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Will Democrats Pass Long-Awaited Reconciliation Plan with Education Funding Boosts?

Young people and education. Group of students in class at school during lesson. Focus on girl listening to teacher

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. 

Educators watched closely as local elections around the country provided hints for what may be coming in next year’s Congressional midterms and even the 2024 presidential race. With the victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin for Virginia’s next governor, the spotlight was on education issues—particularly parental voice in local education decisions. Issues like Critical Race Theory (which is not taught in Virginia public schools but used as a proxy for teaching about race), vaccination mandates and school closures, and the rights of transgender students took center stage.

Analysts believe that Youngkin’s position on these issues recaptured suburban White women and took him across the finish line, returning control to Republicans for the governorship for the first time in 12 years. Republican strategists are studying the election to determine if education will be a wining issue for them in upcoming elections. As advocates, we can use our voices to offer all policy makers and candidates our education expertise, scholarship, and experiences as we take our places in the policy dialogue.   

Will Reconciliation Make it to the Finish Line? 

As of Friday morning, all eyes are on the House of Representatives where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is working overtime to schedule a vote on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill (which has already passed the Senate) and the partisan reconciliation bill (which has passed neither body but is being intensely negotiated behind the scenes). Pelosi can afford to lose only three Democratic votes and still pass the bills. 

The failure to pass these bills prior to this week’s local and state elections was considered by many a factor in key Democratic losses, such as the Virginia governorship. Also, President Biden had hoped to go to the COP26 international climate change conference in Glasgow with passage of the bill in tow—since it includes a number of climate change mitigation provisions.  These two lapses have served to ratchet up the pressure for passage to a frenzied level. If passage does not occur in the House today, it is virtually impossible for the bills to become law before the end of the year—since the Senate will need time to review the reconciliation bill and other “must dos” will overtake the Congressional calendar. 

Even if the House does pass the reconciliation bill, the Senate must then pass it. This remains an ongoing question mark. On Monday, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he would not be pressured into supporting his party’s more progressive social spending bill and pushed for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that is not linked to the Build Back Better Agenda. “I’m open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward. But I’m equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country,” Manchin said, citing inflation and budget deficits as his main concerns. “I will not support a reconciliation package that expands social programs and irresponsibly adds to our $29 trillion in national debt.” In a statement, the White House said it remains “confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support”—which it will need, if the bill is to pass in a 50/50 divided Senate.

Keep in mind that just last week the White House released a new framework that cut the topline number down from $3.5 trillion to just over $1.75 trillion. The original House reconciliation bill included $194 billion for education funding, the revised framework released last week pares that number down to just $21 billion, with the biggest omissions for education coming from school construction, free community college, college retention and completion grants, career and technical education, and adult education and literacy.

While some proposals were left behind, many of the President’s education priorities will remain—including key educator workforce initiatives such as IDEA-D-Personal Preparation, Grow Your Own programs, Teacher Residencies, and the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence.

Key Education Workforce Programs Remaining in the Current Version of the Reconciliation Bill:

Funding in Millions   
GrowYour Own   
Teacher Residencies   
Principals /SLRPS   

Education and disability rights advocates are actively supporting the reconciliation package. In a statement, Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities noted the investment in home and community based services  “… will improve the lives of disabled people, our families, and direct support workers. If passed, this negotiated package is a critical down payment toward fully realizing the rights conferred to people with disabilities by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Olmstead Decision. We are excited about the potential for significant progress in a decades-long fight by disabled people for the right to live our lives and receive services in our own homes and communities” 

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant