DC Shuttle: Congress Considers Charter Schools, Workforce Investment, Manufacturing … and Other Higher Ed News from Washington

On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the second of five total planned bills on federal education reform for the 112th Congress. By a vote of 34 to 5, the committee advanced legislation (H.R. 2218) which would allow governors, state education agencies, and charter school boards to parcel out funding to expand or duplicate successful charter schools. States without caps on the number of charter schools or student enrolled in charter schools would receive funding priority, and the grant period would be expanded from three to five years. Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) said that he intends for the legislation to “help replicate what is working in schools… and to prepare every student to compete in our global economy.” Congressman John Tierney (D-MA) voted against the bill, citing concerns about insufficient oversight and disclosure to ensure programs are equally accessible to all students. Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) says that he hopes to have all five bills passed by the House this fall, in time to implement changes before the stringent “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) requirements of the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law come into effect in 2014. Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimated that 82 percent of the nation’s schools will qualify as “failing” the AYP this year, a drastic increase from 37 percent last year.  Congressman Kline acknowledged that meeting his deadline would be a difficult feat, considering that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has yet to release a draft of their comprehensive education reform legislation. The Senate’s legislative effort is expected to be markedly different from the House version.
Congressman Kline joined Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA) in questioning the Administration’s authority to grant waivers for NCLB requirements to states which agree to implement certain education reforms. In a letter to Secretary Duncan, the congressmen asked that he provide additional information about his waiver plan and “an explanation of the department’s legal authority for requiring states and schools to abide by certain changes in exchange for regulatory relief” by July 1. They add that the waiver initiative “could result in greater regulations and confusion for schools and less transparency for parents.” Secretary Duncan announced his “Plan B” to offer waivers if Congress fails to pass education reform by the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year earlier this month, but has not gone into specifics. A spokesperson for Secretary Duncan said that the plan does comply with current law.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced legislation this week to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA)—something she and HELP Committee Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) have been working toward for two years. The measure enjoys wide support within the HELP Committee; Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and committee member Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have also signed on. Sen. Murray hopes the bill will result in more focus on business sectors promoting job growth throughout the education system. “If kids in high school know that there are going to be health care jobs available in their community, they start thinking in different terms about being successful in high school because there’s a job at the end of it,” she said. The legislation would submit all federal job training programs to a common set of standards measuring retention rates, job placement, and new measures like how many enrollees receive an industry-recognized credential. Sen. Murray expressed confidence that the bill will win bipartisan support in a HELP Committee vote next week and ultimately in the Senate, although she acknowledged that a budget-conscious environment could chip away at WIA’s current $3 billion funding level, making changes even more difficult to implement.

On Friday, President Obama announced a $500 million initiative to create new manufacturing jobs. The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership will combine the work of research universities and private companies to innovate new manufacturing techniques. “Investing in manufacturing based on new technologies can provide high-quality, good-paying jobs for American workers,” said Eric Lander, co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The manufacturing effort is based on recommendations from the council, which include increased federal investment in shared university research facilities and expanded partnerships between industry and academia. Six universities have been invited to join the program’s first wave, including MIT. While the program details have not been completely ironed out yet, some projects have already been identified. $100 million will be allotted to the Materials Genome Initiative, which aims to facilitate the discovery and implementation of new advanced materials. The White House notes that this will require an “unprecedented level of collaboration among all stakeholders, including government, industry, academia, professional societies, and national labs.”

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, June 27, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and will publish this column each week.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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