Washington Watch

The Classroom Teacher, winter 2014-15

On Election Day 2014, voters gave Republicans a larger majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. Many observers say this new Congress will put states in the driver’s seat on education policy, as Republicans say they want to return control over public schools to communities and teachers.

House Education Committee

Rep. John Kline (R–Minn.) will remain chair of the House education committee. His priorities include reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act.

Kline has been vocal against the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to circumvent Congress and the legal system by attaching mandates to federal waivers. In August, he requested a government study on the USDE’s waiver policies, so his efforts to increase congressional oversight of the department will likely continue. 

Kline supports the expansion of charter schools and parental choice, as well as school accountability. He will work to reduce federal regulations and involvement in state policy, and with the Republican majority in the Senate, he will have a partner in the other chamber to support his committee’s legislation. 

Kline’s committee will undergo a major shuffle as new members replace a handful of senior members from both parties. Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.) will likely replace retiring ranking Democrat George Miller (Calif.). Scott may continue his efforts to end the “school to prison” pipeline. He will also advocate for educational equity for minority and low-income students, reducing college costs, and expanding federal preschool programs. 

Once Kline’s staff brings new committee members up to speed, he may dust off the House ESEA draft reauthorization bill released earlier in 2014. It allowed states to design their own accountability systems and proposed block granting most federal education spending for states to disseminate as needed. It also proposed allowing, but not requiring, states to tap teacher development funds to create teacher and principal evaluation systems. Kline stated at the time that test score-linked evaluations were ideal, but said he wanted to give states more autonomy in creating these systems.

Senate Education Committee

On the Senate side, Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.) will take the helm of the education committee. He brings a broad range of education experience, including service as a secretary of education under former President George H.W. Bush. Alexander has said he would make NCLB reauthorization a top priority, so he will likely reintroduce legislation he initiated last year, but he will have to make some concessions to attract democratic supporters. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D–Wash.) will take over as ranking member of the Senate education committee. A former teacher, she will focus on early childhood education and equality in education for low-income students and families. Murray has been instrumental in brokering large bipartisan deals and will be able to garner support in her party, if given some concessions from Republicans.