Washington: "He Who Makes The Rules"
There's a good long piece in the latest Washington Monthly looking into what happens to federal laws after they're passed, titled He Who Makes the Rules, that makes some good reading for any education watchers.
While it focuses on non-education issues (Dodd-Frank implementation), it tells the story of how the regulatory process -- rules, interpretations of Congressional intent, public comment, and final determinations -- can make or break the statutory language that Congress passes and a President signs into law.
"It may seem counterintuitive, but those big hunks of legislation, despite being technically the law of the land, filed away in the federal code, don’t mean anything yet."
Who cares what happens to a law once it's passed? I can think of at least three education examples where rulemaking has played a big role: (1) the 2002 passage of NCLB, which was followed by some frenzied rulemaking around such hot topics as highly qualified teachers, tutoring (SES), and AYP; (2) the more recent passage of what became Race to the Top, extremely brief statutory language that blossomed into a much bigger, broader program; and, (3) the higher education regulations and rules surrounding Title II teacher quality grants (about which I know frighteningly little except they've been hotly debated and delayed).
As you'll see from the TWM story, a committed group of individuals can carve up a law they don't like by attacking language and swarming the process. It's been a while since that's happened in K-12 but if anything big ever happens and one side or the other (or both) doesn't like it, they know that they can probably get things changes further down the line, after most folks have moved onto other issues.