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What Awaits Education If Republicans Keep the House

We and others have written extensively about what to expect for education if Democrats take the House on Tuesday. But what if they don't and Republicans keep control?

First, it's worth noting that even if Democrats fail to take control of the House, they're likely going to pick up a significant number of seats. (They might lose a few in the Senate, and their path to actually taking control of the Senate looks daunting.) A Republican majority in the House will probably have a slimmer buffer of votes to work with for the 116th Congress. 

So what's the unfinished business in education on Capitol Hill? Honestly, not a whole heck of a lot. Other than rolling back Obama-era regulations for Every Student Succeeds Act accountability and for teacher preparation, perhaps the biggest accomplishment for this Congress was passing a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act last summer. 

Lots of observers were expecting major progress, if not an actual bill signing, for an overhaul of the Higher Education Act. But that's fallen flat. The House education committee passed an update to the law nearly a year ago, but it's fallen through the cracks and hasn't gotten a vote on the House floor. And negotiations for the HEA in the Senate went stale before the chamber's education committee even had a bill to consider. Would Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., ,and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., manage to overcome their big difference on college costs and other higher education issues with the 2020 election looming and Democratic contenders chomping at the bit to appeal to younger voters worried about student debt? 

As for other issues? Over the past two years, we've highlighted data privacy, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, reauthorization for laws governing Head Start and special education, and the Education Sciences Reform Act, among others things.

Despite last year's firestorm about DACA, none of those issues have had relevant bills even sniff the finish line.  

All, some, or a few of those issues could merit at least a glance or several speeches on Capitol Hill next year if the GOP maintains control. But at the most general level, if Republicans declined to address these and other issues when they were freshly energized after President Donald Trump's (and their) victories in 2016, it's not as easy to see them acting when that momentum has diminished. 

And the turnover Congress may not help matters. Consider, for example, the fact that Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., who've previously collaborated on legislation to address student-data privacy, won't be in Congress. (Those two are also the ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the House education subcommittee that deals with schools.) Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., another prominent lawmaker for K-12, is also leaving Congress. Their departures might push certain issues closer to the edge of the radar, although of course new education issues might come to the fore in their place.  

Dont forget about the federal budget. Even if the House stays in Republican hands, there's going to be a new leader of the chamber's appropriations committee, not to mention a new House speaker. There could be more stability when it comes to other lawmakers overseeing the U.S. Department of Education's budget.  

Republican control of the House would also make life a lot easier for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. It could even be a factor in any internal and external debates she might be having about sticking around past the start of the next Congress. (Remember, if Democrats take the chamber, she and her department are facing lots of oversight and Capitol Hill hearings.) 

Still, GOP lawmakers have shown little appetite for the Trump administation's desire to cut the Education Department's budget and dramatically expand federally supported school choice programs. It's not easy to see that changing in the next two years if the House stays with Republicans. 

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