January 8, 2018


The Advocate, January 2018

By Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director, policy and advocacy, AASA

New Year, Not So New to Do List

2018 is just over a week old, and already Congress’ to-do list looks a LOT like that of 2017. And for good reason: much of the work at the top of their to-do list is a spillover of items they did not complete in 2017.

Front and center are the final negotiations around the FY2018 funding bills. Federal fiscal year 2018 (FY18) started October 1, 2017. While Congress failed to fund the government, they avoided a shutdown by using a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which keeps government running while buying Congress more time to complete its work. They passed a CR that went until Dec 8, then a CR that went to Dec 22, and then the CR we are under right now, one that runs through January 19.

2018 is the start of a mid-term election year, so we shouldn’t expect any major legislation, and we can expect that Congress will want to wrap up appropriations work as soon as possible so as to clear room for campaigning. It is not as simple as appropriations work alone, though: Congress has nearly two years’ worth of back-logged items they are trying to address in the first three weeks of 2018: FY18 appropriations, raising the caps, resolving the deferred action on childhood arrivals (DACA) program, Secure Rural Schools (Forest Counties) and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among others.

Once Congress comes back from recess next week, there is not enough time for them to complete their work, so we can expect at least one more short-term CR, likely into February. Congress will continue its work to reconcile the differences between their proposed spending levels, which are significant when it comes to education: The House cuts U. S. Dept. of Education by $2.2 billion; the Senate provides a nominal $29 million increase. The funding conversations will hopefully include a resolution for the lack of funding currently available for CHIP and Secure Rural Schools.

An additional wrinkle related to the FY18 effort is the ongoing dialogue about raising the funding caps. Without explicit effort to raise the funding caps, Congress will be bound to the FY18 funding cap, which is BELOW FY17. Carrying over from previous years, the conversation about raising the caps raises debate about the size of the increase, how (or if) to pay for the increase, and whether or not to maintain parity between defense and non-defense discretionary funding (AASA supports parity).  Defense hawks want to provide a funding increase for defense, but not non-defense discretionary funding, which is where education dollars fall. Democrats are committed to parity. We have to see how this plays out.

While not related in terms of policy, the politics overlap: When President Trump announced the end of DACA protections for young people brought here as minors, he started a six-month clock for Congress to resolve this issue. That timeline expires in March, meaning Congress has less than two months to find common ground. Democrats are interested in a clean DACA deal, the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that provides a path to citizenship. AASA supports the DREAM Act. Republicans are interested in expanding the conversation to include some of their broader immigration priorities, including money to build a portion of the wall, ending chain migration, and a few other things. A bipartisan group of Congress is expected to meet the week of January 8, and that should give a good indication of if a bi-partisan deal can move forward.

I am at the end of my word allocation and have managed to give a lay of the land without detailing a specific outcome. And that is largely because we cannot predict with certainty how any of these discussions will go. We will continue to monitor these conversations and let you know how they unfold.