A lot has happened this season on Capitol Hill, particularly with regards to Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funding, and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As summer draws closer, we wanted to take a moment and re-cap all of the exciting activity going on in Washington D.C. as we look ahead to what the rest of the year has in store for the Career Technical Education (CTE) community. Below is Part I in a two part series of springtime legislative updates.
The Federal Funding Landscape
As shared previously, President Obama formally kicked-off the FY 2016 budget and appropriations process this year with one clear message to Congress— end sequestration in order to make vital reinvestments in our nation’s domestic discretionary programs. At present, federal funding is constrained by specific limits required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). These limits, also known as caps, are in place for each federal fiscal year and well into the next decade. They require Congressional appropriators to stay within those limits and if funding legislation exceeds those caps, the additional funds above each annual BCA cap are “sequestered” to bring them back down within the BCA funding ceiling for that particular year.
The President’s budget proposal requested billions of dollars above these caps, calling for new investments in many programs, including CTE. While the Administration requested flat-funding for the Carl D. Perkins Act (Perkins) basic state grant program (BSG), it has sought an additional $200 million in funding for the American Technical Training Fund (ATTF)— a proposed competitive grant program for consortia of CTE stakeholders and employers— as well as an additional $2 million to administer this new program. NASDCTEc’s response to the budget can be found here.
Since that time, Congress has been crafting budget resolutions— frameworks outlining the planned spending for the year and years to come— that would adhere to the BCA caps and essentially freeze FY 2016 funding at near current levels. In doing so, funding increases for most programs (including Perkins) become even less feasible and could further squeeze many education and workforce development programs which have already been cut dramatically since 2010.
Despite these unfavorable headwinds, well over 100 members of Congress signed two separate letters to Congressional appropriators urging them to make a strong investment in the Perkins Act’s BSG program in FY 2016. NASDCTEc has applauded the work of CTE Champions Reps. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) in the House and the Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) in the Senate for spearheading these efforts in both Chambers of Congress. The letters, similar to NASDCTEc’s own FY 2016 request, have urged Congressional appropriators to increase Perkins funding to pre-sequester levels— approximately $5 million above what the program received in FY 2014 and 2015. Make sure to thank your members of Congress for supporting CTE! Find out who signed-on here and here.
As the FY 2016 budget and appropriations cycle continues, check back here for updates and analysis for what the CTE community should expect from the federal funding environment.
Moving Past No Child Left Behind
The 114th Congress has been in full swing this spring, bringing with it warmer weather in D.C. and, surprisingly, the possibility of a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize one of the largest federal education laws in the country. While tourists have flocked to the Capitol to gaze at the Cherry Blossoms, Congress has been eyeing the possibility of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)— more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The primary source of federal funding for K-12 education throughout the country, the law has been due for renewal since 2007, but has languished in a Congressional limbo due to widespread disagreement on how to appropriately navigate the nation’s education system out of the NCLB era.
As with all federal education and workforce legislation, the first step in the ESEA reauthorization process has been for the House Education and the Workforce Committee (HEW) and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to develop and pass proposals to renew and reform the current law.
In the House the Student Success Act – successfully passed on a partisan basis by the full Chamber in the 113th Congress— was reintroduced in the early part of this Congress and passed the HEW Committee on a contentious, partisan basis. This legislation proposes to dramatically dissolve a majority of the current federal role in education, giving those responsibilities back to the states and their educational districts. Widely opposed by House Democrats and the Obama Administration, the Student Success Act made its way back to the House floor for the Chamber’s full consideration in the early part of this year. Despite the backing from House Republican leadership and many in their Caucus, the bill was removed from consideration after outside conservative groups began opposing the legislation for not doing more to diminish the federal role in education. Since that time, the House has not made future plans to consider the Student Success Act. You can learn more about the bill and the HEW Committee’s plans for it here.
In the Senate, the process seemed to be unfolding in much the same way. In January the new Chairman of the HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), introduced a discussion draft to reauthorize ESEA and was similar in many respects to the House’s proposal. Following this, an impromptu meeting at a favorite D.C. eatery between the Chairman and the new Ranking Member of the HELP Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), led to bipartisan negotiations on compromise legislation. The product of these months-long negotiations is the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA)— the first bipartisan proposal for ESEA reauthorization in the 114th Congress.
ECAA was successfully marked up by the HELP Committee in April and included an amendment from Senator Baldwin (D-WI) to add a requirement that student attainment of CTE proficiencies be incorporated into the law’s mandated report card system. ECAA also requires alignment between CTE standards and core academic standards which is an encouraging step as NASDCTEc works towards the further integration of the two. The bill would also eliminate the harmful “highly qualified teacher” provision from current law— a significant priority for NASDCTEc in this reauthorization. Another encouraging aspect of ECAA was the retention of elementary and secondary education counseling programs in Title IV of the legislation. Aspects of the Career Ready Act (S. 478) and the Career Choice Act (H.R. 1079)— both supported and endorsed by NASDCTEc— found their way into this section of the proposed legislation before clearing the HELP Committee.
The path forward for ESEA remains long and full of potential roadblocks. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see this level of compromise on such a large piece of federal legislation. ECAA is widely expected to be considered by the full Senate sometime in the two weeks before or after the Memorial Day recess. However, the path forward for the Student Success Act in the House remains much more uncertain, throwing the wider reauthorization process into question. As this process continues, check back here for updates and analysis of this reauthorization process.
Part II of this legislative update will be released tomorrow morning.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager