Legislative Activity

Senate HELP Committee Legislative Priorities

Last week, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) outlined the Committee’s legislative agenda for the coming year, which will be his final year in the Senate as he plans to retire at the end of 2014. Included on his list of priorities are a federal minimum wage bill, the Workforce Investment Act reauthorization bill (S. 1356), early childhood education legislation (S. 1697), and Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. The Chairman noted that he expects his Committee to begin working on HEA reauthorization legislation this summer once the HEA-related hearings are complete. While the Chairman has reservations about the Administration’s proposed college ratings system, it is expected he will instead focus on transparency efforts (i.e., encouraging colleges to offer more financial aid counseling and pushing accrediting agencies to consider graduation rates, time to degree and other transparency measures).  He did not comment on a timeline for the other priority legislation he discussed but does plan to move the FY 2015 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill through regular order this year in his role as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee which oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Education.

School Choice

As previously reported, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) both unveiled legislation last week as part of National School Choice Week to incentivize states to expand school choice. They are not companion measures, but together would give states options to use the two largest pools of federal education funding, Title I and IDEA, as vouchers. Neither bill has a companion measure in the House at this point, and that chamber’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed last year, but Sen. Scott and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) – another staunch school choice advocate – are in discussions about merging their agendas to move them forward in the House.

Campus Sexual Violence

On January 29, 39 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Education urging it to issue new guidance for handling and preventing sexual assault incidents on college campuses. Specifically, the authors seek a response from the Department on the following recommendations: improve transparency about Department Investigations and enforcement actions, create a central public database of campus agreements, collect better data through school climate surveys and exit interviews, require greater disclosure from colleges and universities about campus safety, issue guidance for schools responding to same-sex violence, and issue guidance clarifying the coverage of gender identity under Title IX.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are forming the Senate Career and Technical Education caucus, which will work to support career and technical education opportunities for students to better support them for college and future careers. The Caucus will also work to improve access to CTE training for unemployed and displaced adults and youth that better equips them for relevant job opportunities.

Upcoming Hearings:

  • Wednesday, February 5: The House Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing titled “The Foundation for Success: Discussing Early Childhood Education and Care in America.”
  • Thursday, February 6: The Senate HELP Committee will also hold a hearing to look at early childhood education titled “Supporting Children and Families through Investments in High-Quality Early Education.”

Regulatory Activity

Review of Federal Job Training System

As soon as this week, we expect the White House to release details on its proposed program-by-program review of the federal job training system. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama directed Vice President Joe Biden to conduct a full review of the federal job training system as part of his higher education agenda. The purpose of the program-by-program review is to ensure that programs, including those governed by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), effectively address skills needed in high-demand sectors, meet additional needs of employers, and help to create more well-paying jobs.

The President’s proposal has received mixed reviews from stakeholders, as many of them prefer that Congress pass WIA and send it to the President for his signature. Last year, the House passed its version of WIA and earlier this week, as we’ve noted above in the “Senate HELP Committee Legislative Priorities” section, Sen. Harkin made clear that the passage of WIA remains a priority of his. The Senate HELP Committee did approve its version of WIA last fall, but Senate leadership has yet to schedule time to vote on the bill. Should the Senate pass its version of WIA, many stakeholders are still concerned that no agreement will be reached in conference.

ConnectEd Initiative

As a follow up to the President’s State of the Union speech, 47 CEOs from companies, such as Google, Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, Khan Academy and Amplify, signed onto a letter last week urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that adequate funding is provided to reform and modernize the E-Rate program. Later this week, the President will officially announce that several private American companies will commit over a half billion dollars to help expand schools’ Internet access, and, on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will speak at National Digital Learning Day about how the FCC intends to put the plan into place. The approach that the FCC plans to take will include the one-time investment of funding paired with longer-term systemic reforms designed to make the program more effective and efficient for applicants.

Upcoming Events:

  • Tuesday, February 4: The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) will hold a call regarding reflections on the State of the Union address for early learning and development efforts and opportunities in the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning Libby Doggett and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development Linda Smith will participate.