Previewing the 115th Congress: What does it mean for afterschool?

by Erik Peterson

As 2016 comes to a close, so too does the 114th Congress. The 115th Congress will be called into session at noon on January 3 and will mark the first time in six years that the United States is under a unified government, meaning that the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the Presidency, are all under the control of the same party, the Republicans. What might the 115th Congress mean for afterschool programs and the children and parents they support?

New leadership

The new Congress will bring new leadership for several key committees that have jurisdiction over education policy and education spending. In the House of Representatives, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) has retired and the new Chairperson will be Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will stay on as Ranking Member. House Appropriations Committee leadership changed as well, with new Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) taking over for Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who was term-limited out of the chairmanship. Ranking Member (and Afterschool Caucus co-chair) Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will continue in her previous role in the 115th Congress.

On the Senate side, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) remain as leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP). Chairman Thad Cochran (R-TN) is staying on as Committee Chairman for the Senate Appropriations Committee with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) taking over for retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as Ranking Member.

New challenges within the appropriations process

Friends of afterschool should closely follow the FY 2017 and FY 2018 appropriations cycles beginning early in 2017. With the continuing resolution authorizing federal spending at current 2016 fiscal year spending levels set to expire on April 28, 2017, finalizing the FY 2017 spending bill will be a key priority early in the 115th Congress. Constraints on available funding include discretionary spending caps that limit available funds as well as competing priorities outside of the education arena in areas like infrastructure and health. In late spring, Congress will also have to initiate the FY 2018 spending process, which will be even more challenging given the return of the sequester cuts after a two-year negotiated hiatus.

Making your voice heard early and often next year will be critical to educating the new Congress on the many valuable outcomes of local afterschool and summer learning programs. Use our action center to share your thoughts on the appropriations process and its impact on afterschool with your member of Congress to ensure that no cuts are made late in the fiscal cycle next year.   

New legislative priorities

It is difficult to predict exactly which policy issues will come to the forefront in the new Congress, but many in Washington expect a number of education policy issues to be addressed, including targeting college access and affordability issues through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

Additionally, the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) act, child nutrition reauthorization, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) reauthorization may all see new life in the 115th Congress after failing to cross the finish line this year. All of these represent opportunities to strengthen existing support, or in some cases, build new support, for local afterschool and summer learning programs and the school and community partnerships that sustain them.

New initiatives are possible as well. During his campaign, President-elect Trump’s primary K-12 education policy priority was a new $20 billion initiative that would provide funds for school choice vouchers. Advocates see this as a proposal he will seek to move in 2017, though identifying funding for this initiative could present a challenge.

The President-elect’s platform emphasizes “choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling,” and prioritizes building a “choice-based” education system that gives families a range of educational options, including homeschooling, career and technical education, private and parochial schools, charter systems, online programs, and early college high schools. The new education initiative is expected to promote these policies.

Additionally, it should be noted that President-elect Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education, with her confirmation hearing expected to be early on the agenda of the 115th Congress. DeVos is a strong advocate for school choice and voucher programs.

We look forward to working with all of you in 2017 to advance federal policies that support local afterschool and summer learning programs and their work to provide children, youth and families with quality learning opportunities. 

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance