Legislative Update: The Road Ahead for FY22, Guidance for Postsecondary and CTE included in Discretionary Grant Priorities

Over the last two weeks Congress has continued to debate Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) appropriations as the Senate advances a key Career Technical Education (CTE) nominee out of committee. In addition, the U.S. Treasury Department (Treasury) issued a final rule for $350 billion in coronavirus pandemic aid to states and localities, while other federal agencies make important announcements related to broadband funding, updated guidance for postsecondary institutions, new discretionary grant priorities, and efforts to overhaul higher education regulations. 

Lawmakers Still Seeking a Path Forward on the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget

Last autumn, Congressional lawmakers were unable to find agreement on full-year funding for FY22 which began on October 1, 2021. Since that time, Congress has passed a series of short-term funding extensions of current fiscal year 2021 funding levels to continue federal government operations past this date. The most recent of these measures, known as a continuing resolution (CR), is set to expire on February 18. To avert a government shutdown and lapse in appropriations for programs like the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), lawmakers have continued to negotiate a longer-term funding package to cover the remainder of FY22.

Despite the need for full-year funding, the pathway forward for lawmakers to complete work on FY22 funding remains unclear. Last week the top four lawmakers in Congress responsible for appropriations formally met for the first time since last November. These appropriations leaders emerged from the meeting calling the talks “constructive” and striking a tentatively optimistic tone regarding the likelihood of a full-year FY22 funding bill. Rep. DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, briefed House Democrats this week on these talks, insisting that the current February 18 deadline is still the goal for wrapping up current negotiations. As these efforts get more fully underway, Advance CTE will continue to work with Congress to ensure that the FY22 appropriations process meets the significant funding needs of the CTE community.

Senate HELP Committee Advances CTE Nominee

Last Thursday, January 13, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee re-considered the nominations of several Biden Administration nominees, including Dr. Amy Loyd, to serve as the next Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Career, Adult, and Technical Education (OCTAE). While the HELP Committee approved Loyd similarly last year, the full Senate did not formally confirm her prior to the end of the first session of the current 117th Congress. As a consequence, President Biden was required to re-nominate Loyd for this position in the new year. Following a short discussion, the committee approved Loyd’s nomination by voice vote, advancing her for consideration by the full Senate sometime in the near future. Advance CTE has endorsed Dr. Loyd’s nomination and looks forward to a swift confirmation process later this year. 

Treasury Department Finalizes ARP Rule 

Earlier this month the Treasury Department announced that it had finalized and adopted a rule for implementing the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF). The $350 billion SLFRF provides financial support to state, local, and Tribal governments to help with their responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Among other eligible uses of these funds, recipients may use these resources for “responding to negative economic impacts,” caused by the public health crisis. In the final rule Treasury has made clear that workforce development activities for eligible individuals will be an eligible use of these funds. Earlier today, January 21, President Biden strongly emphasized this allowable use of funding to the nation’s Mayors, saying in part, “I urge every Mayor in America to  . . . use your [SLFRF resources] to build pathways to better jobs, through [apprenticeship programs] and on-the-job training . . . to give people in every zip code a chance to deal themselves into this booming economy.” The Department also enumerated several other potential eligible uses of these funds, including for K-12 schools, broadband connectivity, and early learning. The final rule goes into effect April 1, 2022 and can be viewed here. A related overview can be found here

ED Includes CTE in Discretionary Grant Priorities 

As we have shared previously, ED recently published the agency’s final supplemental priorities and definitions for discretionary grant programs in the Federal Register. These priorities will be used by ED to guide decisions regarding specific policy areas and related needs that will be prioritized as part of discretionary grant competitions in the future. Advance CTE submitted comments to the Department ahead of this announcement, requesting that CTE be more prominently embedded as part of these priorities. With regards to the ED’s second priority–  Promoting Equity in Student Access to Educational Resources and Opportunities– the Department has now included CTE as an important dimension for projects seeking to promote equitable access to educational opportunities. 

FCC Launches Seventh Wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund Commitments

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a seventh wave of funding commitments totaling over $361 million as part of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). The $7.2 billion ECF program was authorized as part of the ARP passage last year and allows eligible schools and libraries to apply for financial support to purchase connected devices like laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity to serve unmet needs of students, school staff, and library patrons at home during the ongoing pandemic. Securing initial funding for the ECF was one of Advance CTE’s top legislative priorities over the past year as a key way to respond to the Homework Gap. This round of commitments will support 802 schools, 49 libraries, and 8 consortia to receive nearly 654,000 internet-capable devices and over 313,000 broadband connections. More information on the announcement can be found here

ED Announces New Details for Negotiated Rulemaking

ED recently publicized plans for its next round of negotiated rulemaking to make changes to several rules governing programs authorized by the Higher Education Act. This round of negotiated rulemaking is intended to focus thematically on the issue of accountability within higher education. Over the next few months the Department hopes to address a number of issues in this space including gainful employment regulations, 90/10 calculations, and ability to benefit provisions among others. A full list of negotiators, related issue briefs, and other materials are available here. The first negotiation sessions began this week, with negotiators unanimously voting to add an additional civil rights representative to the panel while rejecting a proposal to add an additional negotiator slot for for-profit postsecondary institutions. 

ED Issues New HEERF Guidance and Makes New Funding Available 

On Thursday, January 20, ED published updated guidance for implementing and making use of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF)– resources that were provided to postsecondary institutions as part of the ARP legislation to help support their recovery. The updated guidance clarifies several frequently asked questions including articulating additional uses of these funds and how best to support learners’ needs more holistically. The new guidance can be found here

At the same time as ED published this guidance, First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited Bergen Community College in New Jersey to announce the availability of nearly $200 million in additional competitive funding for postsecondary institutions via HEERF. Community colleges and postsecondary institutions in rural areas that serve high percentages of low-income learners and have experienced declines in enrollment will be given priority for this latest tranche of funding. Institutions applying for these resources are encouraged to address students’ basic needs, particularly in ways aligned to the new guidance noted above, to reduce barriers to success for more learners.

Steve Voytek, Policy Advisor

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