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Redesigning the Pell Grant Program

December 3rd, 2013

financial-aidLast month the Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative launched by the Brookings Institution, released a discussion paper proposing a series of reforms to improve the Federal Pell Grant program. The paper titled, “Redesigning the Pell Grant Program for the Twenty-First Century,” was co-authored by Judith Scott-Clayton an Assistant Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University and Sandy Baum a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute.

Together they argue that the Pell Grant program has evolved from its initial conception as a “one-size-fits-all voucher” for recent high school graduates from low-income families to the “federal government’s primary workforce investment effort.” Put another way, the size and scope of the federal Pell Grant program has fundamentally changed since its creation in 1972 from one that served primarily younger students to one that is increasingly used by recent graduates and adults alike. This trend is borne out in the data which shows that 44 percent of Pell recipients are twenty-five or older.

Yet, the larger problem the paper’s authors seek to address (and partly the impetus behind a Congressional hearing today) is the disproportionate number of Pell recipients who fail to earn a credential or degree after six years. Over fifty percent of all Pell recipients fall into this category which has fueled discussions about the efficacy of the program as a whole. The underlying cause(s) of these figures remains very much open to debate and the authors do acknowledge that there are many possible explanations for non-completion. For instance labor market conditions could improve, encouraging those recipients who enrolled in a postsecondary program likely stemming from difficulties finding employment, to reenter the workforce.

Whatever the root cause may be, Scott-Clayton and Baum argue that three broad-based structural reforms would help focus and strengthen the program to ultimately improve these outcomes:

  •   Supplement individual grants with personalized guidance and support services
  •   Simplify the eligibility and application process
  •   Create incentives for additional grants based on student performance and effort

Taken together the authors argue that these reforms would make Pell more of a program and less of a grant, “thus inducing its beneficiaries to become full participants, and not just recipients.” Many Pell recipients have never had access to career coaching or academic advisement— linking these efforts to a grant would help student’s plan for the future and lead to higher persistence rates. The complicated application process, the subject of much discussion today in Congress, would diminish the amount of time students currently devote each year to remain eligible. And finally, the authors argue incentivizing— at least in part— portions of the grant would persuade students to complete a credential or degree.

Since the Pell Grant program’s creation, a postsecondary credential, certificate, or degree has become increasingly a prerequisite to entry into the workforce. As this trend continues, it is imperative that the program maintain its intended goal of improving equitable access to higher education while ensuring grants are being efficiently put to use. The authors of this paper have put forward several sensible policy recommendations that could prove vital to furthering that goal.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: House Holds Perkins Hearing, DOL Announces New Grant Program

November 19th, 2013

CapitolToday the House Education and Workforce Committee held a full committee hearing on the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins). Titled, “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs: Improving the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act,” the hearing provided committee members the opportunity to discuss and consider a wide range of proposals to improve and strengthen the main piece of federal legislation that supports Career Technical Education (CTE) throughout the United States.

The hearing was very well attended and members of the Committee along with their witnesses expressed enthusiasm for the historically bipartisan legislation and support for CTE. An archived webcast of the event can be accessed here.

Four distinguished witnesses participated in the hearing and provided insights and expert opinions on how to improve upon existing legislation. They included:

  • The Honorable Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Adult and Vocational Education for the Department of Education
  • Mr. Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs for IBM and President of the IBM International Foundation
  • Dr. Blake Flanders, Vice President of Workforce Development for the Kansas Board of Regents
  • Dr. Bryan Albrecht, President of Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Dann-Messier was the first to speak and began by laying out the four broad themes in the April 2012 Obama Administration’s proposal for Perkins reauthorization – Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education. She argued for:

  • Increased alignment between CTE programs and the labor market
  • Better accountability measures for programs
  • More support for innovation
  • Improved collaboration between secondary and postsecondary learner levels

Litow’s testimony primarily revolved around IBM’s Pathways to Technology program, commonly known as P-TECH, and highlighted some of the successes currently being observed there. He advocated for programs to be better aligned to the labor market and emphasized the importance of business and industry relationships with CTE programs and called for more robust partnerships that provide students with meaningful experiential learning opportunities.

