The annual Congressional August recess is in full swing, with most lawmakers and staff spending the time off in their districts and home states with constituents. This four week respite from the daily Congressional grind will be short-lived, as lawmakers will be faced with a tremendous amount of work upon their return to Capitol Hill. In addition to the fast approaching September 30th deadline to fund the federal government and programs, Congress will also have to raise the debt ceiling sometime later this fall, renew funding for public works and infrastructure projects, weigh in on the Administration’s Iran deal, successfully conference an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bill, and address a host of other outstanding issues all in the coming months.
Ironically, the heavy workload this fall is a product of Congress’ own making—many of these issues were considered as recently as this year and were temporarily put aside as compromise proved to be too difficult. As a result, lawmakers will likely be grappling with many of the above issues simultaneously and the ones related to federal funding, such as the need to raise the debt ceiling and fund federal programs for FY 2016, will likely have resolutions that are closely intertwined. While a clear path forward is still far from certain, Congressional leadership will be weighing many different options. However, with only 10 legislative days left when they return, a “Continuing Appropriations Resolution” or CR—a temporary extension of current funding levels into the next federal fiscal year— is growing increasingly more likely.
Lying at the heart of this stalemate are Republicans and Democrats who remain at odds over the sequester caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). These limits on federal spending, have hampered Congress’ ability to piece together the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund the federal government. Without changes to the underlying BCA legislation, a move appropriators from both Parties say they want, finding compromise on FY 2016 funding has been extremely difficult.
With the upcoming ESEA conference between the House and the Senate scheduled to follow the current recess, this current impasse over funding will likely be significant hurdle for the conferees to overcome as this battle will likely play out before or during those talks.
NASDCTEc has continued its work on both of these fronts where we have encouraged lawmakers to retain the important CTE provisions found in both the House and Senate ESEA bills while separately calling for an end to the damaging sequester caps that have undercut the federal investment in CTE.
As Congress spends its time meeting with their constituents this month, NASDCTEc invites the wider CTE community to reach out to their members of Congress to reinforce importance of these two goals as the summer draws to an end. Be sure to check back here as things continue to develop.
The JOBS Act—Making Pell Work for Students
Prior to the August recess, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), co-chair of the Senate CTE Caucus and a long-time champion of CTE, introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 1900)—a bill that would extend Pell grant program eligibility to students enrolled in qualifying short-term training programs.
Under current law the Pell Grant program— like other federal financial aid available under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA)— is not available to students taking “noncredit courses.” Postsecondary CTE programs, which typically offer certifications or other postsecondary credentials, often fall under this category. Current Pell Grant program eligibility requirements have a minimum seat-time of 300 instruction hours over the course of at least 16 weeks. This frequently leaves out short-term postsecondary CTE programs which are essential to equipping students with the relevant skills needed for the 21st century economy— something that NASDCTEc encourages Congress to address during the reauthorization of HEA.
The JOBS Act seeks to address this issue by reducing those program length requirements by half, to at least 150 clock hours over a period of 8 weeks. In order to qualify, programs must be offered at a postsecondary institution, which would include area CTE centers and community colleges, lead towards the completion of a recognized postsecondary credential (as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), and be aligned to area workforce needs.
NASDCTEc was extremely pleased to support and endorse this legislation upon its introduction and remains hopeful that these ideas make their way into the wider reauthorization of HEA. Read more about the bill here.
Presidential Scholars Program Continues to Take Shape
As we shared a few months ago, President Obama signed an amendment to Executive Order 11155—a move that expanded the existing Presidential Scholars program to include up to 20 CTE students each year in the program.
The first year of this expansion will take place in the upcoming 2015-16 school year where the Chief State School Officers will nominate CTE scholars based on five criteria: academic rigor, technical competency, ingenuity / creativity, and the degree to which the student represents “the nation’s economic sectors and demographic characteristics.”
Student nominations are due from each Chief State School Officer by October 15, 2015 where the next step of the process will require additional application materials from selected students. By May 2016, the Commission on Presidential Scholars will announce the list of students to be honored at the White House in June.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) has encouraged State CTE Directors to engage with their State’s chief school officer ahead of the nomination process and to more widely disseminate the announcement. More detailed information can be obtained on OCTAE’s PCRN website and general information about the expansion can be found here.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager