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Where Do the 118th Congress and Student Debt Relief Stand?

This weekly Washington Update is intended to keep members informed on Capitol Hill activities impacting the educator preparation community. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

It has been a busy week in Washington with Members returning after the mid-term elections and the new freshman class of Members arriving on the Hill for orientation. Speaker Pelosi made the momentous decision to step down from Democratic leadership. Speaker Pelosi is a historic figure, having become, at the time, the most powerful elected woman in U.S. history when she assumed the Speakership in 2007. The decision to step back from leadership paves the way for a new generation of Democrats to rise in the ranks; Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) are viewed as the heirs apparent to the “big three” — House Democratic Leader, House Democratic Whip, and Democratic Caucus Chair. In remarks to her colleagues on the House floor, Speaker Pelosi recalled the first time she saw the Capitol, saying “I will never forget the first time I saw the Capitol.[…]The Capitol is a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals[…] Indeed, American Democracy is majestic — but it is fragile.” Thank you Madam Speaker, for your years of dedicated service to the Republic.

A More Complete Picture of the 118th Congress

Last week, we reviewed the preliminary, albeit incomplete, mid-term election results; and now, one week later we have a more complete picture of the makeup of the 118th Congress. As a reminder, in the Senate 35 of the 100 Senate seats were up for election this cycle with several key races including: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Arizona. As of Monday morning, Democrats have maintained control of the Senate, currently holding 50 seats, Republicans in control of 49 seats and one race still influx: Georgia. The state of Georgia will have a run-off on December 6 because no candidate received at least 50% of the vote; however, incumbent Sen. Warnock (D-GA) led the race with 49.4% of votes, GOP challenger Herschel Walker with 48.5%, and Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver securing 2.1% of the vote. Even if Republicans would pick up Georgia and the Senate would be evenly split, Democrats will still hold the majority due to Vice President Harris presiding as President of the Senate and stepping in to cast tie breaking votes.

In the House, all Members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election on even years and either party needs to secure 218 of the 435 seats to obtain the majority. As of Friday morning, the GOP regained control of the House, securing  the pivotal 218th seat, Democrats have secured 212 seats  and votes still being counted in five races. Keep in mind that in the 117th Congress, 16 seats are currently vacant — six members have died and 10 others have resigned for various reasons. Why is this important? Although the House can pass measures with a simple majority, a razor thin majority could eventually pose challenges should seats be vacant in a similar fashion in the 118th Congress.  On the education side of things, Senator Sanders has confirmed he will lead the HELP Committee and Senator Paul has declined the Republican leadership role on the committee, teeing up Senator Cassidy to lead for Republicans on HELP.

The Washington Post released an interactive tool, showcasing freshman members of the 118th Congress. I encourage you to take a look through to learn a bit more about new Members from your area. 

President Biden Asks Supreme Court to Revive Student Debt Relief Plan

This week, the Biden administration announced that they will ask the Supreme Court to revive its student debt relief program. The request comes after a series of lower court rulings that have upended the Administration’s plans to forgive up to $20,000 of student loan debt for tens of millions of borrowers.

“The Eighth Circuit’s erroneous injunction leaves millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo, uncertain about the size of their debt and unable to make financial decisions with an accurate understanding of their future repayment obligations,” Elizabeth Prelogar, the solicitor general, wrote on behalf of the Biden administration. “We are confident in our legal authority to carry out this program and will be taking this fight to the Supreme Court so that borrowers can get the clarity and relief they deserve quickly,” Abdullah Hasan, a White House spokesperson said in a statement. “No matter how hard Republican officials and special interests try, President Biden will never stop fighting to deliver relief to working- and middle-class Americans.”

The various requests by the Administration tee up what could potentially be the most consequential Supreme Court showdown over the Administration’s debt relief proposal. Justice Amy Coney Barrett has twice rejected preliminary requests in other lawsuits to block Biden’s debt relief program. But neither case had addressed the legal merits of the program.

The White House will now need to decide about whether to postpone restarting monthly payments and interest for most federal student loans in January. Earlier this week, James Kvaal, the undersecretary of education, said that the administration is “examining all available options” while student debt relief remains blocked in court, including extending the pause on repayment beyond December 31.

New Resources for Educators

  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services sent a letter to State Directors of Special Education that provides a list of resources, provides guidance, and describes several important principles that states, school districts, school staff, parents, families, and others may find helpful in ensuring that highly mobile children with disabilities receive required special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs in a timely manner.

  • AACTE released a new report that outlines the state of current educational censorship through an examination of themes relevant to proposed and enacted legislation. The report explores four themes: the erasure of ethno-racial diversity in schools through restrictive teaching, the erasure of sex, gender, and LGBTQ+ diversity in schools through restrictive teaching, distorted narratives through whistle-blown language, and funding. This report offers implications of such legislation for institutions of higher education, P-12 education and teaching, and the field at large.

  • The Advocacy Institute produced a series of Special Reports examining the annual targets set by states for several of the SPP indicators. States were required to include new 6-year targets for FFY 2020 through 2025 in their 2022 submission. The Series of Reports stemmed from the release of the 2022 State Performance Reports/Annual Performance Reports (SPP/APRs) by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education in late September 2022.

As we continue the critical work of rebuilding and diversifying our special educator and specialized instructional support personnel pipeline, I highly encourage everyone to take 7 minutes and watch this newly released video from the New York Times: Empty Classrooms, Abandoned Kids: Inside America’s Great Teacher Resignation. There is so much work to be done.

Until next time, see you on Twitter (for the time being)! Kait @brennan_kait.

Do you have questions about Washington Update? Want more information? Have an interesting story related to the shortage in your area? A great example of comprehensive educator prep? Email me, let’s have virtual coffee: kaitlynbrennan88@gmail.com.

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