The most exciting announcement last week for education advocates was the naming of Arne Duncan, superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, to the position of secretary of education. His nomination by President-Elect Obama was met with high praise and great enthusiasm. Duncan is viewed as a practical reformer who has energized and revamped the troubled Chicago school system. His close personal relationship with the president-elect is further evidence that education will be a priority in the new administration. The full spectrum of the education community endorsed the selection, a sign that Duncan is as skilled a politician as he is a school leader.
With Congress home for the holiday recess, the Capitol was quiet last week. In sharp contrast was Obama's Transition Team. There were countless meetings with stakeholders, many focusing on education plans and promises. In spite of the frightening budgetary climate, it appears the new president is intent on keeping his campaign pledges about more funding for early childhood services, K-12 education programs and reducing the cost of higher education for low-income students.
Those few Hill holdouts were hard at work readying a large economic stimulus package, now estimated at $850 billion, for debate in early January. Appropriations staffers also continued their efforts to finalize the omnibus spending bill for FY 2009. The goal for both of these proposals is to have them on the new president's desk for signing the day he takes office. Education advocates are optimistic that the stimulus will address school construction needs, special education, Pell Grants and perhaps other efforts to help school districts recover from dwindling state revenues.