September 30th is quickly approaching and with it an end to the current 2015 federal Fiscal Year (FY). With only 12 legislative days left on the Congressional calendar until this deadline and the Congressional August recess set to begin later this week, lawmakers and the Obama Administration are still grappling with how to fund the federal government beginning on October 1st—the first official day of FY 2016.
Congressional appropriations committees in both the House and the Senate successfully passed the 12 necessary funding bills to fund federal programs—an achievement not seen in over six years and aided by unified Republican control of both Chambers of Congress. Despite this accomplishment, these funding bills all adhere to the Budget Control Act of 2011’s (BCA) statutorily mandated ‘sequester caps’ that dramatically reduce funding for many domestic programs, including education and relatedly the Carl D. Perkins Act (Perkins) which would receive approximately $3.6 million in reduced funding for national activities while providing level funding for the law’s state grant program.
These caps significantly limit the amount of funding available for all federal discretionary programs, severely impacting education and other domestic spending priorities that are dear to Congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration. As such, lawmakers and the White House have been in a protracted stand-off over how to fund the federal government later this fall.
As September quickly approaches, the likelihood of another ‘Continuing Appropriations Resolution’ (CR) is rapidly increasing. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded as much at a recent press conference saying, “it’s pretty clear given the number of days we have here in September that we’re going to have to do a CR of some sort.”
In response to the gridlock, nearly all Congressional Democrats, and an increasing amount of Republicans, have begun to call for a broader budget deal outside the scope of the normal appropriations process. Such a deal could address the underlying problem of the sequester caps, even temporarily, to relieve some of the fiscal pressures created by the BCA. Much like what the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 did for the previous two fiscal years, an agreement later this year would be the best case scenario for making much needed investments in education and workforce development programs possible, particularly for the Perkins Act.
NASDCTEc remains committed to this type of agreement and we encourage the CTE community to urge members of Congress to tackle this challenge head-on, rather than passing stop-gap measures such as a CR at the expense of longer term agreements that allow for greater investments in critically important programs such as the Perkins Act. Be sure to check back here for more updates and analysis as things continue to play out on Capitol Hill.
Congress Pivots to Higher Ed
As we’ve shared previously, both education committees in the House and the Senate have prioritized the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in this Congress. Due for reauthorization since 2013 and extended to this year for further consideration, the law governs nearly all federal financial aid programs for postsecondary education. Issues such institutional accreditation, supporting innovation in postsecondary education, financial aid risk sharing, the role of consumer information and data, and campus sexual assault have all been the subject of hearings and discussions in both Chambers as lawmakers gear up for the law’s renewal.
In the Senate, HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced four staff-level working groups earlier this year focused on four key areas that they hope to address in the upcoming reauthorization process: accountability, accreditation, college affordability / financial aid, and campus sexual assault / safety. It is hoped that these groups can work through these issues on a bipartisan basis prior to the committee and later the full chamber considering full reauthorization legislation.
More recently, the Committee held a hearing exploring barriers to innovation in postsecondary education. Members focused on the role that regulations (and at times overregulation) have in stymieing innovation within the higher education system, how to address current funding structures that are tied to the credit hour in order to better support competency-based learning programs, and the need to expand HEA’s experimental sites initiative to allow for more experimentation, among other topics. More on the hearing can be found here.
In the House, members of the Education and Workforce (HEW) Committee introduced a series of four bipartisan higher education bills that they hope to piece together later on to form the basis for their proposal for the law’s renewal. These bills seek to simplify the student aid process, improve consumer access to relevant data and information to make informed decisions on where to go to school, and strengthen loan counseling to improve students’ financial literacy when making decisions about their financial aid. Of particular note is the Flexible Pell Grant for 21st Century Students Act (H.R. 3180) introduced by Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) which would reinstate “year-round” Pell Grants for qualifying students in accelerated programs—a move NASDCTEc supports in future HEA legislation. More on that bill can be found here and information related to the all of the bills is located here.
The Obama Administration has also repositioned itself ahead of possible HEA consideration. Speaking at UMBC earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on HEA which encouraged the higher education community to not just focus on the rising specters of college debt and cost, but also on student outcomes and educational quality. More on his remarks can be found here.
Lawmakers Seek to Give FERPA a Facelift
The Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157) was recently introduced by Reps. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) of the HEW Committee. The bill seeks to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by barring schools and private companies from selling student information, creating minimum data security protocols, and allowing parents greater access and control over their child’s information. The legislation is one of several proposals from both Chambers of Congress that seek to modernize the law to reflect changes in the digital education landscape. At present, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) enforces provisions under FERPA governing how companies handle student data. However, competing proposals in the Senate would hand that responsibility over to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce these rules more vigorously.
Odds & Ends
USDE and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) are requesting public comment on proposed templates and data definitions for performance information required under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The comment period is open for 60 days and must be submitted by September 21 at: www.regulations.gov (Docket ID is ETA-2015-0007). Last week marked WIOA’s first birthday.
The final text of the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) was released this week. The bill is the Chamber’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and now bicameral negotiations are about to begin to reconcile it with the House’s ESEA proposal the Student Success Act (H.R. 5). More information on the debate can be found here and a great breakdown of where key issues stand in the wider discussion can be found here.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager