Pope's Visit to Washington Sparks Congressional Action on ESEA

After months of inaction, it seems the Pope's visit to Washington this September was just the spark Congress needed to start to get things done.
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Update from Washington

After months of inaction, it seems the Pope's visit to Washington this September was just the spark Congress and the Administration needed to get moving, even if some of those moves were to leave town.

The October surprises actually kicked off in late September. As Capitol Hill was still reeling from Speaker of the House John Boehner's (R-OH) announced retirement plans, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he will follow the Speaker out of town-albeit a few months later. By month's end, the Hill had cycled through one presumptive new Speaker (Representative Kevin McCarthy demurred mid-month) and given Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) the gavel. Further, dealmakers managed to design a budget deal that would address two significant spending issues-the need to increase the country's borrowing ability by November 3rd and the spending caps that were making life difficult for appropriators and the White House. In his first speech as Speaker, Ryan made clear he wants to restore power to committees to lead on legislation. Depending on where you sit, that could be promising news for stalled legislation of concern to the STEM education community.

That leads us to the latest on K-12 education policy. Now that the leadership issues have settled and a temporary reprieve exists on the budget, there is a good chance negotiations by staff regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be completed soon. There was word mid-month that they were getting close to debating whether Title II of a new law would include resources set aside for STEM educators. A flurry of letters went to the Hill urging policymakers to retain the Title II, Part E provisions of the Senate's Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177). Those provisions propose several supports for the teaching and learning of STEM subjects, including requiring high standards for science and mathematics and ensuring state and local funds are used for STEM educator professional development.

Advocates also received unexpected news from the Senate that the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act might see Committee action in that chamber before year's end. The over $1 billion spent on the program has helped grow many STEM education programs in the country's high schools, and the STEM community wants to be heard on how it might change. The community hurriedly submitted comments to Senate leaders of the effort-Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Bob Casey (D-PA)-on a tight eight-day turnaround. And, for good measure, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) made one last push for comments on their efforts to get some momentum behind a comprehensive reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. SWE obliged on both counts by signing on to a letter from the STEM Education Coalition on the Perkins program and sending its own response to Senators Gardner and Peters.

In the middle of all this activity came some bad news-disappointing scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The so-called Nation's Report Card showed only 3 jurisdictions across the country had significant increases in math scores from the last assessment in 2013, while the rest of country dropped or remained flat for the first time in twenty years. While some groups attributed the disappointing results to the transition to mathematics curricula based on the Common Core standards, the news was somewhat deflating.