the K-12 education space, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, one of the most controversial fiscal regulations on school districts ever proposed governing the distribution of state and local Title I dollars is likely to disappear (see supplement not supplant call-to-action). We could also see a less aggressive role for the Office of Civil Rights under a Trump Administration and a reduction in data collection requirements on districts and proactive investigations. We could also see potential changes to regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and related to the Affordable Care Act. These changes will likely be wins for AASA members, from a policy point of view.

On the other hand, we will likely find ourselves spending significant time and energy fighting draconian cuts to education. With control of both chambers, Republicans could try and lift spending caps on defense at the expense of non-defense discretionary spending, of which education is included. This would mean that we could see reductions in our key federal education funding streams at a critical time.

Medicaid reform is also a concern we will be tracking. Our policy team works closely with our Children’s Department to incentivize greater healthcare coverage for students. The untimely need to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coupled with the possibility that fewer Medicaid-eligible students will receive coverage if Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is repealed should be of great concern to school leaders.

While Trump disagrees with members of his own party about spending sometimes, there’s a possibility that there could be broad support for finding and funneling “new” dollars toward school choice. While Trump’s $20 billion-dollar school choice plan is short on details, most Beltway insiders do not believe that attempts to make Title I dollars portable to private schools will go far next Congress. The majority of the Congress was re-elected and they are proud to see the implementation of ESSA move forward and know that Title I portability would fundamentally alter successful enactment of the most heralded legislative accomplishments in recent memory. However, attempts to voucherize IDEA funding, create a federal tuition tax-credit system, or expand the floundering D.C. voucher program are all strong possibilities. There is also some speculation that Trump could try to use the presidential pulpit to get states to repurpose state dollars.

As we consider the Trump policies we probably will not like, there is comfort in knowing that we still have the same Chairman and Ranking Member on the Senate Education Committee: U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Patty Murray (D-Wash.) The thin GOP majority in the Senate and the continuation of the 60-vote threshold make it more likely that reasonable, bipartisan policy and funding measures prevail in that chamber. In contrast, the House Education Committee will be led by a known firebrand, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who has been more focused on higher education policy than K-12.

While AASA would have preferred a nominee to lead the Department of Education with not only experience within education, but a track record reflecting support for public schools, we will to try and build a strong working relationship with Betsy DeVos and her team, and continue to honestly and actively represent the views of school leaders in Washington D.C. To the extent that education policy is on the menu, we will be at the table.

Reprinted with permission from The Leading Edge Blog: Policy and Advocacy, AASA 2016.

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