Noelle Ellerson Ng
Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
No Recess for You!: How Summer 2018 is Shaping Up for Congress
In a very uncommon move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced a rescission to recess. Congress typically adjourns for the month of August, and this early June announcement indicates the Senate will have a mere week of recess in August (meaning that cuts to recess aren’t just for school kids any more).
McConnell indicated he was keeping the Senate in session, so policymakers can clear a backlog of political confirmations and make headway on annual appropriations bills. A more politically-motivated read would indicate that McConnell is issuing the extended work period to stymie the work of 10 incumbent Democratic senators who are up for re-election in states won by Trump in 2016. This extended work period forces those candidates to choose between campaigning at home (skipping votes and being accused of ignoring official duties) or staying in Washington and leaving the home state open for un-challenged campaigning from Republican challengers.
Even if the Senate extends their work period, the reality of the Congressional ‘to do’ wish list far exceeds the available floor time, especially when we consider the increasingly partisan and gridlocked nature of Congress, something that will only ramp up as we draw nearer to the midterm elections. What are we in store for?
- Farm Bill: Last month, the House brought its partisan committee-passed Farm Bill to the floor, expecting it to pass. It was defeated for reasons related to content (Democrats opposed the proposed changes to the SNAP program) as well as immigration (moderate Republicans want to force a vote on DACA, and the Freedom Caucus wants a different immigration vote). The defeat surprised leadership, but the bill is now expected to return to the House floor in mid-June. It is not expected to have any traction on the Senate side, as that chamber has indicated wanting to work in a bipartisan manner. As a refresher, AASA opposes the bill given its changes to SNAP and the consequential implications for student hunger.
- Immigration: Two tracks to follow here. As Speaker Ryan works to wheel and deal to get the votes for the Farm Bill, he may strike an agreement with the Freedom Caucus to bring up an immigration bill. (Side Note: Ryan does not want to have an immigration vote on the floor this year, given the mid-term elections.) The other vehicle for an immigration-related vote is through the discharge position, a process by which a majority of the floor (in this instance, 218) vote for a petition to bring a bill to the floor, typically one leadership opposes. The discharge petition overrides leadership and brings the issue to the floor. In this instance, that issue is immigration and it would likely be a queen of the hill vote scenario. Queen of the hill is a process by which Congress would vote on a handful of proposals (3-4), and in popularity contest style, the winner takes it all. Likely policy contenders are a clean DREAM Act, a version of the USA Act, which is DREAM Act plus some more common sense, moderate border security compromises; the Goodlatte bill, which is bad; and a bill yet TBD. AASA would support the DREAM Act and would likely support the USA Act. The likelihood of an immigration vote of some type are all but certain, it’s more an issue of whether Ryan can court the Freedom Caucus before the discharge petition is triggered.
- Higher Education Act: All signs indicate the House is full steam ahead to bring the House bill to the floor this month. Leslie will have more on how to weigh in when it is time to make contact, but in the meantime, here’s what you need to know: AASA opposes the House proposal, PROSPER Act, in large part because it cuts and guts all support to teachers to help them navigate and afford certification. The bill does not have a Senate counterpart.
- Perkins Career and Technical Education: The Senate is back at the negotiating table to see if they can bang out a workable bill to reauthorize Perkins CTE. Senator Alexander has laid his concern related to reigning in the regulatory authority of the Secretary to the side, and conversations are ongoing. We are concerned with what we hear about the potential for funds to be awarded competitively from the state to the local level. We think the fastest and best track would be for the Senate to adopt the bipartisan bill the House passed rather than reinvent the wheel. However, Alexander seems set on marking-up some version of Perkins on June 20.
- Net Neutrality: The regulatory protections referred to as ‘net neutrality’ will end on June 11. The path to protection is up hill, both ways, and covered in six feet of snow (channeling my grandpa with that one), but worth considering. Details are on the blog. AASA sent a letter supporting the Senate effort to preserve the protections.
- Appropriations: Congress will work to avoid a shutdown and is attempting to complete as many of the individual funding bills as possible before passing a continuing resolution to get us through the election and into lame duck and then going home to campaign. Our slice of the pie—LHHS—is never a real fan favorite, in terms of being at the top of the list for either rank order or new funding. Complicating matters, the House and Senate are starting in very different starting points. The House level funds the allocation to our slice of the pie and the Senate provides a $2 billion increase. Keep in mind that the funding cap increase for overall spending from FY18 to FY19 is $18 billion, and a proportional increase to LHHS would be closer to $5.5 billion, well above both the House and Senate. We are engaged in advocacy to make sure Congress uses FY18 as the starting point for FY19 discussions and steers any additional dollars toward priority formula programs like Title I and IDEA. Stay tuned!
- Education Department: Let’s not leave out USED! The Federal School Safety Commission held its first listening session on June 6. AASA filed a formal statement, read for the record, with the Association of Educational Service Agencies, the Association of School Business Officials International, the Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, the National Rural Education Association and the National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium. Also expected this month: the long-awaited ESSA-required report on the Title I formula as well as ESSA Report Card guidance (rumored to include information related to the fiscal transparency requirement) AND the Trump administration’s proposal related to supplement, not supplant.
Bottom line: There will be a LOT of activity on Capitol Hill, likely concentrated around the week of June 20, and Sasha, Leslie and I will be busy monitoring it and reaching out for superintendent engagement and activity as needed. At the same time, a lot of this activity will boil down to a little more than political theatre and posturing. We can’t confuse activity with productivity but must always remain diligent in ensuring that federal policy—however substantive—reflects the needs and priorities of public schools.
Shameless Plug: Come hear the latest and (not-so) greatest goings on of all things federal advocacy related for our summer advocacy conference, scheduled for July 10-12 and held in conjunction with the Association of School Business Officials International. Register today!