Flanders highlighted Kansas’ ongoing efforts to support and grow CTE programs throughout his state and emphasized areas in which those successes could be replicated on a national scale. A main theme throughout his remarks focused on the need for CTE students to finish programs with industry recognized, nationally portable credentials or certificates.  To help with this, Dr. Flanders proposed a centralized clearinghouse for credential data which could be accessed by states. He also voiced his support for increasing the allowable amount for a state reserve fund from 10 percent to 50 percent of a state’s local fund allocation to support greater flexibility for states.

Albrecht spoke last and focused his comments on the need for stronger relationships between secondary and postsecondary institutions. He stressed the value of his institution’s relationship with the Kenosha Unified School District saying, “Students beginning in grade 9 are exposed to college faculty and curriculum throughout their high school experience” and by the graduation they “will have earned between 18 [and] 40 college credits, building a pathway to college and career success.” Albrecht also spoke about the importance of employer engagement and listed the many ways in which Gateway has partnered with businesses to supplement CTE programs at his institution.

Committee members asked a great deal of questions following the testimony, which allowed witnesses to expand on various aspects of their remarks. Many Committee members took the opportunity to voice concern over the Administration’s proposals for competitive funding. Questions regarding equitable access to CTE programs and the unintended negative consequences that could arise from that type of distribution were raised throughout. Members also asked witnesses for recommendations and insights for how best to encourage CTE program partnerships with business and industry. Although no clear consensus was made regarding that, witnesses did reiterate the importance of private sector engagement with CTE programs and stressed that partnerships— rather than sponsorships— were indicative of quality business engagement.

Chairman Kline concluded the hearing by saying the committee intends to continue its work on reauthorizing the Perkins Act and that he looks forward to, “working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in hopes we can craft smart, bipartisan proposals to strengthen career and technical education in America.” NASDCTEc and the CTE community welcome the renewed Congressional interest in Perkins and CTE and look forward to working with the committee throughout the process. Check our blog for details as reauthorization continues to take shape.

Department of Labor, Education, Announce Youth CareerConnect

Today President Obama announced Youth CareerConnect, a competitive grant program administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) in collaboration with the Department of Education (ED). The grant program seeks to bring to scale models for high school transformation that emphasize public-private partnerships. Inspired loosely by IBM’s P-TECH model, Youth CareerConnect has already been compared to the Administration’s Race to the Top program and seems to be a pilot of the Administration’s Perkins Blueprint. According to DOL’s application information, successful applicants will incorporate six core elements:

  •  Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
  • Employer Engagement
  • Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
  • Work-based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
  • Program Sustainability
  • Program Performance and Outcomes

Over $100 million from DOL’s discretionary funds, drawn from H1-B visa fees, will be made available to approximately 25-40 grantees in its first year. Eligible recipients will likely include local education agencies, public or nonprofit local workforce entities, or nonprofits with experience in education reform.

Awards will range between $2 million to $7 million and will require a 25 percent match to be eligible. Grant applications are due January 27, 2014 and are expected to be awarded shortly thereafter ahead of the 2014-15 school year.

More information can be found here .The Obama Adminstration has also made additional information available here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: NDD Advocates Seek End to Sequestration Ahead of Budget Committee

November 15th, 2013

CapitolEducation and other nondefense discretionary (NDD) groups released a report Tuesday titled Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure. The report highlights the ongoing negative impact of sequestration and details the effects the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) has had on NDD programs throughout the country. The release was part of a concerted effort between NDD advocacy groups, including the Committee for Education Funding (CEF), which have spearheaded efforts to repeal sequestration. As a member of CEF, the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) has been wholly supportive of these efforts and continues to oppose sequester cuts which have adversely affected many CTE programs and students throughout the country.

The budget conference committee, described in more detail here, met on Wednesday where co-Chairman of the committee Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) noted, ““The hard part is figuring out where we agree.” NASDCTEc remains hopeful that Congress will act to reverse these harmful austerity measures and will continue to track the progress of these negotiations which have wider implications it on the CTE community. Meanwhile, check out NDD United’s “Sequester Toolkit” which provides a unique opportunity to make your voice heard in this ongoing debate.

