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Letter to the House Education and Labor Committee Supporting the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act

July 20, 2009

Dear Representative:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to express our support for the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221), scheduled for mark-up in the Education and Labor Committee this week.  We are pleased that the bill addresses so many critical areas, including needed investments in post-secondary education, early childhood education, and school facility modernization. 

Investing in Post-Secondary Education
We thank the committee and the Administration for focusing on the need for investments, expansion, and improvement in post-secondary education.  This focus, which will help augment student access, persistence, and success in higher education is essential to our nation's economic stability.  We specifically support provisions that would:

  • Ensure that the neediest students have greater purchasing power through increased Pell Grants;
  • Provide for a programmatic focus on student access and persistence – so critical to the success of students and of the higher education system; and
  • Invest directly in community colleges in terms of program and infrastructure.

We are also pleased that the needs of graduate students will be reconsidered by the full committee, including reinstating the student loan interest subsidy for graduate students while they are in school.

We appreciate the efforts of the committee to involve faculty in key areas of the legislation, including recognizing the important role of faculty in effective state planning to increase post-secondary enrollment, persistence, and completion.  We look forward to working with the committee to make further improvements to utilize faculty expertise and experience in these efforts and other important areas of the bill, including the development of articulation agreements.

As the committee continues the significant undertaking of transforming the federal student loan program, we urge inclusion of efforts such as loan cancellation to relieve educators and others in public service or other critical workforce areas from student loan debt.  We strongly recommend ensuring the continuation of the loan-forgiveness efforts that have been key features of the Perkins Loan Program.
 
We also support the bill’s focus on scaling up and rationalizing data systems to track student performance.  We caution, however, that useful accountability standards require use of multiple measures to judge student success.  Oversimplified measurements such as the current federal graduation rate, do not recognize the varied and multiple goals of students, the differing missions and roles of our institutions of higher education, or the reality of our dynamic economy and developing need for ongoing education.  We encourage the inclusion of faculty members, who are the frontline educators, in any discussion of creating or updating data systems and in the development of accountability systems at the institutional or state level.

Finally, with regard to provisions around online coursework, we agree that such approaches can offer effective educational instruments.  However, we believe that, at some point in the educational process, same-time, same-place interchange with instructors and other students is critical for students to pull together the material they’ve learned in a real-life collegial setting.  We suggest that the ensuring that these courses are used as one component of a post-secondary program—not as a complete stand-alone degree program.

Expanding Quality Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children
We are pleased that the bill makes significant investments in comprehensive, high quality early childhood education.  In particular, we support provisions that would:

  • Build an effective, qualified, and well-compensated early childhood workforce by supporting providers with degrees in early education and providing ongoing professional development opportunities; and
  • Promote parent and family involvement by developing effective outreach strategies.

We are also very pleased that the bill rejects any assessments of young children as a means of evaluating program effectiveness. 

Ensuring Safe, Modern Learning Environments
H.R. 3221 would provide $4 billion to fund provisions of the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, already passed by the House.  Modern, energy efficient schools will help local communities increase opportunities for all students to develop the educational skills necessary to achieve and succeed in the 21st century workforce.  The funding provided under H.R. 3221 will help repair, renovate and modernize America’s schools and community colleges, and, in so doing, will stimulate the creation of more than 100,000 new jobs in the construction industry (from architects and engineers to roofing contractors and other construction workers who modernize, renovate and repair schools). 

We urge your support of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, and look forward to continuing to work with the Education and Labor Committee on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust
Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody
Manager of Federal Advocacy