Ed Budgets Face Testing Times

DC Shuttle …

Ed Department Budget Weighed. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified on the Department of Education’s fiscal year 2016 budget request at a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee. The administration has requested $70.7 billion in discretionary appropriations this fiscal year, up 5.4% from the previous year. Duncan broke down key components of the budget in his opening statement, including a $2.7 billion increase for Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs. Several of the lawmakers present stated their concerns about how sequestration would affect the education budget, including Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Cole, who also sits on the House Budget Committee, stated that sequestration might end this fiscal year but likely not before the appropriations process was over. In light of this budget situation, Cole opposed the decision of the department to focus resources on America’s College Promise, which would provide two years of free community college to responsible students. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), meanwhile, referred to the proposed program as a “social contract” which could help American students keep up with international competitors. Duncan defended this program, as well as the college ratings program. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) questioned the program, asking how the department could define what a good outcome would be for students.

ESEA Reauthorization On Hold. The Student Success Act, which would reauthorize the ESEA, was not considered last week after a scheduled vote was cancelled the preceding week. The vote was pulled in light of scheduling constraints due to the impending funding deadline of the Department of Homeland Security. Some sources say the bill might not have passed a vote at that point because of opponents on both sides of the aisle. Many conservative members of the Republican Party have stated their concerns with the bill, which also has widespread disapproval among Democrats. On the Senate side, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee stated their intentions to develop a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the ESEA in early February but have yet to introduce one. Education Week further explains the underlying politics behind the reauthorization.

Testing Controversy Heats Up. As students across the country prepare to take standardized tests, opponents are becoming increasingly vocal. Some parents are choosing to have their children sit out the Common Core-aligned exams in an effort to call attention to the time and resources spent on standardized testing. Testing has been one of the most controversial issues in the ESEA reauthorization debate so far and will likely remain so as more school districts prepare to administer standardized exams.

Teachers Take Stand Against Test-Based Evaluations. Unions across the country are turning to courts to determine if basing teacher evaluations on test scores is fair. As the Washington Post reports, unions in New Mexico and Tennessee are just the latest to follow this trend. Thirty-five states now require student achievements to be factored into teacher evaluations. The Obama administration has backed this policy, requiring any state that wants to be eligible for Race to the Top grant money or No Child Left Behind waivers to include test-based evaluations in teacher assessments. This topic is the subject of a recent New York Times debate, which includes educators and education experts.

New Hampshire Pilot Program to Reduce Testing Approved. The U.S. Department of Education approved a New Hampshire pilot program which aims to reduce standardized testing while still giving feedback to students, parents and teachers, according to a New Hampshire Department of Education press release. The program, called Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE), is the result of five-years of work by education officials. It will affect four school districts totaling 8,000 students.

158 Private Colleges Failed Financial Responsibility Test in 2013. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, data released by the Department of Education Thursday night shows that 158 private colleges failed the government’s financial responsibility test in 2013. Of the 158, 50 were for-profit and the rest were nonprofit. The scores were calculated by creating a single composite score for each institution by analyzing factors including debts, assets and operating surpluses or deficits.

More Schools Face Federal Investigation for Sexual Violence Reports. Four more institutions are now under investigation for their handling of sexual violence reports. The number is now over 100 for the first time since May, when the Department of Education started disclosing the list. According to the Washington Post, the first list named 55 institutions, a number that has been steadily increasing on subsequent releases.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of March 9, 2015. 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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