By narrow margins in both the House and the Senate, Congress managed to pass omnibus appropriations legislation over the weekend to fund most of the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Totaling $1.1 trillion, the legislation will fund the majority of the federal government until October 1, 2015.
Earlier in the week, House Republicans had introduced the 2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 83)— hybrid legislation that combined aspects of a continuing appropriations resolution (CR) and more comprehensive appropriations for all federal departments and agencies with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Known as a cromnibus, this legislation was heatedly debated in the House on Thursday night and passed by a margin of 219 – 206. Following the vote the Chamber adjourned for the rest of the 113th Congress and is not expected to return until the start of the new 114th Congress beginning in early January.
With the December 11th deadline for the most recent CR having come and gone, Congress also passed another short-term CR to avert a government shutdown while the bill worked its way over to the Senate for further debate this past Friday and Saturday. Despite strong opposition from conservatives and liberals alike, the cromnibus was approved in the Senate by a 56 – 40 vote late Saturday night.
On the whole, H.R. 83 largely maintains funding levels from the previous fiscal year for most programs and departments, although it cuts approximately $166 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) discretionary budget. Fortunately the Carl D. Perkins Act’s (Perkins) basic state grant program (BSG) was excluded from these reductions. Instead this legislation level-funds the BSG program at $1.118 billion— the same amount the program received in FY 2014.
Although NASDCTEc and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) recently urged lawmakers to fund the program at slightly higher levels, maintaining current investment levels for the BSG program is a minor victory in the context of the changing political and fiscal dynamics on Capitol Hill— particularly at time when other programs in the discretionary side of the federal budget have been forced to shoulder even larger reductions over the past several years.
H.R. 83 also contained a number of controversial policy riders— provisions unrelated to appropriations— that were the focus of much debate on the legislation. Nearly all of the most contentious riders, such as changes to campaign finance and banking laws, were ultimately included in the legislation. Despite these riders, President Obama has publicly committed to signing the legislation into law sometime this week.
Of particular interest to the CTE community was the partial restoration of the federal Pell Grant program’s “ability-to-benefit” (ATB) provision— something that NASDCTEc has been advocating for in the context of the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization. This change affords students who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, access to the federal financial aid program if they are also enrolled in a career pathways program as defined in the new law. An additional $6 million in funding was also set-aside for a competitive grant program under ED to improve data system coordination and quality at the local, state and national levels and is expected to roll-out in the coming year.
Despite the late night passage of the bill in the Senate, the Chamber remains open today and possibly further into the week as lawmakers there work on last-minute legislation and confirmations for many Obama Administration nominees for various government posts.
DOL Unveils Apprenticeship Grants
Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new $100 million competitive grant program to support the expansion of apprenticeship programs in high-growth and high-skill occupational areas. The American Apprenticeship Grant (AAG) program, is the successor to last year’s Youth CareerConnect grants and are funded through H-1B visa fees. Administration and Department officials hope the program will spur an expansion of apprenticeship programs into sectors of the economy which has not traditionally used them, such as information technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing.
Approximately 25 grants will be awarded to public-private partnerships consisting of at least one public and private entity. Eligible entities include employers, industry associations, joint labor-management organizations, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system, non-profits and faith-based organizations. Grant amounts will range from $2.5 million to $5 million each and must make efforts to align and coordinate with other postsecondary education programs and career pathways available in a state or local area.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager