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Reflections on Education Policy and the Upcoming Presidential Election

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Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Lillian Pace, Senior Director of National Policy for KnowledgeWorks, shares 5 observations about how the presidential election may affect education policy.Last week, I had the opportunity to engage with 3,500 inspiring educators in San Antonio at my first iNACOL conference. Over the course of several days, I caught up with dozens of friends and partners from all over the country and helped facilitate a session on the future of education policy with my colleague Jesse Moyer and thought partner Maria Worthen from iNACOL. While all of my conversations were diverse, many shared a common curiosity about the outcome of the presidential election and its impact on our collective work to advance personalized learning for all students.

Since Election Day is just days away, I wanted to share some of my top reflections for education policy and the upcoming presidential election.

  • Education is a Priority for Both Candidates – Even though education issues have not dominated the presidential campaign, both candidates share a belief that education is an important function of the federal government. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly referenced her commitment to education issues ranging from her young days as an employee for the Children’s Defense Fund to her time championing child welfare issues as First Lady of Arkansas. Donald Trump also spoke in favor of education at a recent town hall event, stating that education is one of the top three priorities for the U.S. government.
  • The Benefits of Flying Under the Radar – While many, including myself, wanted to hear more about education on the campaign trail and during the debates, the reality is that we are better off without the baggage of campaign promises. The more concessions a candidate has to make to appeal to particular constituencies, the less flexibility he or she has to craft a strong policy agenda once elected with the potential for passage.
  • K-12 Education Will Get Airtime – Some have speculated that K-12 education will get little attention under the next Presidential Administration due to increased interest in higher education policies. There is no question that higher education will be a key focus area, but K-12 education cannot be ignored. The next President will inherit implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which will require a significant amount of time and resources. The U.S. Department of Education will have to approve state plans, consider additional regulatory clarifications, and identify strategies for supporting states with areas of the law that could benefit from greater attention.
  • A Regulatory Strategy Will Be Important – Regardless of which candidate wins, both will face a steep challenge convincing Congress to act on the candidate’s policy priorities. Hillary Clinton will have to bridge the political differences between her Administration and a likely Republican Congress (albeit with smaller majorities). Donald Trump will have to bridge divisions within his own party to advance an agenda with Congress. If congressional gridlock proves too challenging to overcome, the new President will have to identify strategies for advancing an education agenda through regulatory actions alone.
  • Congress Will Lead Too – The current congressional session witnessed a lot of momentum on reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act and the Higher Education Act. Although both pieces of legislation have stalled, we can expect that congressional leaders will be eager to pick up where they left off and advance these priorities in the next congressional session. If the bipartisan reauthorization of ESSA is any indication, education is one issue that can advance even in a divided political climate.

My colleagues and I at KnowledgeWorks are watching this election very closely and will be prepared to help the next Presidential transition team craft an education agenda that continues to empower leaders across the country to build and scale a personalized education system. Education can be the uniting issue this country so desperately needs.