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Letter to Conferees on the Higher Education Act Reauthorization (H.R. 4137)

July 29, 2008

Dear Conferee:


On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to offer our views on the conference report for the Higher Education Act Reauthorization (H.R. 4137). We commend conferees for including a number of positive provisions that will strengthen post-secondary education. However, we strongly object to the inclusion of "academic bill of rights" (ABOR) language in the conference agreement.

We are very pleased with a number of provisions in the agreement, including those regarding:

  • Pell Grants - increasing the purchasing power of Pell Grants by raising the maximum award to $6,000 in the upcoming academic year (from $4,310), followed by incremental increases of $400 in subsequent years to reach a maximum grant of $8,000 in academic year 2014-2015.
  • Textbooks - addressing the growing crisis of affordable course materials by balancing students' abilities to manage textbook costs through advanced planning with respect for faculty's legitimate academic freedom concerns.
  • TEACH Grants - making positive changes to clarify and strengthen the program, including addressing" extenuating circumstances" that might affect repayment, and helping teachers deal with changes in high-need designations while they fulfill their service requirement. The bill also requires a study that will provide useful information on the program and its efficacy.
  • Patsy T. Mink Fellowship Program - providing awards to assist highly qualified minorities and women to acquire the doctoral degree, or the highest degree possible, in certain academic areas, thereby helping more women and underrepresented populations entering the professoriate.
  • Community Colleges - authorizing a pilot program to increase college persistence and success. Part of this program targets funds for scholarships, support programs, and counseling for community college students to ensure persistence and, when possible, matriculation to a four-year school.
  • Business Workforce Partnerships for Job Skill Training in High-Growth Occupations or Industries" program - authorizing a grant program for partnerships between institutions of higher education and businesses to develop programs that would give students the skills necessary for employment with local businesses.
  • Teach for America (TFA) - requiring a study that will allow for a meaningful comparison of TFA teachers to their colleagues who completed traditional teacher preparation programs. The required studies must meet peer review standards of the education research community with reviewers having expertise in a number of areas, including assessment and instruction.
  • Collective Bargaining Rights - applying the "savings clause" to protect collective bargaining rights to all of Title II.
  • Adjunct Teacher Corps -stating that Adjunct Teacher Corps teachers cannot displace current teachers or reduce the number of teachers who otherwise would be hired, and specifying that an adjunct teacher is not the primary teacher and must work under the supervision of a regular, highly qualified teacher.

We are also very pleased that the conference agreement contains no Teacher Incentive Fund or other "merit pay" provisions.

We do, however, strongly object to inclusion in the conference report of the "academic bill of rights" - a critical issue for NEA's higher education members. NEA has consistently and ardently opposed the inclusion of ABOR in any higher education bill. Although the agreement language is framed as a "sense of the Congress," we believe it raises major concerns. Essentially, the mere presence of this language in the bill opens the door for unwarranted government intrusion into the classroom and the curriculum.

We thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy