Washington Education Watch, January, 2021

Now that the inauguration of President Joe Biden is behind us it is time to assess where things stand in the capital. The Senate and House are under the control of the Democrats: the House by a slim margin and the Senate by the slimmest of margins in which Vice President Kamala Harris will be called upon to cast tie-breaking votes in the fifty-fifty split. Further, the Democrats seem to have succeeded in their scorched earth policy against Donald Trump by impeaching him for a second time, but may have permanently alienated over 70 million Trump voters. It seems at this point that the impeachment of President Trump passed by the House of Representatives will hit a brick wall short of the 2/3 vote necessary to convict him in the Senate. Regardless of the result of the impeachment effort, it is now certain that the Democrats will control two of the three branches of our government.

For those concerned about one party rule in the House, Senate and Presidency, there are two threads to cling to.

The first thread is that moderate Democrats in the Senate may prevent Vice President Harris from casting the tie breaking vote in the Senate on at least a few critical issues. Most importantly, West Virginia Senator Manchin may keep his promise and vote against his party to block packing of the Supreme Court and elimination of the Senate filibuster which prevents voting on legislation without the support of 60 senators instead of fifty-one. However, in such a narrowly divided Senate, moderates like Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) or Mitt Romney (R-Utah) may at times flip to vote with Democrats on some especially important issues. This split in the Senate will give moderates from both parties, who may flip-flop on various issues, outsized influence on the course of policy. Placing such power in the hands of a few senators is indeed a tenuous thread.

The second thread that may buffer one party domination is the Supreme Court. Because six of the Court’s nine justices have at times supported conservative and/or originalist interpretations of the Constitution, the Court may slow the erosion of religious liberties, incursions by the federal government into states’ rights, and the spread of identity politics that are advanced by Congress, state legislatures or lower courts. In spite of the fact that the Supreme Court did not step in to rule unconstitutional some of the electoral college methods used by states, there are some hopeful signs that they will exert a moderating influence. The new Court ruled last week that abortion pills must be picked up in person rather than being sent through the mail which was a pro-life ruling opposed by the three liberal justices. The Court is not yet finished deciding which cases they will hear in this term, but still on the watch list are five interesting possibilities. Two of these cases, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice v. Abbott impact abortion policy. One case, Texas v. California, contests a state law passed by California that bans state sponsored travel to any state that enacts or repeals legislation affecting sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that California objects to. And two Pennsylvania cases, Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar and Scarnati v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party, contest the controversial election rules implemented in Pennsylvania without legislative approval. While the Pennsylvania election cases would not impact the outcome of the past election, if the Court takes them up, they could establish some standards that would lead to less conflict and uncertainty in future elections. We will keep you posted on which of these cases, if any, the Court decides to hear.

There is also a glimmer of hope that the Biden administration, when it comes to education policy, may not cater to the extreme liberal elements of the Democratic Party. In the past two columns we speculated that President Biden might nominate former NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia as Secretary of Education. This is not going to happen. Biden announced last week that he will nominate Connecticut State School Superintendent Miguel Cardona to the post. Both the NEA and AFT applauded the nomination, but Newsweek noted that some classroom teachers have strong concerns about Cardona, observing that he served as a classroom teacher for only five years before moving into administrative ranks. Most of the education policy establishment has praised Biden’s pick. Education reform advocate Andrew Rotherham feels that Cardona is a  “deft pick,” for Secretary of Education. 

Surprisingly, Cardona is likely to be an advocate for charter schools and supports Biden’s pledge to open public schools in his first 100 days. Support for charter schools will not sit well with the AFT and NEA, but the desire to open schools will play into the hands of the unions who are positioning themselves to use the reopening of schools as a bargaining chip to secure more school funding. President Biden is already pursuing more educational funding, asking Congress to approve an additional $1.9 trillion in coronavirus funding which includes $130 billion for public schools. This cozy prior arrangement between the unions and the president could smooth some of the rough spots that may occur during the new administration’s first 100 days.

Regardless of your political perspective it seems like there is plenty that could cause anxiety regarding the course of our nation and how public schools will change once they are reopened.   We truly are in a time when many major cultural and political tectonic plates are shifting. An early shift is that one of Biden’s first executive orders affirms the transgender agenda and mayrequire public schools to allow biological boys who are want to change their gender to compete with biological girls. This has distrubed not just Christians but many feminists and others who are advocates of women’s sports. As Christians we may see the need to change this, but we should not allow such absurdities to shake our faith or agitate us. As my pastor reminded our congregation on Sunday, in these uncertain times we should remember that in the Lord’s perfect timing, He “will shake not only the earth but also the heavens,” and when this happens there will be the “removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made,” but we should be “grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:26-28).  The kingdom of Christ will frequently seem to be at risk in this world, but the ground we stand on is solid. Let us pray for each other that we keep this eternal perspective.

Please share your thoughts on this column that you would like other readers to see by entering them in the form below. Personal comments can be sent to JMitchell@ceai.org.  John Mitchell is the Washington, D.C. Area Director for Christian Educators Association International.

© 2021 Christian Educators Association International | www.ceai.org | 888.798.1124

Washington Education Watch 1/2021. Used with permission.

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