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Rotherham Asks, “Will John Boehner Be Good for Education?”

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November 04, 2010 08:16 pm

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boehnerstory110410[1].blogIn the latest installment of his “School of Thought” column, which appears every Thursday at TIME.com, Andrew J. Rotherham calls presumed House Speaker-to-be John Boehner a “seasoned negotiator” who has succeeded in passing education laws in the past. At the same time however, he notes that Boehner’s views about education “matter less than the question of what he can accomplish given the fractious caucus he will be leading.”

On the good news side of things, Rotherham points out that Boehner cares deeply about education, as evidenced by his key role as one of the “Big Four,” along with Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Representative George Miller (D-CA), who helped write the No Child Left Behind Act. Additionally, Boehner is “well regarded” by many in the education community as a result of his policy initiatives. “Though he started his career as a bomb-thrower, [Boehner] evolved into someone even Democrats describe as a sincere legislator interested in practical solutions to education problems,” Rotherham writes.

On the not-so-good news side of things, Rotherham notes that Boehner “most certainly” will not rule by fiat-especially with more than 60 new members-or approximately 25 percent of the entire House Republican Conference-to contend with:

He won’t even have much room for compromise without losing too many votes on the right or left. Although education is often seen as a bipartisan issue, there is actually not a lot of agreement on specific policy around contentious issues like national education standards, school choice and performance pay for teachers. Moreover, many of Tuesday’s winners are coming to Washington set on cutting federal spending, which means that unlike in the past, big infusions of cash will not be available to help grease the wheels for political deals around education reform.

Rotherham also points out that the Obama Administration is yet to have any major education policy victories that didn’t come through regulation or on the back of other pieces of legislation, such as health care reform or the economic stimulus bill.

In the current political climate, Rotherham says there probably won’t be any “big No Child Left Behind-like” education bills in the next two years, but he does think there is a possibility for “smaller, more modest bills championed by moderate Democrats and reenergized Republicans like Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander.” However, he does leave open the possibility that something could get done:

Anyone who doubts Boehner’s political skills or commitment to education hasn’t been paying attention; this is the same guy who has twice climbed the leadership ladder in the House and put his imprint on national education policy. Yet whether his passion and drive will be enough to get much done in today’s tough political environment remains an open question.

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