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Federal Legislative Update April 2011

April 29, 2011
April 15, 2011
April 8, 2011
April 1, 2011

News from Capitol Hill. . .

4/29/11

DANGEROUS SPENDING CAPS PROPOSED: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN!


Proposed “global spending caps” that would severely limit federal spending for decades are reminiscent of state-level fights a decade ago over the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights? (TABOR).”

Under TABOR, state-wide referenda established state-wide budget ceilings and very high thresholds for exceeding the limits. They effectively nullified election results by tying the hands of state elected officials and reducing services across the board. As a result, voters and elected officials were held hostage by simplistic formulas perpetrated by their predecessors – when new, unanticipated need emerged, they couldn’t respond!

Today, this pattern threatens to repeat at the federal level. Some in Congress are proposing overall caps on federal spending that would tie Congress’ hands for decades. These caps would force the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history – for education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other critical programs. Future Congresses would be unable to provide needed funding in case of emerging needs or changing priorities.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress that slashing programs that serve children, elderly, and working families is not the answer to our nation’s fiscal problems. Urge them to oppose global spending caps.

ESEA REAUTHORIZATION ON THE HORIZON: TELL POLICYMAKERS TO LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS – EDUCATORS!


Congress could take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the next few months. In fact, a House bill on at least part of an overall reauthorization is very likely to move by summer. And, Senate Education Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) has indicated that he would like to move a bill through the Senate by this summer. With so many new Members serving in the 112th Congress, it is essential that the experts – educators working every day in public schools across the nation – are front and center in the debate. Members of Congress need to be educated about the flaws in the No Child Left Behind Act and what is really needed to ensure great public schools for every student.


Take Action Today:
Tell Congress that every child deserves a great public school, and that legislators need listen to educators if they want to learn how to make that happen.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:
President Obama, who said in a radio interview this week, “Let’s certainly not blame public employees for a financial crisis they had nothing to do with. And let’s not use this as an excuse to erode their bargaining rights. So whether it’s Wisconsin, the state of Ohio, I strongly disapprove.”


News from Capitol Hill. . .

4/15/11

WALL STREET OR MAIN STREET? TELL CONGRESS TO INVEST IN CHILDREN AND THE MIDDLE CLASS


Funding took center stage this week in Congress and the Administration, with debates on resources for the current and next fiscal years:


FY 2011 Continuing Resolution
: This week, the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of the current fiscal year. The NEA-opposed CR cuts or eliminates funding for a number of education programs, including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and includes an across the board cut that will impact programs like Title I and IDEA. It also expands the District of Columbia private school voucher program. See how your Representative and Senators voted. Read NEA’s letter opposing the CR.

FY 2012 Budget: As of this writing, the House of Representative is expected to pass very shortly a budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 (which begins October 1) that will result in more joblessness for the middle class and more tax breaks for the wealthiest in our country. The middle class continues to struggle to find work, pay more for health care, and worry about their children’s education and future. Seniors continue to worry about their retirement security. Yet, the House budget provides rhetoric rather than solutions.

It is unconscionable to expect children, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled to bear the brunt of the pain while sparing the wealthy corporations and greedy CEOs. The single largest contributing factor to the deficit is the tax cuts enacted under the last administration and renewed in 2010. It cost our nation $700 billion to extend the tax cuts for single filers earning over $200,000 a year and joint filers earning over $250,000.

The House is also expected to reject a Democratic alternative budget that would allow for growth in funding for education, research, and innovation; sustain the maximum Pell grant award at $5,550; and protect Medicaid and Medicare.

This week, President Obama also gave a budget speech in which he:

  • Said that he “will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs..We will invest in education. We will invest in job training. We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future.”

  • Promised, “I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs..We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.”

  • Said “both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we have to do it without putting at risk current retirees, or the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.“

Read the President’s full speech and NEA’s response to the President’s speech.

Congress is in recess until May 2. When they return, action on funding will shift to the Senate.

Take Action TODAY: Tell your Senators to support children, the middle class, and those in greatest need.

