New Hill Republicans Will Be Mixed on Federal Support for Charters

(This post also appears at Rick Hess Straight Up.)

The 2010 Republicans who win next Tuesday will be coming to Washington to dial back the federal government. It’s also been noted–most recently by the President in a fairly self-serving National Journal interview–that there’s a good bit of bipartisan support for administration’s efforts on charter schooling.

Many friends in the charter school world focus on the second and discount the first, suggesting this augurs happy trails ahead. They figure that Congressional Republicans and the administration will be looking for places they can do business, that education will be a natural fit–and that charter schooling is the easiest piece of that puzzle. I think these folks ought to avoid getting their hopes up overmuch.

They’ll likely find Republicans to be quite sympathetic, but these Republicans won’t find much stomach for writing federal laws about education or for measures that require new federal funds. This means that any charter action is likely to involve redirecting existing dollars and avoiding measures which appear to expand federal authority–and to steer clear of federal involvement in identifying or addressing low-performing schools.

It’s true that the new Republicans are likely to be broadly supportive of school choice, but it’s likelier still that they’re going to be skeptical of new federal education legislation–even if education scholars promise that the measures are sound. Indeed, it’s less likely that 2010 Republicans will be swayed by such commentary than that they will see it as evidence that even putatively “conservative” education wonks are part of the D.C. establishment.

These new Republicans will have much in common with veteran members of Congress who are looking to build upon the Republican cohesion of the past two years and avoid backsliding into what many none-too-fondly recall as the “big government conservatism” of the Bush years.

Finally, it’ll be real interesting to see if the charter community supports the kind of charters-plus-Common Core line that the administration is advocating. I don’t think this will work well with the GOP, which could put charter advocates in an awkward spot. Consider what John Kline, ranking minority member on the House education committee (and future chair if the Republicans take control of the chamber), told RiShawn Biddle just the other week. Kline reiterated his concerns about large swaths of Race to the Top, saying, “When you begin moving to a common assessment, if you’re only going [to] reward states for adopting common standards, then you are moving into creating a common curriculum. Many of us are afraid that with [a] common curriculum, [we] are moving to a national curriculum. If you look at the second tranche of Race to the Top, only the states that adopted common standards would get Race to the Top money.”

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