A new Congress and a new presidential administration mean a new set of leaders who will create the federal policies that will affect your school for the next few years. A Republican majority in both houses of Congress gives the party chairmanship on all committees, including the two committees that play the largest role in education policy—the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (EdWorkforce) and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC)—House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Foxx represents the 5th District of North Carolina and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2004. Foxx spent 10 years in the North Carolina Senate. She also earned her EdD in curriculum and teaching/higher education from the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. Foxx served multiple terms as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training before replacing retiring member Rep. John Kline (R-MN) as chair of the EdWorkforce Committee. As committee chair, Foxx plans to focus on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and may work on other issues such as school choice, loosening federal regulations on states, and scaling back the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA)—House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Scott represents the 3rd District of Virginia and was first sworn into the House of Representatives in 1993. Scott served in the Virginia state legislature from 1978 to 1983. He is currently the senior Democrat on the House EdWorkforce Committee, and he will continue to serve as its ranking member in the 115th Congress, just as he did in the 114th Congress. Scott’s main focus will be promoting access to high-quality education opportunities for all children, solving the issue of student debt, and closing the achievement gap.
Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN)—Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Alexander has been representing the citizens of Tennessee in the Senate since 2003. Alexander served as the governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987 and as the U.S. secretary of education from 1991 to 1993. Alexander was chairman of the HELP Committee in the 114th Congress as well, where he helped lead the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by serving as the bill’s sponsor. Alexander is an advocate for school choice and is supportive of rolling back federal regulations enacted by ED under the Obama administration that he believes are burdensome and overreaching.
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA)—Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Murray was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in 1993. She served on the Shoreline School District Board of Directors and in the Washington State Senate. Murray has a history of orchestrating bipartisan agreements in Congress; members on both sides of the aisle seem to respect her negotiating abilities. These agreements include the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which she finalized with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Plus, she was one of the main architects of ESSA in the 114th Congress (she formerly served as a school board member and PTA president at the local level). In the 115th Congress, Murray will continue to advocate for early childhood education programs, work toward improving access to and affordability of postsecondary education for all students, and invest in programs and personnel that give K–12 schools the ability to provide high-quality education to all students.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a Michigan native who has been a longtime education activist. DeVos had an active political career, being elected chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party four times. DeVos has long been a supporter of school choice policies. She has served as chairwoman of the board of the Alliance for School Choice, and has been a member of the boards of directors of other school choice organizations, including the Advocates for School Choice, the American Education Reform Council, and the Education Freedom Fund. She most recently served as chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group that promotes school choice by pushing to expand charter schools and school voucher programs that provide families with public money to spend on private schools. DeVos has also been a longtime advocate for charter schools and voucher systems for students—advocacy consistent with the promises President Donald Trump made during his campaign. DeVos’ appointment signals that President Trump will likely not proceed with eliminating the Department of Education. However, this doesn’t mean that the role of ED won’t be scaled back greatly to grant more power to state and local education agencies.
Potential Education Policy Moves in the 115th Congress
Looking at the big players in education for the 115th Congress provides us with some ideas of what’s ahead. It appears that President Trump, Secretary DeVos, and the Republican Congress are on the same page when it comes to eliminating certain education regulations that were passed under the Obama administration. They have already eliminated the teacher preparation program regulations, the harsher regulations that were placed on for-profit institutions of higher education, and the ESSA accountability regulations.
We can also anticipate the 115th Congress taking up several bills:
- The Higher Education Act was extended through 2016, and the bill will have to be re-authorized in 2017.
- A bipartisan career and technical education bill also seems likely. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 5587) passed through the House of Representatives last Congress 405-5, before stalling in the Senate as Senate Republicans feuded with ED over certain ESSA regulations.
- Republicans might introduce some sort of school choice bill. The chairs of both education committees, Secretary DeVos, and President Trump all support school choice and voucher systems for education. President Trump mentioned a proposal to enact a $20 billion plan to develop block grants that would expand charter and private school options for children in low-income households. It is less clear, however, whether Congressional Republicans will get on board to enact such a proposal.
Securing more funding for education issues may also be an uphill climb in the 115th Congress. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) served as chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a number of years, where she was a strong advocate for education funding. However, Mikulski retired and was replaced as ranking member on the Appropriations Committee by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy served as ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee before making the jump to the more prestigious Appropriations Committee. At this time, it is unclear what Leahy’s top priorities will be on the committee.
NASSP has been involved in talks with offices from both parties and all branches of the government to determine how we can help in enacting meaningful education policy in the 115th Congress. We will continue fighting to ensure that positive reforms are made for all school leaders and their students in the days to come.
Amanda Karhuse is director of advocacy at NASSP. Follow her on Twitter @akarhuse.