President Obama will return for a second term in the White House to work with Democrats who will control a slightly larger majority in the Senate and a solid Republican majority in the House. While there are still eight House seats undecided, we anticipate eighty-six new House members in the 113th Congress, and twelve new Senators. Democrats picked-up seven-seats in the House, and gained one additional caucus vote from an Independent in the Senate. Immediately following the election, attention has turned to the “lame duck” session, which will convene on Tuesday, November 13. The President and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) immediately signaled the intent to address the “fiscal cliff”, otherwise known as sequestration, which Congress delayed until after the election. Expect to see much more about the looming fiscal crisis which NAESP has covered here.

Looking ahead at the new 113th Congress, the new make-up of the House and Senate and the political trends within the parties may once again put education into full gridlock. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is in jeopardy as the Senate Democratic leadership will continue to consult with President Obama on legislative priorities – which we know in education will remain with the waiver process put into place by the U.S. Department of Education to give states “flexibility” from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

States have been given waivers from requirements in the law in exchange for a commitment to implement the Administration’s reform agenda. The Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has not endorsed proposals put forward by the House and Senate over the past two years, and state implementation of waiver plans is well underway. This leaves no incentive for the full Senate to consider ESEA. Nevertheless, NAESP heard from top staff working on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA) today, who has made moving  forward with a full reauthorization of ESEA in 2013 a top priority. The likelihood of ESEA moving in the Senate remains to be seen.  

On the House side, education is expected to move quickly after statements made by Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, John Kline (R-MN). The Chairman said in an interview this week that he will push a package of ESEA bills again next year, with “tweaks,” and focus on committee oversight of the implementation of the Administration’s ESEA waivers. The Chairman has largely criticized the Administration’s waiver package and what Republicans consider an overreach of the federal government in education.

Gridlock may also be inevitable given the changing rosters on both the House and Senate education committees. As new members move onto the committees, they will need time to become familiar with pressing education issues. This may take well into the next year, and lead to further stalemates between Republicans and Democrats. The top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Michael Enzi (R-WI) term-limited out of the position could become the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. Former Secretary of Education, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is expected to be the new ranking Republican on the HELP panel. Interestingly, reports now indicate that Senator Alexander could also become the top Republican on the Senate Labor, Health & Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee, becoming Senator Harkin’s counterpart as Harkin also chairs that subcommittee.

Changes on the House education committee are also happening – moderate Republican Representative Judy Biggert (IL) lost her reelection bid; Democrat Mazie Hirono from Hawaii moved over to the Senate; and Representatives Todd Platts (R-PA), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Jason Altmire (D-PA) all either previously announced their retirement or lost primary election bids.

NAESP will continue to report on changes to the House and Senate committees, which may give a clearer picture of the legislative priorities going forward. Many have speculated that the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) could come up before ESEA as policies related to Pell Grants and student loans will demand Congress’ attention. Congress also has a full plate of expired bills to choose from including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), career and technical education, and workforce development are all now operating under an expired authorization. Stay tuned to NAESP’s

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