As the dust settles from the 2018 elections, what are the key takeaways? And, what does it all mean for education policy and music education? Let’s dive in!
The House of Representatives
Currently, Democrats have picked up 36 seats with 4 more seats yet to be decided. This swings the gavel to the Democrats in both the full House and its committees’ leadership. Republicans have voted on Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be Minority Leader, replacing the departing Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the party’s leader in the House.
At the moment, Democrats do not appear unanimous in their choice for Speaker of the House, though former Speaker Nancy Pelosi has recently helped her cause in securing the position.
The Education and Workforce Committee Chairman will be Bobby Scott (D, GA-3), while former Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R, NC-05) will now assume the role of Ranking Member. Scott’s chairmanship may signal two education priorities for House Democrats. The first is Higher Education Act Reauthorization. Last year, Foxx introduced the Republican version of HEA reauthorization called the PROSPER Act. This bill would have eliminated teacher preparation grants and all student loan forgiveness programs. The Democrats’ response was introduction of the Aim Higher Act. The act would be significantly more generous than current programs for students and borrowers, increasing funding levels for Pell Grants, TRIO, and making loans more affordable. The bill would also revive the Perkins Loan Program, which expired last year, and restructure the Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant programs. However, the bill would also add significant new requirements for institutions, increasing reporting and regulatory burdens. NAfME, in partnership with the Music Education Policy Roundtable, has created specific requests for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and will be sharing these with committee members as the new Congress gets underway in January.
The second priority may be a school infrastructure bill that Representative Scott introduced last year. The legislation would mandate that the federal government partner with states and territories to ensure that public schools in every community are safe, healthy, and modern – particularly in low-income and rural school districts where there is greater need. The bill would provide $100 billion for direct grants and low-cost financing to help states and local communities upgrade their school facilities. Facilities play an important role in music programs, and NAfME plans to work with Congress to include “well-rounded” provisions in any infrastructure legislation introduced.
Republicans will maintain the majority in the Senate with the likelihood of picking up two additional seats. North Dakota and Florida Senate seats have flipped to Republicans. If the Mississippi run-off election keeps the incumbent in the seat, this would put their majority at 53 seats to the Democrats’ 47.
Politics in both chambers, and on all sides, are certain to hinder policy making on some level. Whereas subpoena power may bog down policy work in the House, a greater majority in the Senate may lead the body to focus more on judicial nominations rather than policy.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic that education work may get done on a bipartisan basis. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the FAFSA Act. The bill would allow the IRS to disclose tax return information to Department of Education (ED) officials “determining eligibility for, and amount of, Federal student financial aid.” The bill would also let the ED share tax return information with colleges, state higher education agencies, and scholarship organizations, with the applicant’s consent. The goal of these measures is to make the student loan application easier and more efficient.
While the bill is unlikely to pass in the lame duck session, it may set up the ground work for a bipartisan HEA reauthorization bill in the next Congress.
President Trump signed a bicameral conference committee agreement for the Labor-HHS-Education and Defense spending package for FY 2019. This “minibus” was a pre-election compromise, with a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the rest of the government through December 7th. If funding bills for departments covered under the CR are not signed by the president, a partial government shutdown could be imminent. While this would not affect the solid funding numbers for ESSA’s well-rounded programs in FY 2019, negotiations may set the tone for all government funding through 2020 when we embark upon our next presidential election.
As negotiations begin for FY 2020 appropriations this coming spring, we will be calling on NAfME members to engage with their lawmakers to support continued funding for well-rounded programs. We also encourage you to continue sharing your stories about how receiving Title IV-A funding has positively impacted your program. Stories documenting the use of federal funds for music education serve as crucial evidence when we advocate for the effectiveness of Title IV-A, and increased funding for the program.
36 governors races resulted in 20 Republican wins and 16 Democratic wins, with 20 new governors leading states next year. Democrats gained control of legislative chambers in Colorado, Connecticut, Main, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.
Seven states held elections for chief education officers. Five Republican incumbents maintained their seats, while Arizona flipped to Democratic control for the first time in 23 years. California elected a non-partisan new officer. 40 state school board seats were up for election, resulting in 21 incumbents holding their seats and 19 new members elected.
All of these developments have many implications on state education policy, funding, and the implementation of federal policy. NAfME will continue to work with our federated state associations and state level advocacy leaders to keep an eye on state decisions which could impact music education with these new policymakers in place. States also connect with federal education law, too. While all states have had their ESSA state plans approved, states will now begin developing career and technical education plans, based on Congress passing the Carl D. Perkins – CTE reauthorization bill last summer. As states are developing their new plans, it is possible the shift to divided government may slightly change processes or what gets emphasized in updated ESSA plans and new Perkins plans.
Things will be ramping up quickly, so please contact the policy staff if you have any questions. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Tooshar Swain, Public Policy Advisor, November 21, 2018. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).