President Bush’s 2003 budget priorities will receive a big boost from the swing in the balance of power on Capitol Hill, experts told eSchool News in the days following the Nov. 5 elections. With Republicans set to control both houses of Congress (not to mention the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court), the shift in power could spell the end of several ed-tech programs that Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the Senate wanted to preserve.

The budget changes won’t be felt immediately. Thanks to a continuing resolution passed Nov. 14 by the U.S. House of Representatives, the fate of several 2003 spending measures now rests with a fresh, new majority of conservative lawmakers. The continuing resolution puts off debate on 11 remaining appropriations bills until the 108th Congress convenes Jan. 11—including the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill.

That’s not exactly good news for Democrats and some moderate Republicans who opposed the president’s 2003 budget, which proposes more than $1 billion less for K-12 education than the version passed by a Senate appropriations committee before the elections. According to some education advocates, the president’s budget would make it difficult for schools to meet the promises of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.

Even so, the sums proposed in the President’s budget still would exceed the amounts actually allocated in 2002. Republican leaders claim the drop in tech-specific funding for education could be offset by greater flexibility in spending guidelines for general education allocations. In that case, however, the political fallout of a shift in funding from, say, teacher salaries to tech expenditures would be borne by superintendents and school boards. School tech advocates are skeptical about the prospects of such trade-offs.

Bush’s proposal would eliminate a few key ed-tech programs, including the Star Schools program, a $27.5 million initiative that promotes the development of telecommunications services and audiovisual equipment in underserved schools; Community Technology Centers, a $32.5 million program that funds the creation of computer centers in low-income environments; Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, a $62.5 million program that promotes partnerships between higher education and K-12 schools to acclimate new teachers to technology; and Ready to Teach, a $12 million effort to improve mathematics instruction through increased professional development.

The president’s budget also proposes $250 million less than Senate appropriators had agreed upon for Improving Teacher Quality grants, $12.5 million less for the Literacy Through School Libraries program, $12.5 million less for Mathematics and Science Partnerships grants, $450 million less for Title I grants, and $5 million less for the Special Education Technology and Media Services program, which supports the application of new technologies in providing special education and early intervention services.

Amid the tug and pull of party-line politics, education spending traditionally has been a rare gem of bipartisan cooperation—but increased GOP control of Congress will enable the Bush administration to play a stronger hand when it comes to lobbying for such appropriations, said Mary Kusler, a policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “With the Republican majority [in the Senate], it really does change where things will fall,” she said. “While things will remain primarily bipartisan, I think you will see [more focus on] vouchers and other things that are generally conservative issues.”

Republican-led tax relief is another rumor of change that could impact funds for education, limiting the amount of money the federal government has on hand to allocate to education.

“Any time people want to put something in place that takes away from something else—especially at the expense of education—that is definitely problematic,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “We need to ask ourselves, what’s the purpose, who’s going to benefit by it, and who’s going to be hurt by it?”

Weaver said the NEA has its sights fixed on a number of issues this year, including proposed efforts to modernize schools and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Adequate funding for these measures is critical, he said: “We have to … do something that speaks to school districts about being able to offer funding for certain programs. We need to be more cognizant of the needs of states.”

A changing of the guard

Now that Republicans have won a majority in the Senate—albeit a slim one—and have extended their lead in the House, GOP lawmakers soon will be at the helm of every committee in Congress.

For President Bush, the turnover represents a changing of the guard, which puts the momentum in his administration’s favor heading into the 108th Congress. Democrats, meanwhile, are faced with the challenge of regrouping after a defeat that left the party leadership in disarray.

In the Senate, Republicans are now guaranteed to control at least 51 of 100 seats, leaving the Democrats with a minority stake in 47 or 48 seats depending on the outcome of a special election in Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu will enter into a run-off with Republican challenger Suzanne Terrell. Also, a mandatory recount in South Dakota has yet to seal a victory for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who overcame Republican challenger John Thune by a 1-percent margin on Election Day.

In the House, Republicans delivered another blow. Where the Democrats had hoped to gain ground on the GOP majority, they fell even farther off the pace, conceding at least five more seats—putting the Republicans up 228 members to 204, with one independent member and two races still undecided.

For educators, the elections contributed to a shake-up in key Congressional leadership roles, which potentially could affect education and technology policy in the next two years.

For instance, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is set to become chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, replacing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Gregg and Kennedy make up one half of a quartet of lawmakers who played an influential role in helping to draft NCLB. Also included in that group—often referred to by policy analysts as “the big four”—are Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and George Miller, D-Calif., both of whom will remain.

Though leadership in the Senate has changed hands, AASA’s Kusler said she expects education committee members there to continue the largely bipartisan spirit for which they have become known.

Where appropriations are concerned, it’s likely that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will take over for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., as head of that influential committee in the Senate. Leadership of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education also will change hands, putting Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in control of that key spending body and relieving Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, of his role there.

Overall leadership of the Senate will revert back to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Lott, who controlled the Senate during the first few months of the Bush administration, will reclaim control from Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who ascended to power following the conversion of erstwhile Republican Vermont Sen. James Jeffords to independent last year.

In the House, Boehner likely will remain chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He will be backed up by a number of Republican leaders who are quite bullish on education spending, including Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform.

Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., will remain Speaker of the House, while Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, will step in for the retiring Rep. Richard Armey, R-Texas, as majority leader. Filling Delay’s shoes as Majority Whip will be Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will become the minority’s lead voice, taking over for long-time leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who after eight years as leader announced two days after the mid-term election he would not seek the post.

For the Democrats, lobbying for new education spending—especially in the Senate, where overcoming a slim majority will only take a few votes—might not be in vain, Kusler said.

According to her, there are still plenty of moderate Republicans in Congress who share a willingness to stray from the party line in efforts to increase education spending.

Still, “the person and the party that is spearheading the committees always has a degree of special influence,” Weaver said. “Hopefully, [Republicans] will take into consideration what they talked about when they ran a pro-public education campaign.”

Other tech-related issues

While the fate of ed-tech spending remains unclear, the effect of a Republican-led Congress on the technology sector in general is more likely to favor the desires of big business over concerns about consumer protections, said Leslie Harris of policy analysis firm Leslie Harris and Associates.

According to Harris, Congressional support for the technology industry as a whole is widespread. “Under either political party—Republican or Democrat—there is enormous support for the tech industry. Everyone wants to be seen as tech-friendly,” she said.

However, Republicans are more apt to avoid initiatives that champion the protection of consumer privacy and copyright, she said.

A significant change will occur in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will take over for Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., an advocate on issues of consumer privacy.

During the 107th Congress, Hollings supported and proposed a number of bills addressing these issues, including an internet privacy measure and a broadcast-flagging provision, which would have required electronics manufactures to equip certain audiovisual devices with copyright-protection technologies. Neither bill became law.

But with McCain as its point man, Harris said the committee likely will take a softer tack on such issues.

Still, given the increasing interest in homeland security, privacy stands to be a major concern for the next Congress. “Privacy will be all over the place,” Harris said. “Republicans are far less eager to embrace solutions for things like privacy.”

Links:

U.S. House of Representatives
http://www.house.gov

U.S. Senate
http://www.senate.gov

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

Leslie Harris & Associates
http://www.lharris.com

The White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov