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What's Next For Education in Congress

Congress is back in town this week, but education legislation is likely to remain on the back burner in both chambers for the next month—and maybe even for the rest of the year. One major reason? Syria. Another big reason? The budget.

Lawmakers still need to figure out the spending bills for fiscal year 2014, including the bill that finances the U.S. Department of Education and other programs important for children (such as Head Start).

The Inside Baseball: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version earlier this year, while the House appropriations panel indefinitely postponed consideration of its measure—likely because of the magnitude of the cuts under consideration in that chamber. Those spending bills may determine whether sequestration (those automatic spending cuts to a whole host of federal programs, including education) stay in place for the long haul.

Meanwhile, fiscal year 2014 ends on Sept. 30, and Congress will also need to come up with some kind of extension measure, even if it's only temporary. But even that's likely to prove difficult, in part because some conservatives want to use the opportunity to cut funding for implementation of the president's landmark health care law (aka Obamacare).

But even though the leadership in both chambers will likely be consumed with fiscal issues and foreign policy, at least for now, the education committees in both houses are getting started on some important measures, even though they're unlikely to finish their work by the end of the year. Don't forget, of course, that lawmakers have a record number of bills to authorize. (For more, check out this story.)

Case in point? The Senate education committee is likely to consider ("mark up") an honest-to-goodness bipartisan bill early this fall: the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

This one was last renewed way back in 1996 (so get in line, Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization).
The legislation deals with early-childhood programs, but don't expect the president's universal prekindergarten initiative to become part of it—that would kill the bipartisanship in a hurry, aides say. It's also unclear when the measure will advance to the floor, given the crowded fall schedule. Overview of the bill here.

Plus, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the panel's chairman, is working on sweeping legislation that's based on the president's prekindergarten initiative. That measure could get some airtime this fall, but unless it's scaled back considerably, the $1.3 billion price tag makes it unlikely to garner broad bipartisan support in a Congress bent on trimming spending.

Meanwhile, the House education committee has asked education organizations for their recommendations when it comes to renewing the Higher Education Act. The panel has already begun hearings on the legislation. And on Tuesday, the committee will hold its second hearing on reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act, or ESRA, for short. Much more on what to expect at Inside School Research.

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