In 2016, Senate Republicans face an electoral map that favors Democrats regaining control of the Senate. House Republicans will be running in elections that could be influenced by the coattails of the presidential candidates for each party. Expect the future of elementary and secondary education to be a top-tier topic for leading candidates seeking the presidential nomination of both parties in 2015 and 2016. In anticipation of facing this environment, congressional Republicans may look for an issue area in which they can demonstrate they can address middle-class issues of concern and pass legislation that the President will sign. Education presents just such an opportunity.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was last authorized in 2002 when the previous iteration of the law – No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – was enacted. The law expired in 2007 and every Congress since that time has sought solution to reauthorizing the law but have ultimately come up short. The 113th Congress was no exception, despite the fact that the House passed an ESEA reauthorization bill in summer 2013 and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee also reported a bill out of committee around the same time. For both committees, ESEA reauthorization will remain a top priority, possibly even higher than reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), with the Department of Education’s NCLB waivers being a motivating factor.
If former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and former
Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) do would run for President they will likely use their expertise in this area to differentiate themselves from other candidates in the primaries and effectively force their opponents to develop their own comprehensive education improvement plans. However, developments on the campaign trail may not be enough to contribute to passage of ESEA reauthorization in the next Congress.
With both chambers controlled by the same party, reauthorizing ESEA in the 114th Congress may prove to be easier than it has been in the past given the political
tension that has come along with ESEA reauthorization in previous years. Expect the House to take a similar approach to ESEA as it did in the 113th Congress, which is
likely to be more closely aligned with the Senate Republicans’ goals for reauthorization.
With Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as the likely chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, anticipate that any ESEA reauthorization bill that the Senate might consider
is likely to be similar to the bill introduced this Congress, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013 (S. 1101). Seven Republicans on the committee signed on as co-sponsors of the bill which would seek to make Title I funding more flexible to ensure it follows students to the public school of their choice and eliminates the Obama Administration’s signature programs like Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, among other changes to the current law. As a former Secretary of Education, past governor, and past presidential candidate, Senator Alexander is ideally positioned to quarterback major education initiatives through the closely divided Senate.