With all the emphasis on cutting and trimming, it is unlikely that whoever is president will have much money left over to pay for new initiatives, said Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Instead, any new policy initiatives will likely need to be financed with existing funds, he said.
Given the current, constrained fiscal situation, "the most you can do is take [an existing program] and redirect it to some other areas," he said. "The possibility [is] of some internal reshuffling; [there's] not much possibility of substantial new programs."
Also in the balance: the waivers offered to states seeking wiggle room on complying with pieces of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have been approved for waivers. Some of those plans--including in Arizona, Georgia, and New Mexico--are based on teacher evaluation or accountability systems that haven't yet been fully implemented.
That means "there are going to be lessons learned, tweaks needed," said John Bailey, a co-founder of Whiteboard Advisors, a consulting firm in Washington, who served in the White House under President George W. Bush. (He also advised the Romney campaign, but spoke for this article only as an analyst.)
"There are going to be states that want to make changes to the waivers," he said.
The waivers, which will only be in place for up to two years, will need to be renewed--or not--during the next presidential term, unless Congress is able to pass a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The Education Department will also need to continue oversight of key Obama administration programs, including the dozen winners of the Race to the Top state grants, many of which have reworked their timelines when it comes to important pieces of their applications. Two states--Georgia and Hawaii--have had their grants, or parts of them, placed on high-risk status, jeopardizing their funding.
The reauthorization of the ESEA, which has been pending since 2007, remains on federal lawmakers' to-do list. Neither party was thrilled with the process behind the waivers, which both Democrats and Republicans said stepped on congressional authority. But the partisan divisions in Congress have made it difficult for lawmakers to enact their own vision for renewal.
"The big sleeping giant is ESEA reauthorization," said Mr. Bailey. "If the White House makes it clear that this is a priority, there could be a path forward in Congress."
Lawmakers also must tackle a legislative logjam that's held up renewal of laws dealing with higher education, special education, career and technical education, workforce development, and child-care and -development block grants.
Common Core Rolls On
The results of the federal elections are unlikely, however, to have major implications for the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Although some conservatives have grumbled that the effort smacks of too much federal involvement, the standards appear to have support--or at least not a good deal of opposition--from leaders in both parties.
Mr. Obama took partial credit for the standards on the campaign trail. His administration made adoption of rigorous, uniform standards--including the common core--a condition for states seeking NCLB waivers. It also gave states that adopted the standards an edge in the Race to the Top grant competition and steered $360 million to the creation of assessments that align with the standards.
But key Republicans, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also support the effort. During the campaign, Mr. Romney said he would not require states to join the initiative and would not steer federal funding to bolster it, but he also made it clear that states should be able to adopt the standards if they wanted to. State elections are likely to have more influence on the future of the common core than the result of the presidential race will.
"It's moved [so far] down the path that I think we would see the momentum carrying on," said Mr. Kohlmoos of NASBE. "The key now is for states to feel a sense of ownership of common core."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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