Last week, the United States Senate voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos’ confirmation hearings were contentious, as telephone switchboards in Congress were flooded with constituent calls opposing her confirmation. DeVos’ nomination was further imperiled when two Republican senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – pledged to vote against her, leading to a 50-50 tie. However, Vice President Mike Pence assumed his constitutional duties as President of the Senate and cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of confirmation. It was the first time in U.S. history that a Vice President voted on a Cabinet secretary’s nomination.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court set oral arguments in GG v. Gloucester County School Board for March 28, 2017. As a reminder, in Gloucester County, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that under Title IX a transgender student can challenge a school board policy that limits bathroom and locker room access based on biological sex. President Donald Trump recently nominated Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and there is a chance Judge Gorsuch could join the Court prior to oral arguments in Gloucester County. Judge Gorsuch has been described as having a reliably conservative jurisprudence, and his presence on the bench could make the difference in this critical case.
Finally, the House of Representatives passed two bills that would reverse Obama administration administrative actions on education. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the power to pass a resolution of disapproval to prevent any federal agency from implementing a rule without congressional authorization. In this case, House Joint Resolution 57 would repeal the Accountability and State Plan regulations finalized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in November 2016 to implement provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Additionally, House Joint Resolution 58 would repeal the teacher preparation program regulations instituted by DOE in late 2016 which aimed to push states to rate the effectiveness of preparation programs and tie access to federal grants to student success. Both resolutions head to the U.S. Senate for consideration. We will provide updates on each of these topics as they develop.