Today’s Federal Flash offers our crystal ball into 2020 and covers what you may have missed over the holidays, including a debate on education with Democratic presidential candidates, a deal on federal spending for fiscal year 2020, and policy expanding trauma support services passed in the House.
Education Forum with Democratic Presidential Candidates
Eleven education organizations including teachers unions, civil rights organizations, and community groups hosted seven of the Democratic presidential candidates in Pittsburgh last month. The education forum addressed topics from standardized testing and school funding to teacher pay and charter schools. Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren participated. Cory Booker had been slated to join but had to cancel due to illness.
Several candidates called for ending certain aspects of the current education system. Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden both endorsed ending the use of standardized tests in schools. Senator Warren was asked about her K-12 plan, which calls for eliminating federal funding for new charter schools and ending federal funding for the expansion of existing charters—a position she shares with Senator Sanders.
Other ideas discussed would transform the current system, Mayor Buttigieg highlighted that his K-12 plan would include a federal “pre-clearance” process that would require school districts to consider racial and socioeconomic integration as part of any major boundary changes. Senator Bennet, the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, suggested that students should go to schools six days a week. While he said that he would not mandate this federally, he believes the current school calendar is insufficient, particularly for students living in poverty.
The forum was not aired live, but rather streamed on MSNBC.com. Re-watch the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38id-L_qKkE.
The week after the forum, K-12 education did get a shout-out in primetime, as Senator Warren pledged to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during December’s Democratic presidential debate. Senators Booker and Klobuchar have also pledged previously to support full funding for IDEA. The debate discussion may have been a preview of Warren’s full plan for individuals with disabilities, which was released this week.
Deal to Fund the Federal Government
Back in Washington, DC, Congress finally reached a deal to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2020. The final appropriations bill increases funding for the Education Department by $1.4 billion, including at least level funding or small boosts for most programs within the Department. For example, Title I grants to support low-income schools received $16.3 billion, an increase of $450 million from fiscal year 2019; and Title IV-A student support and academic enrichment grants received $1.21 billion, an increase of $40 million from last fiscal year. While it is good news that education investments are growing, there is still room for improvement. According to the Committee for Education Funding, Education Department funding is still almost $6 billion below the 2011 level in inflation-adjusted terms.
The House of Representatives passed a bill that many in the education community may not have noticed, H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. On first blush, this bill sounds like a healthcare bill, and it is, but H.R. 3 also authorizes $100 million over 4 years for trauma support services for children in educational settings.
The bill, however, has little bipartisan support. Only two Republicans joined all the House Democrats in voting for the bill, so that fate of the bill in the Senate looks dim.
Crystal Ball into 2020
Now for our crystal ball into 2020. DC is focused on the presidential election and impeachment, and members of Congress will spend as much time as possible campaigning to keep their seats in November. While most will be focused on politics, there will still be some room for policy. Later this year the Department of Education will announce its changes to the Civil Rights Data Collection and is likely to continue advocating for school choice in its upcoming budget proposal. Congress will need to pass the annual appropriations bill to fund the Department of Education and the full House could pass its proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. It seems unlikely that a new HEA will be signed into law this year, but this is Washington – anything is possible.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the January 3 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.