From Vouchers to Head Start, 2013 Promises to Be a Wild Year in Education

How will education policy affect your kids next year?

Funding is expected to be a major educational issue in 2012. (Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

So far, President Barack Obama hasn’t outlined a comprehensive education plan for a second term.

Even Secretary Education Arne Duncan has only spoken in vague terms about any future plans for education. Perhaps that’s because there’s the issue of the fiscal cliff to deal with first.

If that issue is not resolved by Jan. 1, education budgets in all 50 states will be slashed. If Congress and the White House can negotiate a solution, President Obama is likely to go forth with his proposed education agenda.

More: Fiscal Cliff: Education Budget Cuts Could Be Devastating to Our Kids

That, however, remains vague for a second term, but includes strengthening Head Start's accountability rules and expanding the Race to the Top program to include pre-K. Republicans are likely to push their education reform agenda with an emphasis on school choice and vouchers.

Last February, Duncan said that the Obama administration wants to invest billions in new teachers, especially in STEM education programs, make higher education more affordable, and increase job training to meet the demands of the workforce. But that may be hard to do given November’s election results.

The election barely changed the overall composition of the House, and the Senate moved from a 53–47 to a 55–45 Democratic majority. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is also expected to stay on in the Obama Administration for the “long haul,” he has said.

One change occured, however, on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. education secretary from Tennessee, will become the committee's ranking Republican. Alexander and a group of other Senators often introduce their own education bills, including one to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). That will likely continue in his new role.

That battle for reauthorizing NCLB will probably continue in 2013. The Obama administration has created a blueprint for reauthorization, but Congress missed a deadline in 2011 to pass a revised bill. In turn, the Obama administration created waivers to give to states if they implemented aspects of Obama’s Race To The Top initiative. The waivers are likely to continue as is the stalemate in Congress.

Other education issues to watch in 2013 include:

1. When the U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled to uphold a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (the requirement that individuals purchase a health-insurance policy with at least a minimum level of coverage), it was seen as validation for Congress’ taxing power. As a result, some educational watchers say that states could now challenge spending attached to federal programs.

 2. Regardless of how the fiscal cliff negotiations play out, education funding remains a problem for the Obama administration. His Race to the Top agenda was funded by stimulus dollars, which will not be available in a second term. The Pell Grant program is also facing a shortfall in 2014. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that the program is safe for 2013, but Congress must come up with an estimated $30.1 billion from discretionary funds for it to remain on solid footing.

3. The Higher Education Act (HEA) is due for reauthorization in late 2013. Created in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the HEA’s main objectives were “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.” The last time it was reauthorized was in 2008.

With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and a Democratic majority in the Senate, parents and teachers can expect gridlock to continue, and funding issues to loom.

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