Manufacturing Jobs for America Initiative

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) recently announced Manufacturing Jobs for America, a legislative initiative centered around 40 bills proposed by over twenty Senators. The bills all seek to revive manufacturing and STEM fields in the United States. This comes at an important time when workers earn 22 percent more in annual pay and benefits than the average worker and provide a 34 percent return on investment for every dollar spent according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Some of the bills included in the initiative would directly support CTE programs and STEM education. For instance, Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) BUILD Career and Technical Education Act (S. 1293) would create a two year grant program of $20 million to support CTE education and exploration programs in middle schools and high schools.

The America Works Act (S. 453), cosponsored by a number of Senators, would encourage existing federal investments in education and workforce development to give priority consideration to programs that lead to a nationally portable, industry-recognized credential or certificate. These bills, among many others included in the initiative, represent a bipartisan Congressional recognition of the important impact manufacturing has on the national economy. CTE programs throughout the United States consistently prepare students for this dynamic industry and have become a natural juncture between education and the workforce. Please check our blog for updates on the progress of these bills.

Department Releases Stricter Gainful Employment Rules Proposal

As we shared last week, the Department of Education has been pursuing stricter “gainful employment” accountability requirements for vocational programs at for-profit institutions and community colleges across the country. A negotiated rule making committee was established in an effort to bring representatives from for-profits institutions, community colleges, and other relevant stakeholders to the table and come to a consensus on a new set of rules. In September the Department released a proposed set of rules which were based on two measures of debt-to –earnings ratios for graduates. This measure would have compared a graduate’s earnings after program completion (both annual and discretionary) to their annual amount of student loan payments. These set of rules garnered criticism from for-profits for being overly burdensome and from consumer advocates who argued they did not do enough to address programs with high dropout rates.

Late last week, the Department released a new proposal which goes far beyond their initial September pitch. In an effort to address the perceived loophole for programs with high rates of non-completion, the new draft regulatory language introduces two additional accountability measures— a program cohort default rate (pCDR) and a loan portfolio repayment rate. If a program has a 40 percent cohort default rate in one year or 30 percent over three the program would lose eligibility immediately. In addition to this, the loan portfolio repayment rate would be calculated through a comparison between the total principal owed for all loans taken out for a program by the end of the year to the principal amount at the beginning of the year. A more in depth analysis and side-by-side comparison of the two proposals can be found here. It is important to note that the committee’s guidance is non-binding and the Department does have the ability to move forward with new regulations regardless of a final consensus among the negotiators.

Please check back for updates and more on our blog as the talks continue.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: Budget Conference Committee to Reconvene Next Week

November 8th, 2013

Capitol

Budget conferees have scheduled their next meeting for Wednesday, November 13th to continue negotiations over the federal budget. As we shared last week, the committee was created as part of the agreement which ended the most recent government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling. Led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) respectively, the conferees are tasked with reconciling the House and Senate budgets— proposals that would fund the federal government at very different levels.

The committee is also grappling with sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA), which many members of Congress have expressed interest in repealing, delaying, or at the very least mitigating. However, Democrats and Republicans are still at odds over how to accomplish this common goal. Many Democrats would like to raise additional tax revenue to pay for changes to sequestration, while Republicans want to offset these costs with spending reductions elsewhere. As the committee looks for a solution to sequestration, it is important to highlight the continued negative impact these across-the-board cuts have had on federal investments in education— specifically Career Technical Education (CTE). Now is the time to engage your member of Congress ahead of these difficult negotiations, to reiterate the importance of CTE programs to students across the country.

Please check our blog for updates as these negotiations continue to unfold.

Gainful Employment Rulemaking Committee Reschedules

Earlier this year, the Department of Education announced its intention to create a negotiated rulemaking committee to establish stricter standards regarding “gainful employment” for vocational education programs at community colleges and for-profit institutions. As we shared last year, a previous attempt by the Department of Education to create rules regarding debt repayment and “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” were struck down by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. However, the ruling did acknowledge the Department’s authority to establish rules pertaining to gainful employment and this committee is the latest effort to do so.

Composed of 15 members from for-profit institutions, community colleges, and other relevant stakeholders, the committee began negotiations in early September. Another meeting was slated to follow in mid-October, but the shutdown of the federal government forced the Department to reschedule. The committee is now scheduled to meet on November 18th to continue negotiations on possible new regulations which could impact how federal student aid programs under title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) are distributed to community colleges and for-profit institutions of higher education. More information on this process and supplemental materials can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: Competency Based Learning Highlighted at Recent Senate HELP Committee Hearing

November 1st, 2013

Capitol

Yesterday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee held the second of twelve scheduled hearings on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).  The hearing, titled “Attaining a Quality Degree: Innovations to Improve Student Success,” examined innovative practices in higher education which according to Chairman Harkin (D-IA), “are increasing student learning, engagement and degree completion.” Witnesses at the hearing spoke about a great variety of innovations and offered insight for how to improve higher education. However, one practice in particular— competency-based learning— emerged from the hearing as a clear favorite among those providing testimony.

Competency based education (CBE), according to the President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, “is a student-centered, learning-outcome-based model. Where you get the education is secondary to what you know and are able to do.” This idea— to prioritize mastery of skills and knowledge over time spent in class— was a continual theme throughout the hearing. Dr. R. Scott Ralls, President of the North Carolina Community College System, testified that through this model their students, “are better able to attain meaningful industry certifications as well as traditional academic credentials, built on top of a foundational core of academic, workplace, and technical competencies.” These remarks and others have promising implications for Career Technical Education (CTE) and the broader college- and career-ready agenda as competency-based education can help remove barriers between CTE and core academic courses, and support more innovation in the classroom.

An archived webcast of the hearing, along with witness testimony, can be found here.

Secretary Duncan Unveils Timeline for a College Ratings System

Renewed energy and focus on innovative practices in higher education has largely been spurred by the Obama Administration’s call to make college more affordable. As we shared previously, college tuition and fees have increased by a staggering 538% since 1985 and the administration has made it a priority to combat these rising costs. Towards the end, the President proposed over the summer to link federal financial aid to school performance based on a national college ratings system. Factors such as average tuition, loan debt, graduation rates, and employment outcomes are all being considered to create a college or university’s rating. The administration has planned a series of hearings on college campuses across the country to gather input for the new system.

On Wednesday Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education Secretary, announced a proposed timeline for the creation and roll-out of this ratings system. A “technical symposium” is expected early next year where the rating methodology will be discussed. After this an initial version will be released sometime next spring which will be open for public comment.  Please check our blog for more updates as this process unfolds.

Budget Conference Committee Convenes

Also on Wednesday, the Budget Conference Committee convened for the first time, starting negotiations between both parties over the budget and other fiscal issues such as tax and entitlement reform. The conference committee— created as part of the agreement that ended the most recent government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling— is tasked with reconciling the House and Senate budget proposals which fund the federal government at $967 billion and $1.058 trillion respectively. More information on this committee can be found here. As we shared last week, this is an important opportunity for Congress to reverse or reduce the harmful cuts to the federal budget mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). These cuts, known as sequestration, have had a negative impact on education programs throughout the country and it is critical that the CTE community engage their members of Congress throughout these negotiations.

Although the process has only just begun, the committee must finalize a compromise by December 13th. This gives the appropriations committees in both chambers very little time to craft the necessary 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on January 15th. In a rare joint letter, Senate Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), have urged the committee to come to an agreement no later than Thanksgiving. According to the letter an early agreement would allow for, “more thoughtful and responsible spending decisions, set the parameters for the budgetary savings that need to be reached in your Budget conference, and build momentum for a larger budget agreement that addresses the nation’s wide range of fiscal challenges.” The full letter can be found here.

Please check our blog for updates as this process continues to develop.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Fall Meeting Recap: Panel Discusses OECD Report

October 28th, 2013

Last week the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) held its annual Fall Meeting where a distinguished group of panelists discussed a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report. As we shared previously, the publication critically assessed the challenges facing the postsecondary Career Technical Education (CTE) system in the United States. The authors argued throughout the report that the diversity and inherent decentralization of the postsecondary CTE system was both the United States’ biggest strength and its greatest weakness.

