Summary of Congressional Action: 110th Congress, 1st Session
The 110th Congress, first session, has adjourned. The second session will begin in mid-January, 2008. The first session agenda included a number of issues of concern to educators. And, many such issues will be on the front burner when Congress returns. Learn more about the current status of important education issues.
- Education Funding: Just before adjourning, Congress passed an "omnibus" funding bill that includes $3 billion more for education programs than requested by the President in his budget. Congress crafted the omnibus following the President's veto of the fiscal year 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which contained $4.5 billion over his budget for education programs. Despite the President's demands to cut education funding, congressional leaders pledged to fund their priorities in the omnibus and cut the President's priorities, resulting in important increases for education.
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind: Despite a push earlier this year to move legislation that would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, congressional leaders, including Education Committee Chairs Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Miller (D-CA) decided not to move any ESEA/NCLB bill this year. This decision was in large part due to the massive grassroots campaign waged by NEA and its state affiliates to slow down the reauthorization process. It is unclear if and when Congress will take up reauthorization in the coming year.
- Higher Education: This session, Congress passed major legislation to help make the dream of higher education a reality for many more students by raising the maximum Pell Grant award, reducing interest rates on subsidized student loans, and creating new tuition grants for undergraduates who commit to teaching in public schools in high-poverty communities or high-need subject areas.
Congress is also working on legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The Senate has already passed a bill that makes many positive changes, but also includes an NEA-opposed "academic bill of rights," which would chill free speech on college campuses. The House Education Committee has passed a bill that will go to the House floor in early 2008. The bill would help ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities, expand college access for low-income and minority students, streamline the federal student financial aid application, and help students transition seamlessly from community colleges to four-year programs. The Committee resoundingly defeated three NEA-opposed amendments that sought to add to the bill the "academic bill of rights," the Teacher Incentive Fund merit pay program; and the Adjunct Teacher Corps, which would allow people to enter the classroom as teachers based only on content knowledge.
Rural Education: The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which ensures a predictable payment to federally impacted forest counties, expired at the end of 2006, and the one-year extension of the program included in the FY07 emergency supplemental appropriations bill expires at the end of this year. A four-year extension of the program was included in an energy bill considered by Congress, however, the Senate failed (by one vote) to close debate and move the bill forward. Despite reports at the end of the session that a one-year extension would be included in a revised energy bill, those provisions were ultimately dropped before final passage.
- Social Security Offsets: In November, the Senate Finance Committee, Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, chaired by Senator Kerry (D-MA), held a hearing on the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision. This was the first GPO/WEP hearing ever held in a Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the issue. A House hearing has been tentatively scheduled for mid-January 2008.
- Educator Tax Relief: In November, the House passed the Temporary Tax Relief Act (H.R. 3996). The bill includes a one-year extension of the $250 tax deduction for educators' out-of-pocket classroom supply expenses. The deduction expired at the end of the 2006 tax year. The House-passed bill would extend the deduction through the 2008 tax year.
- Children's Health: Just before adjourning, Congress passed a bill that would extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) through March 2009. This extension came after the President vetoed two separate bills to extend and expand SCHIP. We are waiting to see if the President will sign the extension bill.
- Head Start Reauthorization: In mid-November, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program. The bill retains civil rights protections against discrimination in Head Start hiring; creates new flexibility to allow the program to serve additional low-income children and families; rejects inappropriate and ineffective testing of four-year olds; and expands the early Head Start program, allowing that program to serve an additional 8,000 low-income infants and toddlers. The President signed the bill into law in December.
- Hate Crimes: This year, the House passed legislation to expand the definition of federal hate crimes and allow federal authorities to assist state and local enforcement efforts. The victory on passage came after a 10-year battle to move the bill. The Senate approved a hate crimes amendment to the FY08 Defense Authorization bill. However, the language was removed from the final version of the Defense Authorization conference report. Advocates will continue to push for passage of a hate crimes bill in the next session of Congress.
- Employment Non-Discrimination: In November, the House passed a version of the NEA-supported Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill passed by the House does not address discrimination based on gender identification. The legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate next year.