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Impact Stories

New Policy Leadership, New Opportunities for Policy Change

November 19, 2018

By Lexi Barret, JFF

Voters went to the polls last week in record numbers to castballots for dozens of members of Congress, governors, state legislators, ChiefState School Officers, State Boards of Education, as well as several regionalmeasures impacting education and the workforce issues.

While ballots are still being tallied in some states andregions, current resultsshow that many winners will be holding office for the first time, with 20 incoming governors who will be new to their position and roughly 83 newlyelected Members of Congress. New representatives with fresh perspectives willhopefully help catalyze solutions for meeting our nation’s most pressingeducation and workforce challenges.

Today’s U.S. economy is experiencing positive gains, continuedjob growth, and low unemployment, yet challenges remain to fill the nation’s roughlyseven million job openings,many of which require some form of postsecondary education beyond high school. Andeven with October’s 3.7 percentunemployment rate, considerably more than 6 million Americans remain out ofwork. And according to the US Census Bureau, middle-class wages have grown justsix percent since 1979, while low-wage workers have experienced a five percentdecrease in wages over the same time period.

Addressing these challenges will not be easy and willrequire bipartisan collaboration. Traditionally education and workforce development policy have beenbipartisan issues because the health of our nation’s communities depend on thequality of students’ education. Business leaders have also been demanding amore educated workforce to fill the needs of today’s open jobs. This has contributedto Congress coming together in a bipartisan manner to enact the StrengtheningCareer and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, the EveryStudent Succeeds Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – alloccurring during a time of intense partisan divisions.  Next year as Democrats gain control of theHouse of Representatives and Republicans maintain control of the Senate andExecutive Branch it will be essential, even with a divided government, thatpolicymakers continue to address critical education and workforce developmentissues that confront the nation, on a bipartisan basis. 

 Counter to prevailing opinion, JFF is optimistic that Congresswill come together to pass laws focused on preparing America’s current andfuture workforce with the skills needed in today’s and in the future economy. Thisincludes reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 2008. We can expect aDemocratic-controlled House to focus its higher education priorities on collegeaffordability, updating to the student loan program, improving wraparoundservices for students, and holding institutions accountable for studentoutcomes, as seen last summer through the introduction of the AimHigher Act. House Republican priorities over the past year haveincluded innovation in higher education through federal aid consolidation andloosening restrictions on alternative providers, as seen in their ProsperAct.

A new Congress may also update critical social serviceprograms including the TemporaryAssistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental NutritionAssistance Programs.

At the state level, we can expect elected officials to continuetheir focus on issues that were addressed during the campaigns, including: workforcereadiness and postsecondaryeducation. States will be looking to improve and expand career andtechnical education, apprenticeships, and work-basedlearning to meet state and regional workforce needs.  And state leadership will be looking totackle challenges of college affordability, access, and success through collegepromise programs and dual enrollment.

JFF’s 35 years of experience working at the intersection ofpolicy and practice in over 44 states places us in a strong position to connectpolicymakers with practitioner informed solutions and practices. JFF looksforward to working with new and returning members of the House and Senate, aswell state Governors and state legislators to assist in developing andimplementing strong programs and policy that provide economic advancement forall. 

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