Mary Alice McCarthy, Senior Policy Analyst for the New America Foundation, gave the keynote presentation on the report’s findings which framed the rest of the panel discussion. Three overarching policy recommendations were given:

  • Tie funding to quality CTE programsState Map
  • Link certifications & credentials to needs of business and industry
  • Build better transitions from postsecondary to the workplace

McCarthy examined each of these recommendations in greater detail and identified specific policies for achieving them.  She argued that improvements in “quality, coherence, and transparency” would lead to better outcomes for students. Towards the end of her remarks McCarthy illustrated an alarming trend when comparing reading scores across generations—American’s scores, compared to the rest of the world, had plateaued or declined for the most recent generation of 16-24 year-olds. This “skill plateau” framed the remainder of the discussion and served as the basis of analysis for the rest of the panel.

The other members of the panel echoed many of the core sentiments found in the report and highlighted the many ways in which their organizations are helping to improve the postsecondary CTE system. Dalila Bonilla Wortman, Director of Engineering at Lockheed Martin, emphasized her company’s use of interns as a viable strategy for transitioning students from the classroom to the workplace. Michael Baumgartner, Vice President of Finance and Special Projects at Complete College America argued for the need to increase the number of U.S. adults with a postsecondary certification, credential, or degree to 60 percent or more and also noted the importance of programs, like Lockheed Martin’s, that provide work-based experiences as part of that process.

Scott Stump, Dean of Career Technical Education for the Colorado Community College System and current Vice President of the NASDCTEc Executive Board, brought the discussion full-circle by stressing the need for a “coherent postsecondary CTE system, when it was never designed to be coherent.” He and the other panelists remained optimistic about the future prospects of postsecondary CTE in the United States and agreed that the challenges facing them today can be solved with the right policies moving forward.

The full report can be found here and the McCarthy’s slides can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: Budget Conference Committee to Meet Next Week

October 25th, 2013

As we shared last week, the federal government was reopened with a Continuing Resolution (CR) and the debt limit was raised under legislation (H.R. 2775) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. Per this agreement, a budget conference committee was created to develop a longer term FY14 budget. The committee was recently announced and is composed of the entire Senate Budget Committee along with four House Republicans and three House Democrats. The bipartisan, bicameral group is led respectively by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) who have been charged with negotiating an agreement between the House and Senate budgets— a $90 billion difference that will need to be reconciled and likely include broader issues such as tax and entitlement reform in a final deal.Capitol

Sequestration also is looming in the background of these negotiations, with the FY14 sequester cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) set to go into effect by mid-January, the same time the current CR is set to expire. These additional sequester cuts would lower the aggregate spending cap for the federal budget to $967 billion and trigger further across-the-board spending cuts to the federal budget. Both sides have recently voiced interest in replacing, or at the very least mitigating, these cuts. However, Democrats favor increasing revenues to pay for additional spending beyond the $967 billion level, while Republicans are seeking reductions to entitlements and broad-based tax reform to offset those costs.

The conference committee set its first meeting for Wednesday October 30th to begin talks on these topics. As we have shared previously, sequestration has adversely effected and continues to negatively impact the CTE community. It is critical that NASDCTEc and its partners in the CTE community continue to engage their members of Congress, especially those on this conference committee, as they grapple with these important issues. Please check our blog for updates as this process continues to unfold.

New Addition to OVAE and Third Round of TAACCCT Grants Announced

With the federal government reopened, the Department of Education and its Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) are getting back to normal operations. Mark Mitsui, the recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges at OVAE, announced a new section for community colleges in the OVAE Connections newsletter. The section will, “provide useful information to community college leaders and their campus communities regarding relevant federal policy, grants and research.” Feedback and input for the new community college section can be sent directly to: ovaenewsletter@ed.gov

The third round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program just finished and approximately $474.5 million in grants are set to go out to community colleges and universities across the country. The four-year, $2 billion initiative, jointly administered by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education, funds the development and expansion of career training programs that are linked to the needs of business and industry. The grant program also invests in staff and educational resources and supports access to free digital learning materials. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez noted, “These investments in demand-driven skills training bring together education, labor, business and community leaders to meet the real-world needs of the changing global marketplace.”

More information on TAACCCT can be found here and a list of grantees by state, along with project descriptions, can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Fall Meeting Recap: Federal Policy Update

October 25th, 2013

The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) held its annual Fall Meeting this past week in Baltimore, Maryland. Many State Career Technical Education (CTE) Directors and other CTE stakeholders were in attendance during the three-day event where a variety of presentations and panel discussions took place on a wide range of topics.

