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Spending Bills Continue to Take Shape, OVAE Continues PIAAC Engagement Process

January 10th, 2014

CapitolAs we shared in our last update, Congressional budget negotiators successfully came to a two year agreement on federal spending levels in late December. The agreement, known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA), sets overall discretionary spending levels at $1.012 trillion and reduces sequester cuts by approximately one-third— $63 billion in sequester relief split evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending over the next two years. Education programs— such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins) — fall under the NDD section of the budget and are set to receive an additional $24 billion in funding for fiscal year 2014.

However, this agreement was only the first step in the larger federal budget and appropriations process. Congressional appropriators must now craft the 12 individual appropriations bills— one for each of the appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate—  to fund the various departments, agencies, and programs which account for the entire discretionary side of the federal budget. These 12 spending bills will then be put into a larger omnibus bill, which will then need to be passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. It is important to note that the most current Continuing Resolution (CR), which at present is funding the federal government, expires on January 15th. With this deadline fast approaching, House Republican leaders have announced a short-term three day extension of this CR to provide adequate time for passage of the larger omnibus spending bill next week.

Of these twelve spending bills, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, from which the Perkins Act draws its funding, is still being negotiated. Appropriators are still deciding how to best to distribute their portion of the $24 billion in discretionary sequester relief among the many programs under their jurisdiction and a final agreement is expected soon. NASDCTEc and ACTE recently sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the appropriations subcommittees, urging them to restore funding for the Perkins Act to pre-sequestration levels. As this process continues, please check back here for updates and analysis on how the Perkins Act and the CTE community will be impacted by this process.

OVAE Continues PIAAC Engagement Process

Last November, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released results from its Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) which found that one in six American adults lack basic skills in literacy and numeracy. In a report titled “Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says,” the OECD found that the U.S. lags behind the international average for basic skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving.

To combat these troubling findings, the Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) launched an engagement process to better understand these challenges and to help develop a national strategy to reverse these trends. On Wednesday Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, hosted the third of a planned total of five regional engagement sessions, the latest taking place in Redwood City, California. Dann-Messier and her office hope to gather feedback from communities across the country to develop a response to the OECD report and have planned two additional visits to Cleveland, MS and Boston, MA in the coming months.

Additional information regarding OVAE’s engagement process can be found here.

Senate Passes Budget Deal, BLS Releases New Employment Projections

December 20th, 2013

CapitolOn Wednesday, the Senate passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA) by a vote of 64-36 sending the measure to President Obama who is expected to sign the bill into law sometime this week. This is the first budget bill successfully passed by both chambers of Congress since 2009 and establishes overall spending levels for the next two years. As we shared last week, the deal reduces FY14 and FY15 sequester cuts by approximately $63 billion. These reductions are paid in part by increased airline fees, pension benefit cuts for federal workers, and a two-year extension of parts of the current sequester past the original 2021 expiration date.

It is important to note that the BBA only sets a top line budget number, or 302(a) allocation, which puts into place a FY14 funding cap of $1.012 trillion for all discretionary spending. Congressional appropriators must still craft 12 individual spending bills— known as 302(b) allocations— to fund the various agencies, departments, and programs that compose much of the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Education and the appropriations bill that funds the Perkins Act. It is hoped that House and Senate Appropriations Committees can incorporate the individual spending measures into a larger omnibus bill before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on January 15, 2014.

As the appropriations process continues, NASDCTEc and its partners in the Career Technical Education (CTE) community are actively seeking a restoration of the $58 million sequester reduction sustained by Perkins. Please check our blog in the coming weeks as this process continues.

BLS Releases New Employment Projections

Yesterday, The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released updated employment projections for 2012 to 2022. Total employment over the next decade is projected to increase by 10.8 percent or 15.6 million with occupations in the Health Science and Human Services Career Clusters® accounting for much of that growth. When taking into account replacement needs— the need to replace workers who permanently leave their occupation or retire— total job openings are projected to be 50.6 million during this period with replacement needs accounting for over two-thirds of that figure.

These projections are essential to planning one’s future educational and career goals. For instance, in 2012 approximately one-third of all jobs in the U.S. required some form of postsecondary education. Yet between 2012 and 2022, close to two-thirds of the occupations projected to grow the fastest will require some form of postsecondary education. Moreover, occupations typically requiring apprenticeships are expected to grow by over 22 percent. The full press release from BLS can be found here.

As these trends continue, the need for some form of postsecondary education or additional training beyond a high school diploma will become even more pronounced. CTE programs are vital to preparing students for these rapidly changing requirements for entry into the workforce. Through rigorous coursework and experiential learning opportunities, CTE programs across the country are preparing students to meet the needs of the 21st century economy.

OMB Releases Super Circular

Yesterday the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Uniform Guidance: Cost Principles, Audit, and Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards or “Super Circular” as it is more commonly known for public inspection on the Federal Register. The Super Circular marks OMB’s latest attempt to streamline the administration of grants and awards by the federal government through the consolidation of eight other OMB circulars into one. The full text can be found here. The finalized guidelines and rules are expected to be published on December 26, 2013.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Gainful Employment Negotiators Meet, Budget Deal Moves to the Senate

December 13th, 2013

CapitolToday the Department of Education’s (ED) negotiated rulemaking committee wraps up the third round of negotiations on newly proposed regulations and stricter standards regarding “gainful employment” for vocational education programs at community colleges and for-profit institutions. As we shared last year, an earlier effort by ED to establish rules concerning debt repayment and “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” were struck down by a D.C. district court. The ruling, a victory for many for-profits, preserved ED’s authority to make such rules, but made clear that any new regulations must have clearer justification. These regulations impact postsecondary students’ ability to use federal financial aid at an institution considered to be failing under the proposed guidelines.

