The election and education: What will change?

The short answer to that question might be, not much. The Obama administration has embraced education reforms that are also favored by many conservatives, most particularly charter schools and overhauling how teachers are evaluated and paid. So if Republicans sweep the House today and grab the Senate, too, the direction that education policy has been headed for the past two years may not shift dramatically. In fact, it could become more of a priority as one issue where the Obama administration and Republicans can find some common ground.

That said, others have argued that Obama’s education reform agenda may not be so safe. For one thing, points out Andrew Kelly (writing on the Rick Hess Straight Up blog), as many as 28 Republican candidates have advocated eliminating the U.S. Department of Education in their campaigns. If elected — and Kelly thinks many of the 28 will be — these folks are probably not going to be allies as the Obama administration starts the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as NCLB under President George W. Bush) next year. It’s also unlikely they’ll jump to support a second Race to the Top contest, to say the least.

(photo courtesy of Michael Gastner)

On the local level — where most of the education policy sausage gets made — there are also likely to be many new faces who could transform the education policy landscape. Many governors are up for reelection in states that won the Race to the Top competition. The governor of Tennessee, a first-round winner, extracted promises from all of the candidates running to replace him to support the state’s education reforms, but that’s certainly not the case everywhere.

There are also education issues that were already in a precarious position before election day. Early-education advocates have been wringing their hands for months over the uncertain fate of the Early Education Challenge Fund, which is currently stalled in Congress. Senators have passed a version of the bill, mostly with Democratic support, and are now waiting on the House. With the strong possibility of a Republican-controlled House on the horizon, prospects for the measure don’t look great.

While support for early education extends across partisan lines — just look at Oklahoma, one of the reddest states on the map, and its universal pre-Kindergarten program — any proposal to increase government spending will face a tough battle no matter what happens after the election. The Obama administration has also warned that Head Start could be endangered by big Republican victories, although Republicans say that’s not true.

Education-wise, some of the most interesting races to watch this evening  will be Democratic Senator Michael Bennet’s in Colorado (as former superintendent of the Denver public schools, he’s been an important education ally in the Senate for the Obama administration), along with the gubernatorial contests in Florida and Ohio, where results could mean significant shifts in education policy on the state level. For the New York races, Gotham Schools has an election voter’s guide.

It will also be interesting to watch what happens in Congressional committees and subcommittees. If Republicans take the House, Rep. John Kline may end up as the head of the House Education and Labor committee, replacing Rep. George Miller. Also important is the subcommittee on education appropriations; there, the ranking Republican, Todd Tiahrt, is currently running for the Senate. If Republicans turn enough Democrats out in the Senate, control of the education committee there could go to Sen. Mike Enzi, which may be a cause for celebration among for-profit universities.