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The Week Ahead in Education Politics: More Key Ed. Dept Nominees Await Senate Action, How ESSA Could Change School Grades, the ‘Workforce Pipeline’ & More

By Carolyn Phenicie | April 21, 2018

THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Saturdays. (See previous editions here.) You can get the preview delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter; for rolling updates on federal education policy, follow Carolyn Phenicie on Twitter @cphenicie.

INBOX: WHERE ARE THE NOMINEES? — Six months ago, the Education Department had the highest vacancy rate of any Cabinet-level department, with no one even nominated for a whopping 80 percent of slots. Now, many names have been put forward to fill those jobs — they just haven’t been confirmed, leaving the Education Department again at the bottom of the pack among Cabinet agencies.

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Empty Cabinet: Education Department Has Highest Top Staff Vacancy Rate, at 80%

Last Wednesday, the Senate voted 55–48 to confirm Carlos Muñiz as general counsel, making him the sixth of the Education Department’s 15 Senate-confirmed positions to be approved. Translation: Only 40 percent of the department’s top positions are currently filled.

Muñiz was nominated June 6, and his nomination was reported out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for full Senate consideration October 18.

“It’s completely unreasonable for it to be taking this long to get our highly qualified nominees out of the Senate and to work on behalf of students. The Secretary is hopeful that now that Carlos has been confirmed, the others will be soon to follow,” Press Secretary Liz Hill said in an email.

The Education Department is once again at the bottom of the pack in terms of percentage of top staff confirmed by the Senate.

As of April 20, Education was ahead of just four other agencies: the Justice Department (31 percent confirmed), the CIA (one of three are on the job, after previous director Mike Pompeo was nominated to be secretary of the State Department), the office of the Director of National Intelligence (33 percent confirmed), and the Agriculture Department (38 percent are on the job).

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the HELP Committee, has in the past blamed both the Trump administration for its slow pace in nominating officials and Senate Democrats for dragging out the confirmation process.

“It is unfortunate that Senate Democrats would not allow a nominee with these qualifications to receive a vote sooner when there are so many pressing issues facing the department,” Alexander said in a release after Muñiz’s confirmation.

Four remaining officials, including the deputy secretary and undersecretary for civil rights, were nominated between September and December last year but remain unconfirmed. Nominees in those same jobs in the Obama administration were confirmed in less than three months, Alexander’s staff noted.

Democrats changed chamber rules in 2013 to require only a simple majority, rather than 60 votes, to advance a nominee. Their only option to delay confirmations of nominees they find unqualified is to force Republican leaders to burn through some or all the allotted floor debate time for each nominee, which is up to 30 hours.

In floor debate, Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, said Muñiz would not “stand up to [DeVos] when laws are being bent or broken.”

Given the “quality” of some nominees sent from the White House, it’s extra-important for Democrats to take the time to vet nominees before they’re confirmed, and floor debate gives members who aren’t on the HELP Committee a chance to speak on the nominations, a Senate Democratic aide said.

It’s up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule floor votes for nominees, the aide said, adding that the Senate only debated Muñiz’s nomination for 10 hours.

There are limited days left on Congress’s legislative calendar for the year. Anyone not confirmed by the end of this year must be re-nominated in the new year when Congress begins a new session, one that could potentially see the Senate controlled by Democrats.

A Senate committee will vote this week on a proposal to reduce debate time to eight hours for most executive branch nominees, except Cabinet secretaries, who would continue under current time rules, and district court judges, who would get two hours.

TUESDAY: OPIOIDS — The HELP Committee will vote on the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which, among other efforts to combat the crisis, includes funds for drug prevention for young people and better mental health care in schools.

They’ll also vote on the nomination of Jon Parrish Peede to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a grant-making body that, among other duties, helps K-12 schools on literacy initiatives.

TUESDAY: LATINOS’ COLLEGE EXPERIENCE — UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza) will release a new report on Latinos’ experience in college and hold a panel discussion. The report focuses on challenges Latinos face enrolling in, attending, and paying for college. Researchers from the University of North Carolina and advocates from Young Invincibles, Ed Trust, and the United Negro College Fund will discuss the report.

WEDNESDAY: SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITYThe Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and the George W. Bush Institute will host a forum on whether expanding the scope of school accountability measures beyond reading and math scores under the Every Student Succeeds Act will lead to increased school quality and student achievement. Jason Botel, a top adviser in the Education Department, will give “framing remarks” ahead of a panel discussion.

The Hamilton Project will also release a new paper on ESSA accountability and how schools can reduce chronic absenteeism, and the George W. Bush Institute will highlight its “The A Word” series on accountability.

WEDNESDAY: WORKFORCE PIPELINE — The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education and labor spending holds a hearing on the “pipeline to the workforce.” College leaders and employers testify.

WEDNESDAY: NAEP REDUX — The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hold a panel discussion on the recent NAEP results and the 35th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk.” Hoover Institution fellows Chester Finn, Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson discuss the test results, the landmark report and the future of education reform.

THURSDAY: BLACK VOICES IN ED REFORM — Education leaders gather to discuss the United Negro College Fund’s new report on African-American youth’s perspective of the K-12 education system. The discussion will include exploration of the role of African-American voices, specifically historically black colleges and universities, in education reform efforts.

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