Obama Budget Holds Key Education Provisions; On Hill, Lawmakers Still Debating How to Leave No Child Behind

DC Shuttle …

Education Priorities in President Obama’s Budget. President Obama released his fiscal year 2016 budget request. Among his requests were many provisions for education.

For higher education, the budget proposals include:

  • Proposals to change some benefits in the income-based repayment program (IBR) for student loans
  • Tuition free community college for responsible students whose families make less than $200,000 (adjusted gross income)
  • An increase of $30 billion over 10 years for the Pell Grant program
  • Closing a loophole in veteran’s benefits which would prevent federal money given to for-profit colleges for veterans from counting in the 10% non-federal aid requirement for for-profit colleges
  • Bonuses for colleges based on their success with Pell Grant recipients
  • Simplification and expansion of education tax benefits
  • Simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

For early and secondary education, the budget proposals include:

  • Devoting $75 billion over 10 years for the Preschool for All Program
  • An increase of $115 million for IDEA Preschool Grants and Infants and Families Programs
  • An increase of $1 billion for Title I funds, which help states and districts meet the needs of low-income students, and the establishment of two pilot programs within Title I
  • An increase of $38 million for Title III funds, which help states and districts meet the needs of English Language Learners
  • Changes to teacher quality programs, including the creation of a new program called Teaching for Tomorrow, which would change how states recruit, support and retain quality teachers
  • Devoting $200 million to Education Technology State Grants, which aim to increase teacher supports for using technology in the classroom

Student Loans in the Budget.

Obama’s FY16 budget included important facts about student loan projections. The budget predicted that more than 25% of undergraduate Stafford loan (measured by dollars, not by loans) will default at some point during the repayment term, an increase of 2.5%. Other student loan categories show similar increases in projected default rates, including Parent PLUS loans. To learn more about these projections, see EdCentral. The president’s budget also revealed a $21.8 shortfall in the student loan program, as reported in Politico. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) alluded to this shortfall in introducing the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act. This bill would require federal student loan programs to use “fair-value accounting.”

House Education and Workforce Committee Starts Work on Education Issues. The House Education and Workforce Committee formally began work on updating the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which expired in 2007. Chair John Kline (R-MN) and Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chair Todd Rokita (R-IN) introduced the Student Success Act, which would replace NCLB. The proposed bill is similar to one which passed the House in July 2013 on a strict party-line vote, amid veto threats from the White House. At a committee hearing Wednesday, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) expressed his disappointment that Kline had chosen to introduce the bill without first holding a hearing. Said Scott, “Hearings provide the public with the opportunity to explore the research and evidence that is critical to the making of evidence-based policy decisions.” The committee was joined by two education witnesses, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and Michael Amiridis, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University of South Carolina. Pence mainly focused his testimony on Indiana’s expansion of occupational educations programs in high schools. He also stated his belief that, “education in this country is, and should be, primarily a state issue.” Amiridis testified on the rising costs of higher education and the need for increased flexibility in government aid.

House Democrats Hold Forum on No Child Left Behind. House Democrats held their own forum on revising the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. According to the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Democratic page, committee Democrats chose to hold this forum after Kline and Rokita reintroduced the Student Success Act “without holding a single committee hearing or seeking any input from Democrats.” The lawmakers present at the forum sought to discuss ways of revising NCLB that would continue to protect low-income and minority students. Some expressed concerns about a provision in the proposed Student Success Act that would allow federal dollars to follow low-income students to schools of their choice, saying it could hurt schools with high concentrations of poor students.

Secretary Duncan Opposes House NCLB Proposed Legislation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement opposing the Student Success Act, introduced by Kline and Rokita. Duncan said in the statement, “Unfortunately, Chairman Kline’s proposed legislation would allow cuts to school funding. It also fails to give teachers and the schools who need it most the resources they need. And it sends the message that ensuring a quality education for every child isn’t a national responsibility.”

Senate HELP Committee Holds Roundtable on NCLB. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a roundtable discussion with education experts. In his opening statement, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed optimism at the progress the committee had achieved thus far on NCLB, saying, “From my vantage point, generally speaking, we’re not far from reaching a consensus on the problems where we haven’t had a consensus.” He identified the area of accountability (in which he included testing) as one where further discussion is still needed. Both the chair and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed the need for innovative solutions to the problems facing our nation’s schools. Said Murray, “If we are serious about making progress on that goal [of improving education], we can’t get stuck doing the same things we’ve done in the past. It’s gonna take some new approaches and increased investments to make sure students are ready to take on the jobs of the 21st century.” The conversation among the panel and committee members mainly focused on ways to reform the testing and accountability mandates of NCLB.

Senate HELP Committee Announces Bipartisan Collaboration on NCLB Rewrite. Alexander and Murray released a joint statement announcing that they will begin a bipartisan effort to rewrite the NCLB Act. The statement said that they were working with each other’s staffs and that they expect to succeed in producing a bipartisan bill. Read more from Education Week.

Alexander Supports School Choice. Alexander supported the rights of parents to choose their children’s schools in a Q&A at the Brookings Institution. His remarks came during National School Choice Week, when the Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy released its Education Choice and Competition Index which explores the state of school choice across the country.

State Tests to be Administering this Year. As lawmakers in Congress continue to debate testing policies for future school years, states and school districts across the country are finalizing their test plans for this spring. According to Education Week, 18 states plan to use tests compiled by the Smarter Balance Consortium, 10 states and DC will use tests compiled by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and 21 states will use other tests. Massachusetts is the only state in the country which is allowing school districts to make their own testing plans this year. See the state-by-state breakdown here.

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 Feb. 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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