What a Republican Congress Means for Education

Written by Jason Knapfel
With the midterm elections come and gone, the public has spoken strongly. Whether the elections’ outcome was a definitive vote against the Obama Administration or just a general “vote the bums out” statement with people still feeling uneasy about the economy is up for debate. Let’s just deal with the facts as we know them. The House of Representatives swung strongly towards the Republicans, and the Senate, while still under Democratic control, saw gains on the Republican side of the aisle as well.
What does this mean for the state of education? Well, a more conservative congress means a little more sway for the Republican platform on education policy. Let’s take a look at some of the party’s stances:
“We believe in the power of school choice, that giving parents the ability to send their children to better schools – not keep them trapped in failing schools.” –
Since the conservative view is almost always that the free market is better than anything with government intervention, this means there may be more market-based laws that facilitate more public charter schools, and performance pay requirements for teachers. This could also mean free market-friendly ideas such as school vouchers and loosening regulations on school choice.
Let’s take a look at a few of the Republican newcomers and their stances on education:
Republican Ron Johnson from Wisconsin was one of the more high-profile winners, since he beat out long-time incumbent and favorite of the liberal base of the Democratic Party, Russ Feingold.
“The education of our children is not something that can be dictated from Washington or Madison. We need to return to local control of education, and bring the dollars we send to Washington back to Wisconsin’s local school districts,” says Johnson.
Ron Johnson is expected to vote to reduce federal mandates that he believes strips power from states and local school boards. He’s expected to support more local control over education.
Now, let’s get to something really juicy. Could the conservative swing in Washington spell the end of the Department of Education? Unlikely, but Rand Paul, the libertarian son of Ron Paul who won in Kentucky, wants to do away with the DOE. I’m sure he has more than one reason, but one is that he wants to avoid kids being taught “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Okay, I get the anti-government part of a libertarian wanting to do away with the DOE, but, what if this paranoid homophobic fear wasn’t satiated on the state or local level? Then what?
While the Tea Party movement backed some real kooks who lost in this mid-term election, (think Sharron “Second Amendment Solution” Engle and Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell), they helped bring a lot of people to Washington to advocate their conservative agenda.
Let’s briefly look at a couple of the Republican stances and what their opponents think:
School vouchers: These are certificates issued by the government for parents who can apply them towards tuition at a private school. Proponents say it helps low-income students get a wider range of educational opportunities. They also say that it will force public schools to improve and compete with private institutions.
On the flip side, opponents say that the program will draw money away from the public school system, which would further weaken existing schools. Opponents also fear a misuse of public funds with a lack of accountability.
Expansion of Charter Schools: These are primary or secondary schools that receive public and private money. They are still part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. Charter schools are freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. However, in exchange for this perk, they are held to producing certain results, which are set forth in each school’s charter. Opponents worry about the relaxed restrictions on the schools, and what that could mean.
The issues are complex and in urgent need of addressing. According to statistics noted in the critically acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman, we spend twice as much per student as we did 40 years ago. Yet, kids rank 25th in math and 21st in science among 30 developed states.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, adopting ideas from both sides of the aisle. While charter schools may be a positive thing, we need to ensure that public schools don’t crumble (further) in the process. While most teachers are noble and do their best, underachieving teachers shouldn’t have the ability to hold onto their jobs by hiding behind a powerful teachers union.
By improving our schools and the performance of our students, we not only give children better opportunities in their chosen careers, we strengthen our country’s security. Otherwise, if we keep falling to the bottom of the education ladder, how can we expect to compete with all those countries ahead of us in math and science?