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Capitol Report: September 19, 2013

Capitol ReportBy Della B. Cronin

Congress has returned to Washington, D.C., and has hit the ground running with loud debates and calls for immediate action. As widely reported in the press, foreign policy has taken center stage in the short-term, but federal spending debates are looming.

The first step will be avoiding a government shutdown. History suggests that any kind of pause in government services isn’t good for anyone on Capitol Hill, regardless of their differences on the size and cost of the federal government. Congress is expected to pass a CR—a term that is becoming increasingly familiar. Just in case you’ve somehow missed this Washington coinage, “CR” is an abbreviation for “continuing resolution”—a stopgap measure that keeps the federal government running when Congress isn’t able to pass a larger budget. Every year sees multiple CRs before a yearlong deal is struck. This year’s deal will be complicated by the sequester-level spending that the education community warns will hit schools much heavier this school year, as well as the need to grapple with the country’s debt limit again—which Congress will have to do next month.

Regarding spending, an odd combination of policy developments could help education interests. Concerns related to developments in Syria and what they could mean for the United States and its military have those  in charge of defense spending on Capitol Hill saying that the sequester must go away. These cries are coming from both Republicans and Democrats, a situation that could result in an agreement that will benefit all federal programs. However, House Republicans are currently scheming to leverage the federal debt limit issue to further their desire to repeal portions of President Obama’s health-care reforms—another combination of policy developments, but hardly one that could result in Democrats and Republicans agreeing on much.

With these larger issues in the background, the congressional committees in charge of education policy are working hard as well. The House Education and the Workforce Committee recently examined how to improve the Education Sciences Reform Act—the law that governs the Department of Education’s investments in education research. The committee also held a hearing on veterans and higher education assistance programs. In addition, a hearing on the federal career and technical education (CTE) programs—commonly known as Perkins—is on the horizon, with committee leaders wanting to examine how CTE programs connect to workforce skills and the demand for them. The teaching and learning of math will certainly come up.

Over in the Senate, education advocates remain hopeful that a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could be debated on the floor, but the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) recently approved by the education committee in that chamber has bipartisan support. The ESEA bill approved earlier this year by the committee did not, so WIA is arguably a better contender for progress on the floor. That could push action on ESEA to next year.

In other issues, both House and Senate lawmakers still talk of wanting to act on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act—the large policy that governs investments in federal research agencies and programs, as well as a number of science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. As if NCTM and its allies in the STEM education and education advocacy communities didn’t have enough to follow!

The next few months will be busy ones on Capitol Hill, and NCTM will be keeping tabs on the issues that affect math teachers, educators, and classrooms throughout.

Della B. Cronin is with Washington Partners, LLC

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