During the discussions last year on the amount of federal support that should be provided in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and specifically for schools, a coalition of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives put forth proposals to save money in other areas in order to fund hurricane relief efforts. The group, known as the Republican Study Committee (RSC), proposed cost-saving measures such as eliminating subsidies for full-price school lunches and breakfasts, ending the Even Start literacy program, and closing the Department of Defense-run schools on military bases.
While many of the RSCs proposals did not gain much traction, their pressure did result in a 1 percent budget cut to most federal agencies for fiscal year 2006, including the Department of Education which was already dealing with reduced spending levels.
The Republican Study Committee is a coalition of over 110 House members who advocate for conservative fiscal and social policies and aim to limit the powers of the federal government, including in the field of education. Some notable members of the committee include Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Mark Souder, and Rep. Bob Inglis, each of whom have expressed their stances on education policy.
"They are a significant voting bloc in the House," said Mary Kusler, assistant director of government relations for the American Association of School Administrators. "They have considerable influence." The RSC members have played prominent roles in shaping federal education policies, whether through budget cuts or restraining federal involvement in classrooms. Now, they are preparing to take on the task of reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act in the upcoming year.
The Republican Study Committee, which comprises more than 110 House members, aims to promote a conservative agenda and influence education policies. Similar to other caucuses and coalitions in the House, the RSC utilizes its membership to advocate for its key issues.
In conclusion, the RSC has made its mark on federal education policies and is now gearing up to play a significant role in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Representative Mark Souder, a Republican from Indiana and member of the RSC and House Education and the Workforce Committee, agrees. He believes that study-committee members will strongly advocate for the expansion of public school choice programs or the inclusion of private school vouchers in the law, a concept that he feels the Bush administration did not vigorously pursue during the laws initial enactment. However, he also acknowledges that the outcome of this years congressional elections will greatly impact their efforts. If Democrats regain control of the House, the RSCs influence will likely be diminished. Regardless of which party is in control, the RSC, along with others, may work to block the laws reauthorization, even if President Bush supports it, until after the presidential election. Representative Souder states in an interview, "The President will not have as much influence on policy. The RSC could prevent a bill endorsed by Bush from passing."
Interestingly, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, who heads the RSC, was one of the 33 House Republicans who voted against the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, and he still expresses dissatisfaction with the law. In a recent interview with The National Journal, he argues that the No Child Left Behind legislation was basically the same as the bill sent to Capitol Hill by President Clinton. He believes that it was a missed opportunity to address the increase in size of the Department of Education.
Other RSC members share the belief that the law oversteps its boundaries by interfering with the authority of states and local school districts. They hope to amend certain provisions of the law during its reauthorization process. Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, another member of both the study committee and the House education committee, criticizes the law as a "disaster" and asserts that it should be repealed. He remains firm in his stance and plans to maintain it during the reauthorization process. He states, "It is presumptuous to assume that Washington knows how to handle education. I would have voted against it a thousand times had I been serving in the House at the time it passed."
The influence of the RSC has been growing, and the group is anticipated to exert its power during the reauthorization of the NCLB law, especially if Republicans continue to control the House. Representative Michael N. Castle, the chairman of the House education committees Education Reform Subcommittee, acknowledges the significant role the conservative caucus played in opposing the Bush administrations attempts to expand the law at the high school level. He states, "The RSC was concerned about the expansion of No Child Left Behind, and their opposition is one of the reasons why the high school proposal did not progress further." Representative Castle, who leads a more moderate coalition called the Republican Main Street Partnership, believes that the conservative caucus may also receive support from Representative Boehner, who was elected as the majority leader with the crucial backing of RSC members. Shortly after assuming the leadership role, Boehner headlined a fundraiser for the RSC political action committee. Despite being a key architect of the No Child Left Behind law, he has maintained a friendly relationship with the RSC. Andrew J. Rotherham, a former education aide to President Clinton and the director of Education Sector, emphasizes the significant influence of the RSC due to their connection with the partys base, stating, "Republican leaders take them very seriously."
Many analysts and experts believe that the influence of the group is mostly seen in their ability to manage public perception rather than in their actual legislative power. Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to monitoring the government, stated that although the RSC claims to have more than 110 members, the number of core supporters is much smaller. Even some members of the RSC privately agree with this assessment. Mr. Hughes added, "I believe those numbers are exaggerated, and I dont think they always vote unanimously."
Mr. Inglis, another member of the RSC, concurred with this viewpoint, stating that the group is not a monolithic entity. This suggests that maintaining unity within the RSC could be a challenge, especially if they want to have a significant impact on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law. The group holds a wide range of opinions on this law, with some members advocating for its complete elimination, while others propose making changes within its existing framework. For example, Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska has introduced legislation that aims to relax certain requirements of the law, such as exempting certain school districts from reporting test results of English-language learners.
Surprisingly, the RSC may find allies among liberal Democrats in Congress who share similar frustrations with the law. These Democrats believe that there is insufficient federal funding to meet the laws mandates. Dianne M. Piché, the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a watchdog group that supports the law, warned that it wouldnt be surprising if a coalition of strange bedfellows from both sides of the political spectrum joined forces to undermine or dilute key provisions of the NCLB law. Randall J. Moody, the manager of federal policy and politics for the National Education Association (NEA), stated that it is conceivable for the teachers union to work with members of the RSC. Although the NEA has been vocal about the need for increased federal education funding, while the RSC has advocated for cutting education spending, Mr. Moody said that cooperation is still possible. He emphasized that their goal is not driven by partisanship or ideology, but rather by shared objectives.
While Mr. Moody did not confirm whether the NEA has already contacted RSC members regarding the laws reauthorization, he suggested that such collaboration would be helpful, particularly in empowering school districts and teachers at the local level. He also acknowledged that the RSC has not been supportive in terms of funding. Despite this, he believes that working together is not out of the question.