Now What?

by Matt Williams on November 8, 2012

Okay so we survived another election night. So what did we learn? We learned that President Obama won reelection; the Democrats gained seats and held onto control of the U.S. Senate; and the Republicans maintained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. What else did we learn? That Nate Silver is really good at math, Karl Rove doesn’t trust other peoples’ math, David Axelrod gets to keep his mustache, and the census has become mandatory reading for all up-and-coming politicos. So what does it all mean for education?

First and foremost, education (K-12 and higher education) had a mere cameo role in the discussion leading up to Election Day. Education made a few appearances in the debates but mostly through the lens of the economy, budget cuts, or global competitiveness. Very little of true substance was articulated. With the President’s victory we know that higher education will be the focus of the U.S. Department of Education, which will continue under the leadership of Secretary Duncan. The administration will focus on accountability, affordability, and innovation in higher education. This could be accomplished through a higher education Race to the Top leading to a new iteration of the Race to the Top franchise. Moreover, the Administration will increase its focus on teacher preparation and accountability of colleges of education. Conventional wisdom is that with the fiscal cliff (and everybody’s favorite word sequestration) looming, that the President will minimize the cuts to education. This was a stated contrast point during the election. There will clearly be no new dollars for large scale initiatives. Additionally, it is important to note that K-12 spending in the President’s first term rose at the slowest rate in two decades (see Rick Hess’ piece on this topic…it’s terrific).

What does this mean for ESEA? While on the surface it appears to be a status quo election it is important to take a closer look. In the Senate the ranking member, because of term limits, will move from Senator Mike Enzi to most likely Senator Lamar Alexander. This changes the dynamics in the Senate and allows for Senator Alexander, a former Secretary of Education, to be more vocal on issues, processes, and policies that he cares most about. Additionally, committee make up will shift and leadership (ranking members mostly) of subcommittees will change in the House. Could this open up an opportunity to move ESEA? Chairman Kline recently stated that the “urgency in my mind is still there.” We will see if the political will is there on both sides of aisle and in both chambers. Frankly, I put the odds at 2015 or later…sorry but I’m an edu-pessimist when it comes to ESEA.

Lastly, there was one rather unexpected loss on Tuesday evening. Tony Bennett, the Republican State Superintendent in Indiana, was defeated 53-47 by Democrat Glenda Ritz. There are a couple of cited reasons for the defeat: union money, the Common core, and a referendum on Bennett’s aggressive reform agenda. This has obvious impact on education in the state of Indiana. However, there are two stories to keep an eye on nationally. First, Ritz ran, in part, on an anti-Common Core platform (at the very least saying that it needed to be reexamined). Bennett has been an ardent, long time supporter of the Common Core. Is this a blip? Or is this a strong trend line that could up-end the Common Core? There are some that call it a federal incursion on states’ rights and have named it “Obamacore.” While this is obviously a “massaged” narrative does it continue to pick up steam? Also, what does the defeat of Bennett mean for the Chiefs for Change organization and agenda? Bennett was a leader in the movement. The reality is that Bennett will land on his feet and maybe sooner rather than later in Florida but it is an issue to keep an eye on.

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