Legislative Update: 112th Congress, House Education Committee, ESEA

New Congress Sworn in this Week, Republicans Pledge Spending Cuts

On Wednesday the 112th Congress was sworn in, with Republicans taking control of the House and Democrats retaining control of the Senate, but by a smaller margin than in the last Congress. One of the top priorities of the House this session is to cut spending.

During the 2010 campaign Republicans vowed to cut spending by at least $100 billion in the next year, but that number may be shrinking. With reality setting in, and three months of FY11 already gone, House Republicans are now indicating that that figure may be closer to $50 to 60 billion. One change to the rules for curbing spending is a new “cut as you go” rule. During the last Congress Democrats employed “pay as you go” rules that required most bills that increased spending or cut taxes to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases in other programs. But under this new rule, only spending cuts can be used to offset spending increases. This will allow members to propose tax cuts even if the cost is not covered by spending reductions. However, the new rule will have limited impact because it does not apply to the Senate, who must also pass any proposed legislation.

Changes on the House Education Committee

With Rep. John Kline (MN) taking over at the helm, there are a number of changes in store for the House committee that oversees Perkins and other education and workforce issues. For starters, the name of the Education and Labor Committee has been changed to the Education and the Workforce Committee. In a statement last month, Kline announced that the Committee will also be smaller this session, with approximately 23 Republicans and likely 17 Democrats. Kline also announced the subcommittee chairmen for the upcoming year. The Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness (which oversees Perkins and WIA) will be chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC), a former community college president. Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA) will chair the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education (which oversees ESEA). Kline also eliminated the subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.

Secretary Duncan Urges Congress to Renew ESEA This Year

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took the pages of the Washington Post this week to make the case for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year, saying that “few areas are more suited for bipartisan action than education reform.” Duncan pointed out that there are many areas on which Republicans and Democrats can agree, from less emphasis on labeling schools as failures, to using a growth model, to enhancing flexibility for school districts.

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