Legislative Activity

Child Care Development Block Grant Reauthorization

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the motion to proceed to legislation (S. 1086) to reauthorize the Child Care Development Block Grant, which expired in 1996 but has continued to receive appropriations funding since then. A vote on the legislation, which would renew the provision of federal funding for state support of child care services for low-income families and institute educational, health and safety standards for facilities, is scheduled for Wednesday and has bipartisan support. While floor consideration is expected to go smoothly in the Senate, the House has not yet drafted its version of the bill.

Tax Reform Proposal’s Impact on Education

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) unveiled his draft tax reform legislation last week. While this is largely seen as a discussion draft that is unlikely to advance during the 113th Congress, many elements may be used as the basis for serious discussions about tax reform going forward. The draft includes a number of education-related measures. As such, the comprehensive proposal would eliminate most tax credits for higher education and make permanent the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) with up to the first $1,500 refundable. All in all, the package would slim 15 higher education tax provisions down to five: the AOTC, a deduction for work-related education expenses, tax-free 529 college savings plans, an income exclusion for scholarships and grants and a gift tax exclusion for tuition payments.  Additionally:

  • Tuition would no longer receive a top-line tax deduction and student loan interest would no longer be tax-deductible.
  • It would remove the teacher deduction for classroom expenses.
  • The value of tuition discounts from colleges to their employees and employees’ children would be taxed as income, as would up to $5,250 per year that employers provide to help their employees pay for a college education.
  • Pell Grants would not be taxed as income, as the grant income currently is if used to pay for living expenses, books or expenses other than tuition and fees.
  • The plan would repeal the exclusion of forgiven student loans as income, currently provided to certain covered professions.
  • The plan would prohibit new contributions to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, tax-free accounts that can be used to pay for college or for private K-12 education, after 2014. Income on U.S. savings bonds used to pay for higher education would also be taxed, as would early withdrawals from Individual retirement accounts to pay for higher education expenses.

Upcoming Hearings:

  • Tuesday, March 4: The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education.”

Regulatory Activity

President Obama’s Budget Proposal

On Tuesday, March 4, President Obama will release the first iteration of his FY 2015 budget proposal named the “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” which will only include top-line numbers. As part of the budget proposal, the President will request nearly $58 billion in new spending for specific programs including expanded pre-K and Head Start, and $26 billion for the Pentagon. Given the House Republican leadership’s opposition to a standalone pre-K bill, the White House is making a chess move with its budget proposal to see if Republicans will compromise on supporting key White House initiatives, if the White House looks to  increase defense spending. As part of the budget release, the Department of Education will hold a briefing on its budget proposal that afternoon starting at 1:30 pm EST in the Department Auditorium (400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC, 20202). Reservations are not required.

On Monday, March 11, the White House is scheduled to release the second iteration of its FY 2015 budget proposal that includes more detailed, line-item funding information.

Digital Learning

Last Friday, President Obama announced a public-private partnership to increase digital learning options in K-12 classrooms across the country as a way to continue building momentum for the White House’s ConnectED initiative. Software companies Adobe and Prezi have committed to investing close to $400 million in this effort, with each company contributing $300 million and $100 million, respectively. This is the second White House announcement of 2014 that showcases commitments by the private sector to increase digital learning resources in schools. In February, the White House recognized a $750 million collective effort by Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, the Verizon Foundation and other companies and organizations to offer free high-speed Internet services and other products to schools serving children from low-income families.

Student Privacy Guidance

On February 25, the Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released guidance clarifying the protections of student data under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. The guidance also helps schools, educators, and vendors understand best practices for protecting student privacy while using online educational services like computer software, mobile applications and web-based tools.

Some stakeholders criticize the guidance, saying it creates more confusion about how FERPA, for example, actually protects student information used in online education services because definitive, clear lines have not been drawn and a number of “gray” areas still remain. These criticisms also follow remarks made by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan the day before the release of the guidance warning education technology vendors to focus their efforts on “vigorous self-policing.”

To assist education technology vendors and other stakeholders in complying with FERPA and other laws, the Department has encouraged them to visit PTAC’s online “one-stop” center that provides resources to learn about data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices related to student-level longitudinal data systems and other uses of data. Additionally, Wednesday, March 13, PTAC will be hosting a joint webinar at 2:30 pm EST to review student privacy guidance and solicit feedback.

Program Integrity and Improvement Negotiated Rulemaking Committee

In preparation for the Department of Education’s Program Integrity and Improvement Negotiated Rulemaking Committee meeting on March 26, the Department is drafting regulatory language on the issues of clock to credit hour conversion, state authorization distance education, state authorization foreign locations, cash management, retaking coursework, and the definition of adverse credit for Direct PLUS Loans. We expect the Department to release proposed rules on each of these topics later in the year.