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Federal Legislative Updates

News from Capitol Hill. . .

September 19, 2014

NEA calls for E-Rate funding to double to meet need students’ needs; we need you to speak up now!

In comments filed Monday, NEA urges the Federal Communications Commission to double the funding “cap” for the E-Rate program to ensure schools have sufficient high-speed broadband capacity for Internet access to support 21st century teaching and learning, including one-to-one classroom devices and online assessments. Concerns voiced by educators played a key role in convincing the FCC to reconsider its decision to maintain the current funding cap—in effect since the program’s inception more than a decade ago—even though schools and libraries sought twice that amount last year. The FCC is accepting further comments on its latest proposal through September 30. Go here for step-by-step instructions (including sample text and talking points) to file comments urging the FCC to double the funding cap.

Congress passes short-term funding bill before heading home

Before adjourning this week until after the November elections, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from Oct. 1, when fiscal year 2015 begins, through Dec. 11, when Congress is expected to be in a lame-duck session. The CR essentially continues funding at existing levels. Educators need to weigh in and urge Congress to pass an “omnibus” final FY2015 funding bill that helps ensure equity and opportunity by prioritizing core formula grant programs—like Title I and IDEA, which provide targeted help for the students most in need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to prioritize core formula grant programs in the final FY 2015 funding bill.

House reauthorizes program that helps pay for child care; Senate vote delayed

House and Senate committee leaders reached agreement this week on an NEA-supported bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program (S. 1086), which helps make child care affordable for low-income families. The House swiftly passed the measure on Monday, but the Senate hit a roadblock late this week when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) placed a “hold” on the bill in an attempt to force a vote on a separate issue. Instead, the Senate will vote on the measure on Nov. 13 after the mid-term elections. The CCDBG bill incorporates lessons learned from research and the states to help children succeed when they start school—for example, by ensuring they are healthy and safe, investing in the early childhood workforce, and focusing on early learning.

GOP refuses to allow vote on lowering student loan rates

For the second time, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and supported by NEA. “Senator Warren’s legislation would help so many who continue to struggle with high student loan payments while juggling so many other expenses; yet it keeps falling victim to Republicans who side with banks over the needs of millions of students and their families working to pay for their higher education,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

S. 2432 would amend the Higher Education Act to allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013, to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. The cost for this refinancing of federal student loans would be covered by implementing the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more. Sen. Warren has pledged to continue fighting to pass the legislation.

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student loan debt and make college affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity—giving all students a fair shot at college so they can get the education they need to land a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. To help further these goals, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and urge Congress to act.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt.

Urge Congress to reduce high-stakes testing to help students most in need

NEA’s board of directors personally lobbied Congress this week to address the over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing that is a consequence of No Child Left Behind. Fewer federally-mandated tests would free up more time for instruction, enabling educators to give greater attention to the students most in need. Share your story about the impact of high-stakes testing on students and encourage your representative to co-sponsor the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 4172), which would reduce the number of federally-mandated English and math tests from 14 to 6. Here’s just one example of the powerful stories that have been submitted:

I am a mother of two (a son who is 7 with mild autism, and a daughter who is 9). I am also a teacher. I really am so sad that the love of learning that children should be experiencing has been replaced by anxiety and depression. I see a majority of my high school students who are having panic attacks, depression, and sleep problems due to the pressure of the many standardized tests. My daughter who is in 3rd grade begs me not to go to school due to the testing and pressure of it all. Up until this year she was excited to go to school each day. All that has changed. She now thinks that she is not smart and has nightmares about the pressures of the many tests.—Sarah L; Lake Zurich, Illinois

TAKE ACTION TODAY! UrgeCongress to reduce the federal role in testing.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN), George Miller (D-CA), Todd Rokita (R-IN), and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) for negotiating a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant program.

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Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Aaron Schock (R-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) for introducing the NEA-supported Teacher Tax Relief Act of 2014, which would extend and make permanent the $250 educators’ tax deduction and index it for inflation.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for touting “degrees not debt,” the theme of NEA’s campaign to reduce student loan debt, in her floor speech urging support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to allow refinancing of federal student loans at lower rates.

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) for attempting to advance the NEA-supported Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty.

Jeers to:

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) for blocking passage of the bill to allow refinancing of federal student loans by objecting to Sen. Warren’s request for unanimous consent to pass it.  

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Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) for preventing the Senate from taking up the bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant program by putting a “hold” on it.

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) for blocking passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty by objecting to Sen. Harkin’s request for unanimous consent to pass it.


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