HELP Committee examines NCLB waivers. On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and State Flexibility Waivers. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified. Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sharply criticized the administration for granting NCLB waivers to states that shift towards policies that the administration favors. At this time, 34 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers and more may request waivers before the Feb. 28 deadline. Sen. Alexander said Tennessee had to negotiate for seven months to receive a waiver and write a 700-page proposal that suited the administration. Democrats expressed support for the waivers, and Secretary Duncan testified that ideas for broader education reform and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) can be taken from the proposals developed by states. The waiver proposals have shown a shift in state’s policies towards increased focus on accountability systems with multiple measurements including student achievement, graduation rates, dropout rates and standardized test scores—policies that the Obama administration has endorsed. Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) praised the waivers for making districts focus on early childhood education.
Hearing on education challenges. On Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing entitled “School and Workplace Challenges and Opportunities.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert testified that more programs were needed to train and educate Americans to fill the jobs of the modern workforce. He said that currently, students were not getting the education they needed to obtain the jobs that are available. He said that STEM education could help remedy the problem. Laura Fornash, Virginia Secretary of Education, said that additional federal funding was needed in higher education to ensure that students graduate with the necessary credentials and to open access to more individuals. She added that aid should be made simpler and more transparent. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) raised concerns over the potential impact on schools from mandates and penalties in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He said the ACA will impose costs on schools, potentially causing them to cut employees’ hours to avoid offering them insurance, which could affect the quality of education.
R&D hearing. On Wednesday, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held its first hearing of the 113th Congress on the role of research and development in competitiveness. The federal government funds about $140 billion of research and development (R&D) annually; witnesses discussed how these investments could have the greatest impact. The hearing addressed the need for public and private funding. Private industry currently funds over 60% of R&D in America. Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) said “other nations are changing their policies to become more competitive, and so should we.” He said he intends for the Science, Space, and Technology Committee to take the lead on legislation to provide direction on federal R&D spending and STEM education. He said the committee aims “not only to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics but also to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields. The committee will set priorities for the National Science Foundation and other federal research agencies, including STEM education initiatives.” He added that “the top priorities of the committee will be to promote legislation that encourages scientific discoveries, space exploration and the development of new technologies.” Democrats on the committee, including Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), proposed conducting hearings on climate concerns, but those proposals were voted down.
Survey on higher education. On Tuesday, Gallup released the results of its latest survey of the public’s opinion of higher education. The survey results suggests that most Americans believe having a degree or certificate beyond high school is important, while only about a quarter think that it is affordable.
As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of Feb. 11, 2013.
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.