For the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS-ED) communities, last week was busy to say the least. Congressional appropriators in both the House and the Senate marked up and ultimately approved two separate appropriations bills for the Labor-HHS-ED portion of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 federal budget—an accomplishment not seen in several years despite intense partisan disagreement over the funding levels constraining each proposal. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Carl D. Perkins Act (Perkins) both derive funding from these funding bills which would need to be reconciled and ultimately signed into law by the President before becoming law. However, both bills propose to stay within the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) sequester caps— self-imposed overall limits on how much Congress can spend on the programs falling under this and other portions of the budget.
These sequester caps have been at the center of much partisan disagreement since 2013 when they were first triggered. Democrats would like to see these caps raised in order to make much needed investments in education and related programs while Republicans largely want to stay within the caps or offset additional investments with related cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Without changes to the underlying BCA legislation— something that the 2014 Ryan-Murray budget agreement achieved for FY’s 2014 and 2015— funding levels for the majority of programs will stagnate and be at risk of further cuts for FY 2016 and many years to come.
In light of this, the House Appropriations Committee approved their FY 2016 Labor-HHS-ED bill on a vote of 30-21. As we shared earlier, the bill would reduce ED’s discretionary budget by $2.8 billion dollars—a cut that would bring the Department’s overall discretionary budget back to FY 2004 funding levels. Final approval of this bill also gave further clarity to what lawmakers intend for the Perkins Act. While Perkins basic state grants would remain level-funded at the same amounts the program received in FY 2015, the bill would reduce Perkins’ national activities funding by $3.6 million dollars. The bill also contains a number of policy riders (both education related and otherwise) such as prohibiting ED from enforcing its recently upheld “gainful employment” regulations and its proposed college ratings system, a move that when taken together with the bill’s overall proposed funding levels virtually guarantees that the proposal will not be signed by the President.
In the Senate, the Appropriations committee moved quickly throughout the week to get a Labor-HHS-ED bill through subcommittee and to a final vote by its full membership. Approving the bill on a 16-14 vote along party lines, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill would cut ED’s discretionary budget by $1.36 billion. Like the House, the Senate would cut Perkins national activities by $3 million and level-fund Perkins state grants at $1.117 billion—the same amounts the program has received in FY 2014 and 2015. While these figures reflect a nearly 96 percent restoration of the FY 2013 sequester cuts imposed on Perkins, the program on the whole remains well below what it received in FY 2010 and approximately $5.4 million below pre-sequester levels.
Despite the gloomy outlook for most of the education community, the central issue in the ongoing funding debate in Congress centers on the BCA sequester caps. As lawmakers struggle to meet the needs of students and families across the country, more will need to be done to raise or eliminate these caps. Until that happens, federal investments in education, and in particular CTE, will continue to stagnate until Congress decides to act. With Congress poised to pass the necessary 12 spending bills needed to fund the government before the August recess, and with Congressional Democrats and the President making clear that they will not support the funding levels contained in these proposals, it remains unclear how this appropriations fight will play out as the end of FY 2015 on September 30th looms ever closer.
Be sure to check back here for more updates on the Congressional appropriations process and what that means for the wider CTE community.
Obama Administration Changes Direction with College Ratings Framework
Late last week the Obama Administration announced a major revision to their proposed accountability-based college ratings system originally due for release later this summer. When first announced, ED solicited public comments on the proposal and NASDCTEc, along with the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE), provided feedback on the feasibility of the initiative. Many stakeholder groups within the higher education community shared substantial concerns regarding the viability of the effort and questioned the appropriate role and responsibilities Ed should have in ensuring access to and affordability of postsecondary education.
In light of these comments Jamienne Studley, ED’s Deputy Under Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, announced that the Department’s original proposal—which would have “rated” postsecondary institutions into three wide-ranging categories of low, medium, and high performing and tied federal financial aid decisions to that determination— would now be revised to be a public-facing consumer information tool, providing prospective students and their families with a information regarding postsecondary institutions in order for them to make more informed decisions when making choices about their postsecondary education.
This proposal has been a source of much partisan discomfort in Congress, particularly in the House where the most recent Labor-HHS-ED appropriations bill included additional provisions that would have prevented the Administration from implementing the system. Read the House Education and Workforce Committee’s response to the announcement here.
ED plans to have the newly reimagined system available for public use by the end of the summer. Learn more about the effort here.
This announcement comes on the heels of another major development for the Administration’s higher education agenda. Last Tuesday, the U.S. District Court of D.C. ruled that ED’s “gainful employment” regulations can be implemented as scheduled on July 1st, 2015 after several lawsuits from for-profit and private institution trade groups challenged the premise of the new rules. The regulations will require career education programs to meet specific debt-to-income ratios for graduates based on their annual and discretionary income following program exit.
This is ED’s second attempt at implementing these regulations and this latest ruling paves the way for the rules ultimate adoption later this week. Read Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s formal response applauding the court’s ruling here.
President Obama Expands Presidential Scholars Program
As we shared last week, President Obama signed Executive Order 11155—a decree that will expand the existing Presidential Scholars program to include up to 20 CTE students each year moving forward. While the details of the CTE component to the program are still being determined, beginning in the 2015-16 school year, the Chief State School Officers will nominate CTE scholars who will then be selected by the Commission on Presidential Scholars. Tomorrow, the White House will play host to another CTE-related event where additional details regarding the announcement are expected. Learn more about this exciting development here.
Odds & Ends
- Following the July 4th Congressional recess, the Senate has announced that on July 7th the Chamber will take up its consideration of the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177)— legislation to reauthorization the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
- Last Wednesday, the Senate CTE Caucus hosted a briefing on CTE’s role in middle school. The event explored issues impacting CTE in the middle grades and provided a platform for Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to speak about his recent reintroduction of the Middle STEP Act—legislation that NASDCTEc has supported and endorsed for the past two years. Learn more about the bill here.
- The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is out with a useful factsheet on recently introduced House and Senate legislation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The document focuses on each of the bills’ provisions regarding the collection of student unit record data— a feature NASDCTEc has advocated in future HEA legislation. Read the factsheet here.
- ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is out with a new report titled the “Evolution and Potential of Career Pathways”. The report is part of OCATE’s wider ‘CTE within career pathways’ initiative in conjunction with Jobs for the Future (JFF). Read the report here.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager