Capitol Report: January 2017
By Della B. Cronin
The biggest developments in STEM education policy this month took place on Capitol Hill. Between the funding fight to avoid a federal shutdown and the 11th-hour surprise approval of legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, advocates were busy chasing rumors and watching C-SPAN. Ultimately, Congress chose to approve a continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2017 spending that will level-fund federal programs through April 28, 2017. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has said he would like to try to pass some spending bills before that deadline, but there will be much business before Congress in the beginning of the year, and that goal is an ambitious one. Federal agencies could very well end up with a full year CR, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since April 28th is just about eight months into fiscal year 2017. January will be a crazy month in Washington. The Senate is already busy preparing for confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. Since most of them have little or no public service record, the hearings will be an opportunity to ask questions about their views on certain policies. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will question three cabinet nominees and staff will not get much of a holiday break as they prepare. Betsy DeVos, who has been selected to run the Department of Education, has a slim education policy record. Her support for charter schools, vouchers and “school choice” is clear, but her perspective on complex higher education issues, enforcement of Title IX on college and K-12 campuses, afterschool, early education, response to intervention, educator supports, accountability, STEM education and many other issues are murky. Hopefully the January 11 confirmation hearing will enlighten the community on some of these points. Separately, Congress and the Administration will also be deciding what to do with some of the Obama Administration’s regulatory packages. Some of those that affect implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as the controversial package that proposed tracking college of education graduates to their schools and keeping a record of classroom results, seem to be obvious targets for rescission. There are also some higher education packages (gainful employment, defense to repayment, program authorization, and others) that surely will be examined.The first part of the year will be consumed with confirmation hearings, the consideration of a Supreme Court nominee, the submission of the Trump Administration’s first budget request, and a package of bills that seek to fulfill campaign promises related to taxes, jobs, and infrastructure. The big education issue for next year will be the Higher Education Act, and NCTM will be weighing in with lawmakers on the teacher preparation programs that are in that statute. Congress will return to Washington on January 3. The Inauguration is January 20. Then we’ll see how this new order will work. Or won’t.
Della B. Cronin is a principal at Washington Partners, LLC.