Last night’s election results – which secured wins for President Obama, Senate democrats and House republicans – have us all speculating what the next four years will hold for education policy issues. Here are a few initial observations:
- Education Funding will Still Face Hurdles: Although President Obama has been historically supportive of increasing funding for education programs, we cannot forget that Congress is the branch of government that actually sets funding levels and the impact of the political split between a Republican-led House of Representatives and a Democratic-led Senate will likely result in a continuation of the recent fiscal debates.
Of course, the most immediate education funding issue is the looming threat of sequestration, the 8% automatic cut to many federal programs, including education, set to go into effect on January 2, 2013. If Congress does not act to avoid sequestration, education will be cut by $3.5 billion including a $1 billion cut to special education programs (read more here). Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee have estimated that sequestration could cost 12,000 special education layoffs and impact over 500,000 children with disabilities. President Obama and other Congressional leaders have publically stated the need to avert such cuts. But, with many fiscal hawks in Congress and public pressure to decrease the deficit, it remains unknown how policymakers will reach an agreement. Share with policymakers the negative impact a $1 billion cut to special education will have on your students, school and community!
- Rewriting No Child Left Behind will be Impacted by the New Waiver Reality: Congress’s stalemate over reauthorizing – rewriting – No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) became the Obama Administration’s gain when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced schools could be freed of some of NCLB’s most controversial requirements in exchange for adopting certain education reforms which were priorities of the Administration. (read more here)
To date, 34 states plus the District of Columbia have been granted ESEA waivers and many states have waiver applications pending. The waivers have allowed states to propose – with certain conditions – differing criteria for establishing their own accountability systems. Gone is 100% proficiency for all students by the year 2014, now the conversation has evolved to adopting college and career ready standards and setting ambitious but achievable goals.
Over the last two years, the House and Senate have both taken steps to reauthorize ESEA, which could be used as a starting point for conversations as the 113th Congress takes office. But with the majority of states participating in the waiver process and a Congressional agenda that may include politically charged issues such as immigration reform, it remains unclear how certain an ESEA reauthorization is in the coming year.
- Sweeping Changes to Education Move to Implementation Stage: In the first weeks of his first term, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus package. This law made a $100 billion investment into education programs, including doubling funding for most IDEA programs and $4.35 billion for education reforms, such as Race to the Top.
As a signature Administration initiative, Race to the Top has spurred the creation of new teacher evaluation systems; adoption of college and career ready standards in 45 states (AKA common core state standards); funded the development of the “next generation” assessments which will use computers and be given throughout the school year; and supported the expansion of charter schools, among other issues. Many of these reforms are now moving from the planning and policy phase to the implementation phase in states throughout the country, marking a turning point in education policy over the next few years. (Read CEC’s Position on Special Education Teacher Evaluation)
Many changes in policy and practice are imminent for educators across the country – whether it is learning new standards common across most states, implementing new evaluation systems that incorporate student performance, or using new assessments that move far away from the traditional paper and pencil, one-day test. The leadership in the White House, U.S. Department of Education, House of Representatives and Senate will all impact the next few years in education policy.
CEC is committed to providing nonpartisan, timely information on special and gifted education policy (stay tuned to this blog!) Often, we need the collective voice of the special and gifted education communities to explain how children and youth with exceptionalities will be impacted by certain policies. CEC’s Legislative Action Center makes contacting policymakers EASY! Want to become more involved with CEC’s advocacy efforts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!