Negotiations between representatives of for-profits institutions, community colleges, and other relevant stakeholders are discussing ED’s most recent set of regulations which are somewhat different than its much stricter proposal sent out last month. This latest set of rules no longer evaluates programs on loan portfolio repayment rates and also drops the 40 percent cohort default rate detailed in our update last month. Instead graduates of programs whose loan payments comprise 30 percent or more of discretionary income or 12 percent of total income would fail. A program default rate of 30 percent or more for three consecutive years would also fail under these new proposed regulations. In addition to these changes, programs which fall within ranges close to failure would be required to send students, prior to enrollment, a written warning informing students that their ability to use federal financial aid at their institution is in jeopardy and that their program may not fully prepare them to pay off the amount of debt they are likely to incur.

These more stringent regulations would affect 11,735 programs and 13 percent of that figure would fail under these new rules. ED has released a summary of how many programs would be impacted under this proposal which can be found here. It is important to note that the committee’s final guidance is non-binding and ED can still move forward on new gainful employment rules with or without consensus from the committee. An overview of the rules can be found here and the draft can be found here. Please check our blog for more updates as this process continues.

Budget Deal Update

Yesterday, the House passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA) the details of which we shared on Wednesday. The bill sets total discretionary spending levels to $1.012 trillion for FY14 and substitutes $63 billion of sequester cuts over the next two years. The House overwhelming supported the two-year budget agreement on a 332-94 vote and it has now moved on to the Senate where it is pending consideration. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday next week and President Obama has indicated that he will sign it into law.

NASDCTEc applauds this initial first step by Congress to inject much needed certainty into the budget process and to partially reverse a portion of the highly damaging sequester cuts. However, further Congressional action is still needed to more fully address the federal disinvestment in education programs over the past several years. At a time when the American economy is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, restoring funding to Career Technical Education (CTE) programs is critically important to safeguarding the economic vitality of the United States for years to come.

JPMorgan Chase Announces New Job Skills Program

Yesterday, JPMorgan Chase unveiled a five-year $250 million initiative that seeks to address the United States’ skills gap— a problem the IMF says accounts for approximately one-third of the current unemployment rate. The New Skills at Work initiative was announced in D.C. in conjunction with the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel and hosted by the Aspen Institute. “Addressing the skills gap can be one of our most powerful tools for reducing unemployment and creating more broadly shared prosperity” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told those in attendance. The initiative will invest $50 million annually over the next five years in metropolitan areas across the United States and Europe and will fund research and training programs to improve upon existing workforce development and educational efforts in these areas.

One such proposal, “Workforce Readiness Gap Reports”, would help facilitate data-driven investments by producing detailed reports on regional labor markets and identify areas where there are skill shortages. It is hoped that eventually these reports will help guide workforce investment decisions and allow employers to better communicate the specific skills they are currently seeking. New Skills at Work will also support successful training programs already in existence such as Chicago’s College to Careers program (among other such programs) and seek to improve upon those accomplishments. A list of specific grants and partnerships to be funded under New Skills at Work is expected in early 2014. More information on this new initiative can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Congressional Budget Conference Committee Reaches a Deal

December 11th, 2013

CapitolLate yesterday evening, the budget conference committee came to an agreement on the federal budget for the next two years. Co-chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the committee successfully crafted the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which amends by way of substitution the Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2014 (H.J.Res. 59) the stalled continuing resolution (CR) or short-term spending measure which failed in Congress earlier this fall. As we shared last week, the proposed deal would raise the allowable 2014 spending level to $1.012 trillion— a figure that falls directly between the $967 billion level supported by many Republicans and the $1.058 trillion level supported by many Democrats.

The agreement, which still needs to be approved by both chambers of Congress, replaces $63 billion of sequester cuts over the next two years. The deal provides $45 billion in sequester relief for FY14, split evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. This means that NDD programs will receive $22.5 billion this year above the existing sequester caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) accounting for an 87 percent restoration of total spending on domestic discretionary programs including education. In FY15, $9 billion will be allocated to NDD programs in much the same way, although aggregate spending caps for discretionary spending will not rise to the same degree as the previous year.

If passed, it is important to note that this budget deal only sets a top-line spending level known as a 302(a) allocation and would still require additional bicameral negotiations for the 12 necessary individual spending bills— or 302(b) allocations— to fully fund the federal government.  This gives House and Senate Appropriations Committees a little over a month to figure out how to divide up appropriations according to this new total.

While this agreement would provide significant relief from sequestration for FY14, it still does not address these mandated cuts to the same degree for FY15 and beyond. Nonetheless the deal, while far from perfect, is a good initial step from Congress to begin addressing the harmful effects sequestration has had on the CTE community and other NDD programs as a whole. A summary of the proposal can be found here and the full text of the agreement can be found here. Please check our blog for updates as this process continues.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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

December 6th, 2013

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 

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 

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: [email protected]

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 

 

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