DC Shuttle: Congress Working to Reauthorize K-12 Law, Reward Early Learning, Protect Internet Privacy

On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee advanced the first bill (H.R. 1891) in a planned series of education reform legislation. Under the bill, which was approved along party lines (23-16), $400 million in funding for over 40 education programs created under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would be repealed. Republican supporters of the bill, sponsored by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), believe that the named programs are duplicative or ineffective. Democrats on the House panel were united against the bill, with Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) concerned that eliminating programs now might hinder reform efforts further down the line. Once the $400 million is returned to the treasury, he argued, it would be difficult to recover to support needed education programs. One program originally slated for elimination would be preserved under an approved amendment: reauthorization for the Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) program passed in a close 20-19 vote with 3 Republicans in support. Other amendments to retain funding for one or more programs or for categories of programs including literacy and teacher training were rejected. On the Senate side, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Wednesday that he has had a series of “fruitful” negotiations with his Republican counterparts over the last several months, and believes that “we should be able to find middle ground” on reauthorization of ESEA. A spokesperson for the Education Department said that the Administration is “worried that time is running out to pass a bipartisan bill by the start of next school year,” but is still “committed to using all of our resources” to support the reform effort.
Of the $700 million dedicated to the Administration’s Race to the Top grant program this year, $500 million will be used for the Early Learning Challenge, which provides grants for early learning and preschool programs at the state level. A Department of Education press release said that the grants will “reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development.” The increased focus and the shift from district-based to state-based grants are reactions to reduced funding for Race to the Top in spending bills passed earlier this year. The remaining $200 million in funding will be available for the nine Race to the Top finalist states which did not receive funding in the program’s first round, none of which are in New England.

Congressmen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-TX) have drafted letters requesting information on privacy policies from the College Board and ACT Inc. Specifically, the letters express concern about the collection and disclosure of personal information from students who take the SAT and ACT tests administered by the organizations. The lawmakers introduced a bill (H.R. 1895) together earlier this month to enhance teen privacy protections online, but it would not apply to nonprofit organizations. Under the bill, the collection of personal and geographic data from 13-year-old to 17-year-old internet users would be curtailed, and could not be used for marketing purposes.

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, May 31, 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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