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House Holds Hearing on Federal Aid, Conference Committee Inches Closer to Deal

House Holds HEA Hearing Focusing on Pell Grants

CapitolOn Tuesday the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held the eleventh in a series of planned hearings on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The hearing titled, “Keeping College Within Reach: Strengthening Pell Grants for Future Generations” focused on the federal Pell Grant program, authorized under Title IV of HEA, and ways in which it could be improved. Recently, the effectiveness of the Pell Grant program has increasingly come under scrutiny and proposals to change aspects of the grant have been numerous and varied.

While some members of the subcommittee voiced concern about the long-term solvency of the Pell program, there was no question regarding the critical importance the grant program has towards its fundamental goal of improving access to postsecondary education. Witnesses put forward a host of recommendations to improve upon this overarching goal. Among many policy proposals a few stood out: simplifying the application process, reducing barriers to access for non-traditional students, increasing grant amounts, strengthening eligibility requirements, and the creation of a “Pell Well” to encourage persistence rates.

These policy recommendations are encouraging, but those on the subcommittee and their witnesses failed to address a central issue affecting many who need federal financial aid the most. Under current law the Pell Grant program— like other federal financial aid— is not available to students taking “noncredit courses.” However, these programs often award certificates or other postsecondary credentials which are crucial for students who are entering a labor market where 65 percent of all job openings in 2020 will require some form of education beyond high school.

At a time when a certificate is now the second most awarded postsecondary credential in the country, excluding these students from federal aid assistance eligibility is counterproductive, undermines the global competiveness of the United States, and needlessly punishes students who often need federal assistance the most. NASDCTEc and its partners in the CTE community urge Congress to address this oversight as the reauthorization process continues.

An archived webcast of the hearing can be found here. The Senate HELP committee announced today another HEA hearing, this time on accreditation and is scheduled for December 12th next week. Check our blog for updates as this process continues to unfold.

Budget Conference Committee Nears a Deal

With the December 13th deadline fast approaching, members of the budget conference committee have kept a possible deal on the budget mostly under wraps. The committee, formed as part of the deal which ended the most recent government shutdown, originally envisioned a larger budget agreement which would have incorporated tax and entitlement reform along with additional tax revenue. Details of a possible deal have been emerging, one that would be much smaller in scope and size. No topline number for discretionary spending— known as a 302(a) allocation— has been agreed to yet, which would put an overall cap on discretionary spending for FY 2014.

Sources close to the committee have said it will likely fall somewhere  near $1 trillion, putting it directly between the $967 level supported by Republicans and the $1.058 trillion level pushed by Democrats.  A higher cap on discretionary spending would replace some, but not all of the sequester cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) for FY14 and FY15 to a lesser extent. NASDCTEc will continue to update the CTE community on the progress of these negotiations as details of an agreement become clearer.

Education Secretary Speaks at ACTE Conference

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the keynote speaker at the Association for Career Technical Education’s (ACTE) annual conference on Wednesday. The Secretary organized his remarks around the Obama Administration’s 2012 Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education and on the Education Department’s (ED) recent creation of the Youth CareerConnect competitive grant program in conjunction with the Department of Labor. Secretary Duncan reiterated ED’s CTE priorities for the reauthorization of Perkins saying, “these grants are designed to complement, not replace, the Perkins Blueprint. We plan to make up to forty grants, on an ambitious timeline. We expect to announce the awards early next year.” More information on this program, including the deadline which is in late January 2014, can be found here.

House Considers Reauthorization of the COMPETES Act

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing last month to consider the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 111-358). COMPETES was last reauthorized in 2010 and supports investment in scientific research as well as requiring better federal coordination of its STEM programs. The subcommittee had witnesses testify and provide feedback on a discussion draft of legislation titled Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act which is part of the broader reauthorization effort for the COMPETES Act.

The draft legislation is similar in purpose to the Obama Administration’s FY14 budget request, which proposed a reorganization of existing STEM education programs within the federal government through the consolidation or elimination of 120 existing programs, bringing the total number of federal STEM education programs to 110. According to the subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN), the discussion draft, “improves coordination for federal STEM programs and recognizes the importance of industry investment in outcome-oriented STEM education efforts.” Members of the committee emphasized that the draft legislation was still in the early stages of development and that amendments and other changes to it were likely. Check back at our blog as these reauthorization efforts progress.

Commerce Secretary Announces New Departmental Focus

Last month Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced a new policy agenda for the Commerce Department after a four-month “listening tour” where the Secretary met with hundreds of business representatives across the country. For the first time in its history, skills will be a core priority for the department. According to Secretary Pritzker, “too many jobs are going unfilled when millions of Americans are still looking for work.” In an effort to better address this skills gap she argued that better coordination between her Department and the Departments of Education and Labor would, “better align federal funding for workforce development to support demand-driven skills training.” NASDCTEc supports the Commerce Department’s encouraging steps towards prioritizing skills training and looks forward to their future work in the area. The Secretary’s full speech can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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