Advocacy Update: The Quarter in Review

By the time you read this article, the 2012 general election in the United States will have long since passed, and President Barack Obama will have been sworn in to begin his second term in office. While the 2012 general election brought about some changes in Washington, much remains the same: President Obama has been given another 4 years in the White House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) has been assured another 2 years as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will continue as the Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will also hold on to his Minority Leader slot in the Senate, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will remain Minority Leader in the House of Representatives.

Digging a little deeper, education advocates lost a few champions on both sides of the aisle.  Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL) lost her seat in the election, and Dale Kildee (D-MI), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Jason Altmire (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Todd Platts (R-PA) will not be returning to the House Education and the Workforce Committee for a variety of reasons. In the Senate, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) retired, leaving a vacancy on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Mike Enzi (R-WY), while remaining on the Committee, will give up his Ranking position, most likely to Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Take a look at all the new faces in the 113th Congress.

Personnel Changes
As with many presidential administrations that serve for consecutive terms, there will be a mix of old and new faces in the federal agencies. Some cabinet secretaries—such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—will choose to stay, while others—including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—will choose to leave. Similarly, there will be many political appointees in federal agencies who decide to move on, if they haven’t already.

At the U.S. Department of Education, it is expected that Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, Deborah S. Delisle, will remain in her position, as will Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education, Brenda Dann-Messier. Dr. Rosalinda Barrera, who had been serving as Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition, resigned her position in October 2012, so her successor will need to be appointed. Similarly, Russlyn Ali, who had been serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, resigned her position in December 2012, so a successor for her position will need to be similarly identified.

Education Policy
Because the Obama administration will continue to serve a second term, his priorities for education have already been well defined in his first 4 years. Unable to drive a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) through the Congress, the President succeeded in rewriting K–12 policy through a combination of financial carrots, regulatory reform, and the granting of an unprecedented waiver plan for all interested states. For his second term, he is certain to continue to fight for his signature programs—Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation (i3), School Improvement Grants, and Promise Neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the Congress has a long list of reauthorizations that are past due beyond ESEA—the Higher Education Act, Career and Technical Education, the Workforce Investment Act, the Education Sciences Reform Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In addition, immigration reform is likely to return to the agenda, as the President has signaled it has become a priority for his second term.

Budget and Appropriations
The lame-duck session of the 112th Congress was almost singularly focused on the so-called “fiscal cliff”: a confluence of policies (mainly tax increases and cuts in federal spending) that could have had a significant negative impact on the U.S. economy if allowed to go into effect in early January 2013. Much of the debate was focused on the competing priorities of the Republicans—led by Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH)—versus those of the Democrats, led by President Obama. At the very last possible moment, a compromise was reached on the tax issue, and the proposed cuts to federal spending, also known as sequestration, were postponed.

Although the across-the-board spending cuts as part of sequestration were avoided for now, the issue still remains unresolved. The cuts, approximately 8% for all federal programs, were part of a deal made on the debt ceiling in 2011. Now postponed until March, the threat of sequestration, along with the unresolved issues around the FY2013 federal budget, is playing havoc with many discretionary spending programs. Unable to determine whether full funding will remain in effect for the next several months, many agencies are in a holding pattern in regards to enacting programs. This makes for a challenging environment in which the Obama Administration begins its second term.

For more advocacy information and how to get involved, check out TESOL's Advocacy Resources page. 

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