One subject that garnered interest among attendees was the Federal Policy Update Panel which provided an overview of the State Mapmajor pieces of federal legislation relevant to the CTE community. John Fischer, NASDCTEc board President and Vermont Agency of Education Deputy Commissioner, moderated the discussion. Kimberly Green, NASDCTEc’s Executive Director, also participated on the panel along with James Hermes, Associate Vice President of Government Relations at the American Association of Community Colleges and Alisha Hyslop, Director of Public Policy at the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Each of the panelists gave a broad update on how major pieces of federal legislation, such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins), the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were progressing on the national level, when each was due for reauthorization, and how that process was likely to unfold. The panelists also discussed their organizations’ related advocacy efforts as well as the prospects for reauthorization and challenges facing each piece of legislation.

Hyslop began the panel by outlining the current political landscape and explaining in greater detail the ongoing debate between both parties over the federal budget. She contended that both Democrats and Republicans see a need to grapple with the federal deficit and related national debt, but have starkly different strategies for how to do this.  In particular she highlighted that the majority of spending cuts currently underway have targeted only a small fraction of the federal budget— 16 percent — known as nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. Of that portion merely 2 percent is spent on education. As a consequence, spending reductions made to NDD programs are felt much more strongly than in other areas of the federal budget.

Green followed by speaking about some of the positive trends currently happening on the federal level with regards to CTE. She argued that there is an increasing amount of recognition among policymakers that students should be prepared both for college and careers. Green used ESEA as an example of this, explaining that the current version of ESEA in the Senate (S. 1094) uses the phrase “college and career readiness” throughout the proposed bill. Moreover, Green expressed her optimism over renewed federal interest in Perkins, which recently culminated in a Congressional hearing last month.

Despite these promising trends, Congressional gridlock and partisanship was cited as the main reason for the slow progress made towards reauthorization much of this legislation. For instance, both Hermes and Green stressed that WIA has been due for reauthorization since 2003, but because of the politics surrounding some of its components, progress had slowed considerably. Competing versions of WIA, one still in the Senate (S. 1356) and the other passed contentiously by the House (H.R. 803), illustrate this point. However, the panel noted that unlike WIA or ESEA, Perkins continues to enjoy wide bipartisan support. Even with other federal education bills still awaiting reauthorization, Hyslop and Green expressed optimism that Perkins would be reauthorized in the coming years, possibly even ahead of others already in the queue.

John Fischer posed a number of interesting questions to the panel and asked why interest in CTE has persisted over the last few years. Hermes answered pithily saying, “Jobs.” Both Green and Hyslop agreed with his assessment. They argued that now was the time to harness much of the enthusiasm surrounding CTE as a way to address the skills gap and to reduce the lingering effects of the most recent recession. The panelists formed a consensus around this and encouraged the audience to engage their members of Congress on these important issues.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Congress Agrees to End Government Shutdown, Lift the Debt Ceiling

October 17th, 2013

Over the past several weeks NASDCTEc has been sharing updates regarding the most recent Congressional impasse over the budget and the need to increase the United States’ borrowing limit. Until yesterday, partisan gridlock had largely prevented Congress from accomplishing either of these important tasks. A Continuing Resolution (CR), which was needed to temporarily fund the government atCapitol current spending levels, failed to be negotiated by the October 1st deadline. A partial government shutdown ensued. Thousands of “non-essential” federal workers were furloughed, interrupting many important governmental functions and disrupting the wider economy.

Looming in the background of this stalemate was the fast-approaching need to raise the nation’s debt limit— the legislative restriction on how much the Treasury Department is allowed to borrow to pay for existing debts. Today marked that deadline for this critical limit.

Encouragingly, Congress came to a negotiated deal on both of these pressing issues late yesterday. The full text of the amendment can be found here along with a summary. The key aspects of the agreement are as follows:

  • CR funds the government until January 15th 2014
  • Raises the debt ceiling to February 7th 2014
  • Requires additional income verification for those receiving subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Creates a budget conference committee between the House and the Senate to negotiate a larger budget deal by December 13th 2013

The Senate passed the agreement decisively 81-18 and the House passed the measure on a narrower margin of 285-144. President Obama signed the legislation into law late last night and federal government employees are set to return to work today. Senator Patty Murray (D-OR) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be the conference committee leaders where both sides hope to establish long-term spending plans. Sequestration, the mandated across-the-board spending cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), will likely be a significant issue for the conference committee.

Additional sequester cuts for FY14 are set to take effect on the same day as the expiration date for the current CR by lowering the aggregate spending cap for the federal budget to $967 billion. These spending levels will likely be at the core of these budget negotiations as both sides try to replace, or at the very least mitigate, the effects of sequestration. As we have shared previously, sequestration continues to impact the CTE community and other nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs more broadly. Tax and entitlement reform efforts are also expected to be discussed during these negotiations.

Please check our blog for more updates on these quickly developing issues.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: Federal Government Shuts Down Amid Partisan Gridlock

October 4th, 2013

Government Shuts Down with No Continuing Resolution

After ongoing debates over the past several weeks, Congress was unable to come to an agreement on a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would temporarily continue funding for federal agencies and programs. As a result, the federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years on Tuesday, October 1.Capitol

Prior to the shutdown, the House and Senate had been trading competing versions of a CR, with the most contentious issue being House Republican provisions to the bill that would defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” A comprehensive timeline for these events can be found here.   The President and Senate Democrats have been adamant that they will only accept a “clean” CR which would fund the federal government through November 15th.

House Republicans have suggested funding only certain parts of the government, such as the National Parks Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as a way to lessen the impact of the federal government shutdown.

Recently, House Republicans have also included proposals to fund a few educational programs such as Head Start, Impact Aid, and the Bureau of Indian Education. However, all of these proposals would lock in sequester cuts through December 15. A White House spokesperson stated that, “These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government . . . and if these bills were to come to the President’s desk, he would veto them.” Meanwhile, the effects of the government shutdown continue with over 800,000 federal workers furloughed and many essential government services have halted.

Debt Limit Deadline by October 17

In addition to the federal government shutdown, the nation is expected to default on its obligations, or hit its debt limit, no later than October 17.  The debt limit is the legislative restriction on the amount of money the Treasury Department can borrow to pay for existing legal obligations such as social security payments, military salaries, and interest on the national debt.

The Treasury Department has made clear that failing to address the debt limit by the October deadline would have “catastrophic economic consequences.” Yesterday the Department issued a report titled “The Potential Macroeconomic Effect of Debt Limit Brinksmanship” outlining in greater detail the calamitous effects of Congress failing to pass legislation to increase the statutory debt limit. The report has put increased pressure on Congress to find a compromise to the current political impasse to avoid potentially damaging economic consequences.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has recently voiced interest in crafting a larger budget deal that addresses both the CR and the debt limit. It is not clear what such a deal would look like or if a compromise on items such as tax reform and further deficit reduction— priorities House Republicans have already insisted should be part of such a deal— would be a feasible solution for Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration.

Check NASDCTEc’s blog for frequent updates on these rapidly changing issues.

Congress Members Talk Education at Annual CEF Events

On Wednesday, the Committee for Education Funding (CEF) held its annual legislative conference and gala.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) emphasized a few guiding principles for budget negotiations. In particular, Senator Reed found it troubling that government revenues were being produced from student loans, something he felt should be stopped. Following his remarks, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) discussed Congress’ inability to pass a budget and denounced the sequestration provisions from the Budget Control Act of 2011 as “stupid”— a phrase he used often when describing how these automated cuts were adversely affecting important federal investments in education and workforce development. Interestingly, Representative Hoyer recommended that CEF be rebranded to the Committee for Education Investment to better reflect CEF’s commitment to education as an investment for the nation.

Representative Hoyer also highlighted the need for a national manufacturing strategy and comprehensive immigration reform to keep the United States globally competitive.

Ellen Nissenbaum of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out that the current level of non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending is the lowest it has been in 40 years. When asked how she would explain sequestration to someone succinctly she said, “Sequestration is an abdication of Congressional responsibility.” Like Representative Hoyer, Nissenbaum pointed out that sequestration does not prioritize pieces of the federal budget and instead Congress chose to arbitrarily cut spending without giving thought to long-term consequences.

At its gala event, CEF honored Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) for his dedication to educational issues and work over his long career in the Senate. Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) both spoke glowingly of Sen. Harkin and how he has helped shape public policy during his career.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

 

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