By defeating former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on November 6, President Barack Obama earned a second four-year term in the White House. In the U.S. Congress, Democrats retained control of the Senate while Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives—a status-quo outcome that will force the two parties to work together to accomplish legislative goals.
In an Election Night speech from Chicago, Obama pledged to move the nation forward and signaled that education will continue to be a top priority for his administration.
“Despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future,” Obama said. “We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers—a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow. We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt; that isn’t weakened by inequality; that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Two weeks before capturing 50.5 percent of the popular vote and 332 of 438 possible electoral votes, Obama outlined how he would reach those goals when he released The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security. The twenty-page booklet provides a summary of how he will use a second term as president to “strengthen middle-class security by making smart investments in education and training, growing small businesses, promoting technology and innovation, and reducing the deficit.”
On education, the plan does not offer many new initiatives, but it does indicate that Obama will stick to education reforms that are already underway, such as a new Race to the Top (RTT) competition for districts and greater flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for states. It reiterates Obama’s goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 and his promise to recruit and prepare 100,000 new math and science teachers. The plan seeks to cut college tuition growth in half over the next ten years while continuing tax credits to help middle-class families afford college tuition, doubling the number of work-study jobs and creating incentives for schools to keep tuition down. Finally, the plan includes training 2 million workers for “good jobs that actually exist” through partnerships between businesses and community colleges.
“A quality education is not a luxury,” the document reads. “It is an economic imperative for good-paying jobs, a strong middle class and a workforce that out-innovates the world.”
As he has shown with RTT and NCLB waivers, Obama does not necessarily need cooperation from Congress to reform the nation’s education system. To enact more systemic reform—say, through an NCLB rewrite—Obama will need to cobble together a bipartisan group of legislators from both the House and Senate. Integral to this group is House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN). In an interview with Education Week reporter Alyson Klein, Kline said “the urgency in my mind is still there,” in regard to a possible reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as NCLB.
“We need to get legislation that will move us away from unilateral actions of the administration,” Kline said, referring to NCLB waivers. “States who have requested and even been granted these waivers are not happy with them.” Kline included his home state of Minnesota in that list of states unhappy with waivers, in part because of their temporary nature.
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will also play a key role, as will Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former U.S. Secretary of Education who is expected to take over the top Republican spot on the HELP Committee in place of Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY).