Now that 2019 is here, we have a better sense of what things will look like in D.C. for the next two years. With Democrats taking the House, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will take over as Chair of the Education and the Workforce Committee (and likely change it back to its previous name: Education and Labor Committee), while Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will move over to Ranking Member. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans gained a slightly larger majority, so Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will remain Chair of the Senate HELP Committee and Patty Murray (D-WA) will stay as Ranking Member.

So what will be on Congress’ agenda?

On the House side, Rep. Scott wants to focus on school facilities and will want to move forward with his Rebuild America’s Schools Act. Also, expect oversight of the U.S. Department of Education to dramatically increase — particularly around the issues of civil rights, implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and predatory colleges.  The Higher Education Act (HEA) is the next big reauthorization the committee will need to tackle, and Rep. Scott has said that he would like to try to work with Rep. Foxx to see if there is a path forward for a bipartisan bill. If not, we could see a Democratic bill and mark up within the next eight months.

For the Senate, HEA reauthorization is on deck. After talks fizzled out earlier in 2018, we should expect negotiations to begin again on a bipartisan bill. But given the specter of the 2020 presidential election — in which higher education, and, particularly, issues like free college will loom large — it’s questionable as to how far these talks will progress.

Hanging over all of Congress is the need for a new budget deal to raise the caps on both defense and non-defense discretionary funding. Without a new budget deal, programs across the board — from education to the military — will see dramatic cuts. Crafting a new budget deal will likely be the first real test of if and how this new divided government can function.

What else should be on the agenda?

At Ed Trust, we believe Congress should:

  • Include room for a dramatic increase in the Pell Grant in the budget deal.
  • Lift the ban on Pell Grant eligibility for students who are incarcerated.
  • Pass a clean DREAM Act to protect Dreamers from the risk of deportation and give them a path to citizenship.
  • Focus on equity. (Especially in the run up to the 2020 elections, there will be a lot of talk about new programs, new spending, etc. We should be sure that all of these options are first and foremost targeted to those who need them most.)

Certainly, there is much more that can and should be done at the federal level to promote equity. Ed Trust will be working to push policymakers on all of these — and other — issues, and we are excited to work with equity-minded advocates in this effort.