Washington Update

Where is the Nation and Education Headed?

We have entered a new era in education policy, programs and practice. Under President Donald Trump education will be altering its direction and emphasis slightly from the focus of the last six presidents. This change will not be without controversy.

During the last 25 years there has been a growing general consensus about education change, reform and policy among Republicans and Democrats at the national level with a few differences. A visible divide began over the federal policy and role during the Obama Administration. It became even more visible during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now entitled Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The divide widened even more during the presidential campaign and the recent senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Secretary of Education. There seems to be no end to the divide and polarization of strategies for educational change and improvement.

Confirming a New Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as the new U.S. Secretary of Education, but what made it interesting — two republican senators on the committee voted to move the nomination to the senate floor, but then stated they will vote “no” on the Senate floor. This made the vote 50-50. So for the first time in the history of the cabinet confirmation process, the president of the senate had to break the tie. Vice President Pence did so and DeVos was confirmed.

Picking a Secretary and the Education Transition

The new White House Advisor on Education is Jason Botel. He has an interesting background and many who know him were surprised that he took the job. Jim Manning continues to lead the transition at the department even after DeVos’ confirmation. New political employees are working at the department, but it is not clear if they are temporary or permanent employees. No names have surfaced for the key positions in the agency at this time. One reason is the delayed confirmation of the secretary.

ESSA Regulations

President Trump during the campaign and congressional republicans chairing the two education authorizing committees stated that education regulations finalized and promulgated during the last months of the Obama Administration will be blocked and changed to follow the statute. The committee leaders have used the Congressional Review Act to negate many of the regulations. Congress has negated two ESSA education regulations so far, which are Accountability and Teacher Preparation. One would not be surprised that several others will face the same fate.

Implementing ESSA

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated in a letter dated Feb. 13, 2017, to states that she’s sticking with the April and September deadlines for states to hand in their plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a letter recently sent to chief state school officers,she provided clarity on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation, in light of the actions related to the postponement of the accountability regulations and the Congressional Review Act. The letter emphasizes that states should continue to move forward and that the department will work to ensure that state education leaders have the state and local flexibility that congress intended. States should continue to follow the timeline for developing and submitting their plans for review and approval, building on the work they have already completed. The department will provide further guidance on the state plan requirements by Mar. 13, 2017.

Possible Changes at the Department

DeVos vows to go after employees who would “subvert” her mission. In an interview with conservative news site Townhall, she said she wouldn’t be surprised if there are Education Department employees who would “try to subvert the mission of this organization and this department.” The statement was in response to a question about whether the Obama administration “populated” the federal agency with sympathizers who will “frustrate whatever the Trump administration wants to do.” Expect more in the weeks and months to come.

In the weeks to come we will learn more about the approach Secretary DeVos will be taking and who will be some of the key players in the agency. Talk about abolishing the department has increased in recent weeks given Representative Massie’s introduction of legislation to eliminate the agency. Definitely it will be an interesting period of time. Expect controversy and division, and definitely different in style and approach from what many of us are accustom.

With any new administration and new secretary, it is a wait and see game.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in Public Private Action. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations, business development strategy, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. To subscribe, write fritz@publicprivateaction.com.

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