Legislative Activity

Education Leadership

Last week, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) announced he will resign from Congress on February 18. Rep. Andrews is second in seniority to House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA), who is retiring at the end of the year. Shortly after the announcement, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) made public his intention to seek the Democrats’ top spot on the Committee in the next Congress.

School Restraint and Seclusion Policies

On Wednesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) is expected to release a report by the Committee investigating issues related to restraint and seclusion policies in schools, particularly for students with disabilities. The timing of the release is paired with related legislation, Keeping All Students Safe Act, which will also be introduced Wednesday. The Department of Education last week announced a funding opportunity for grants to train personnel who work with children with disabilities. Applications are due April 8.

Financial Aid Funding

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Budget and Economic Outlook for 2014-2024. The report details the economic outlook for the next 10 years and includes the budget estimates for a number of key federal education programs. CBO estimates that the Pell Grant program will be sustainable through 2016, provided support from Congress at current funding levels. Previous estimates forecasted the Pell Grant program would face a funding shortfall as early as this year, with a funding deficit up to $5.8 billion. The new CBO estimates show the shortfall will be approximately $1 billion and will not occur for two more years as the program is expected to see surpluses for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The report also notes changes in student loan interest rates as a result of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 last summer will cost the federal government $24 billion from 2014 to 2016. However, as the revenue from the new interest rates grows long term, CBO estimates a $37 billion surplus of funding over the 2015-2024 time period.

Early Childhood Education

Last week, both congressional education committees held hearings on early childhood education. While Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee focused on streamlining the existing federal programs related to early learning, Senate Democrats on HELP, including Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) recommended making improved investments in high-quality early learning programs. However, Senate Democrats did acknowledge that a new program may not be needed, and Republicans on the Committee urged their colleagues to make improvements to existing programs before creating new ones.

Chairman Harkin is planning to hold a second hearing the second week of April aimed at strengthening his bill, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697), followed by a markup of the legislation before the Memorial Day recess. While the bill currently has 27 cosponsors, none are Republicans.

Veterans’ Education

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 357) requiring state universities to offer in-state tuition for veterans attending college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The bill had broad support in the House and passed under suspension of the rules. In the Senate, we do not expect the a bipartisan companion bill to move out of committee, as Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders has introduced two bills (S. 1950 and S. 1982), likely to move through the Committee, this year that also include language similar to the House-passed bill.

Also last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new website designed to help veterans calculate how far their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will go towards paying for college, by providing information such as graduation rates, default rates, and average student loan rates for a college or university.

Regulatory Activity

Proposed Rule on Gainful Employment

We expect the Department of Education to issue a proposed rule on gainful employment for for-profit college in late April/early May.  Last week, the Department of Education submitted its proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

Support for Educational Technology and Digital Learning

Last week, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter clarifying opportunities for states, school districts, and schools to use their existing Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds to support digital learning.  The letter detailed that funds could be used to support (1) improving and personalizing professional learning; (2) increasing access to high-quality digital content and resources; (3) facilitating educator collaboration and communication; and (4) providing devices for students to access digital learning resources.  The Department’s encouragement to use such federal funds to advance educational technology is part of the President’s ConnectED Initiative and also seeks to coordinate existing federal resources to maximize opportunities to advance digital learning.

The Administration also announced last week that private sector companies like Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon and others have committed over $750 million to deliver cutting edge technologies to classrooms, including devices, free software, teacher professional development and home wireless connectivity. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission plans to use $2 billion to begin updating the E-Rate program this year and connect over 20 million students to next-generation broadband and wireless.

Institute of Medicine Report on Early Learning

As part of the Administration’s early learning initiative, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Committee will conduct a study titled, “The Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success”. The purpose of the report is to look at how the science of children’s health, learning, and development during the early learning period (from birth to age 8) can inform  the future of education through standards and expectations, instructional practices, preparation and professional development, and family engagement. The study, along with a consensus report, will share research and policy recommendations to governmental agencies, including the Administration of Children and Families, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Services Resource Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Education, with a focus on improving teacher and principal quality under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The Committee also will share recommendations with Members of Congress, including the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as well as non-governmental organizations like colleges and universities.

The Committee is accepting comments that it will consider in completing the study and report, although no deadline has been given. Stakeholders can submit written comments to Birth.to.Eight@nas.edu. The Committee also will hold a public information-gathering session on February 28 to solicit input from stakeholders. The Committee likely will begin to work on the report in June and complete it by fall 2015.

White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans will host a series of summits this year to discuss how African American students, schools, and communities are supported in learning and development opportunities from cradle to career, recognize organizations and models of success, creating community engage opportunities to raise completion rates.

The summits will take place on:

  • February 13-14, 2014
    Morehouse College Atlanta, GA
    With the Morehouse Research Institute on the African American Male
  • April 25-26, 2014 (Registration opens March 25)
    Jackson State University, Jackson, MS
    With the Coalition of School Educating Boys of Color
  • June 13-14, 2014 (Registration opens May 13)
    Laney College, Oakland, CA
    With Frontline Solutions 3rd Annual Gathering of Leaders
  • October 24-25, 2014 (Registration opens September 24)
    University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
    With the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education