DC Shuttle: Dreaming and other Higher Ed News from Washington

On Friday, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced the first (H.R. 1891) of a series of education reform bills planned by the House Education and Workforce Committee. Congressman Hunter chairs the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, and his bill is aimed at reducing wasteful spending in K-12 education. The legislation would eliminate 43 education programs in order to “concentrate on education initiatives that have a track record of putting the needs of students first,” he said. House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) supports the bill, saying that “clearly, the problem isn’t how much money we spend on education, but how we’re spending it.” While House leadership has suggested that it may prove more feasible to move bills addressing individual issues, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee members have said that they still hope to craft bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to overhaul the No Child Left Behind law. However, HELP Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) missed his own recent deadline to release a draft of legislation, and the gap between a full re-write of the law and Congressman Kline’s planned piecemeal “fixes” suggest that education reform will not have an easy path through Congress this year.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office has expanded the list of fields allowing foreign graduates of American universities to remain in the U.S. for an additional year of training. Eligible students of the indicated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields would be permitted to apply for an Optional Practical Training extension, “helping to address shortages in certain high tech sectors of talented scientists and technology experts,” according to the ICE news release.

The announcement follows President Obama’s Tuesday speech on comprehensive immigration reform in El Paso, Texas. In his remarks, President Obama promised to make it easier for foreign students to stay in the U.S. after graduation. “In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses—not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans,” he said.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats re-introduced legislation, known as the DREAM Act, to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and are now attending school or serving in the U.S. military. The bill was rejected in the Senate on a 55-41 procedural vote last December, and even its most ardent supporters admit that it has little chance of advancing through the Republican majority in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he hoped there might be an opportunity to pass the legislation as a provision of a bill to expand the E-verify system which allows employers to ensure that their workers have legal immigration status. Expanding the E-verify system is a top priority of House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), although he has spoken against the DREAM Act.

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, May 16, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and will publish this column each week.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a non-partisan 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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