Legislative Activity

Work Begins on ESEA Reauthorization

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently released his draft Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill – the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. Last week, the Senate HELP Committee held its first hearing on ESEA reauthorization focused on testing and accountability issues. As a follow up to the hearing, several Members of Congress have also introduced legislation that would address testing issues in ESEA. Last week, Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) reintroduced a bipartisan bill this week that would eliminate the mandatory annual assessment system and replace it with grade span testing. The bill would require states to test students in math, reading, and science only three times over their school career. The bill was endorsed by the National Education Association (NEA), Parents Across America, AASA: The School Superintendents Association and several other organizations. Additionally, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced that she will introduce a bill that will explore how students are being over-tested and seek to find solutions to help with the problem of over-testing. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced a similar bill in the House at the end of the 113th Congress.

The Senate HELP Committee will host another ESEA hearing on Tuesday to discuss issues related to teacher and principal development. The hearing will feature a superintendent from Texas, a principal from Maryland, a teacher from Washington, and Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education.

House Education Committee Chairman Announces 114th Congress Priorities

Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) outlined his priorities for the 114th Congress in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Like the Senate, the House is expected to also move quickly on ESEA reauthorization and is planning to have a bill on the House floor by March. Chairman Kline is planning to hold an open mark-up on the ESEA reauthorization bill that he will introduce but is unlikely to have hearings on the topic like the Senate HELP Committee. After completing work on ESEA, Chairman Kline is also looking at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act. The House Education and the Workforce Committee will also take up the Strengthening Education Through Research Act at some point this year. The Senate has a mark-up scheduled for the bill next week.

Senate Will Start on HEA Reauthorization

The Senate HELP Committee has scheduled its first HEA reauthorization hearing for Tuesday, February 24. The hearing will focus on the deregulation of higher education and will likely take time to discuss the deregulation task force that Chairman Alexander formed last year with Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Head Start Reauthorization

Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee released a white paper outlining its goals for reforming the Head Start Act, which seeks to build on the progress of the bipartisan 2014 renewal of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. Specifically, the goals include:

  • Reduce unnecessary burdensome regulations;
  • Encourage local innovation;
  • Strengthen coordination between Head Start and state and local programs;
  • Improve the quality of eligible providers; and
  • Enhance parental engagement.

The Committee is calling for public input on how to strengthen the law with these goals in mind, particularly seeking information related to model early learning programs at the state level and ideas for enhancing coordination of existing programs across the federal government. Feedback should be sent to headstart.reform@mail.house.gov by June 1, 2015.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 27: The Senate HELP Committee will host a hearing titled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.”
  • Wednesday, January 28: The Senate HELP Committee will host a mark-up to consider its committee rules and funding resolution for the 114th Congress. Additionally, it plans to mark-up the Strengthening Education Through Research Act.

Regulatory Activity

White House Tax Proposal Includes Education Priorities

On January 17, the White House released a tax overhaul proposal that includes many direct implications for education and the proposals set forth in the President’s State of the Union address. Overall, the plan would consolidate and simplify a series of higher education tax breaks into a single program, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), and would make the tax credit permanent. Specifics include:

  • Expanded eligibility to students enrolled less than half time;
  • Exempting Pell Grants from the calculations of eligibility, while adding a year of eligibility;
  • Fully exempting Pell Grants from taxation;
  • Requirement for colleges and universities to provide students with the tuition and fee information needed to claim the AOTC;
  • Exempting student loan forgiveness from taxation under Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) and other income-based repayment plans;
  • Repeal student loan interest deduction for new borrowers but would retain it for current borrowers.

Additionally, the plan includes proposals to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and certain financial institutions, which would be used to pay for his Tuition Free Community College plan.

White House Will Announce Next Generation High Schools Launch

As previewed in the State of the Union, the White House is expected to announce in the next few days the launch of “Next-Generation High Schools,” which will serve as laboratories for “cutting-edge” teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Emphasis will be placed on preparing students of color and female students.  Later in the year, the White House will host a Summit on Next-Generation High Schools.

Department of Education Seeks Comments on Credit Risk for Student Borrowers

The Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is seeking guidance as it looks to develop statistical models to gauge portfolio risk, predict borrower outcomes and determine borrower behavior. Interested parties should send information and qualifications to darrick.hardiman@ed.gov by February 10.