ESEA REAUTHORIZATION ON THE HORIZON: TELL POLICYMAKERS TO LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS – EDUCATORS!


Congress could take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the next few months. In fact, Senate Education Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) has indicated that he would like to move a bill through the Senate by this summer. With so many new Members serving in the 112th Congress, it is essential that the experts – educators working every day in public schools across the nation – are front and center in the debate. Members of Congress need to be educated about the flaws in the No Child Left Behind Act and what is really needed to ensure great public schools for every student.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress that every child deserves a great public school, and that legislators need listen to educators if they want to learn how to make that happen.

Take Action in the Next Few Weeks: Congress returns home for recess April 18-29. Educators should take advantage of this opportunity to talk with Members of Congress back in their districts about ESEA reauthorization. Share your story and tell policymakers what works best in your school or classroom. Call your Member’s district office to set up an appointment, or visit the Member’s website to find out about town hall meetings in your area.

HOUSE HOLDS HEARING FEATURING WISCONSIN GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing April 14 on “State and Municipal Debt: Tough Choices Ahead.” The hearing featured Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker whose appearance was advertised by the Committee as “To understand impediments to reform and what it takes to climb out of a deep fiscal hole, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will testify about how he successfully championed sweeping reforms that will keep his state solvent.” Governor Walker took the opportunity to defend his actions in ramming through the state legislature anti-union, anti-public worker legislation. Walker stated, “

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin provided an alternative point of view, explaining how he has been able to work collaboratively with unions in Vermont to address fiscal challenges. Governor Shumlin stated, “Vermont is an excellent illustration of what states can do when we put aside partisan differences, tone down heated rhetoric between labor and management, and work together for the best interests of our citizens.”

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

thumbsup Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D), who during his eloquent testimony before the House Oversight Committee said, “I do not believe that those to blame for our current financial troubles are our law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other state employees whose services we take for granted. The notion that a state trooper making a middle class living with health care benefits for her family, or a snow plow driver who works long hours in dangerous conditions and makes a decent but modest wage, is responsible for this problem is simply false.”

thumbsup Members of the House Oversight Committee who stood up for public employees during the April 14 hearing, including:

Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who said, “I strongly oppose efforts to falsely blame middle-class American workers for these current economic problems. This recession was not caused by them. Working America – fire fighters, teachers and nurses – are not responsible for the reckless actions of Wall Street, which led to this crisis in the first place. I also strongly object to efforts by politicians who try to use the current economic downturn to strip American workers of their rights – the right to negotiate working conditions that are safe, the right to negotiate due process protections against being fired arbitrarily, and the right to negotiate fair pay for an honest day’s work.”

Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI), who, although not even on the Oversight Committee attended the April 14 hearing and challenged Governor Walker, asking why he gave $117 million in tax breaks while balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and cutting education.

thumbsupRepresentative Mike Ross (D-AR), who spoke on the House floor in support of education funding during debate on the continuing resolution, stating “Proven programs like Title I, IDEA, and education technology should be maintained and prioritized because they provide essential services to the students with the greatest needs throughout our nation. In addition, I am concerned that we are moving away from basic education aid to all states and increasingly relying on competitive grants, which often disadvantage rural school districts like many in my state.“
thumbsup Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) , who said during debate on the FY 2012 budget, “The size of our deficit, the level of our taxes, those are important, but they are not the sole lens through which the strength of America should be viewed. We want an America where the young have educational opportunity, where the not so young have the dignity of their old age, and a bigger middle class shares in the success of our country. To secure our long-term future, every American can give a little. But this unfair proposal asks little from those with much, and so much from those who have so little. “
thumbsupSenators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), who announced this week their introduction of resolutions commemorating American Teacher Week. The resolutions thank teachers for their service; promote the profession of teaching; and encourage students, parents, school administrators, and public officials to participate in teacher appreciation events during ‘‘National Teacher Appreciation Week.
thumbsup Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who advocated on the Senate floor this week, “a balanced [budget] approach that includes spending cuts and necessary revenue increases while continuing to make crucial investments in education, infrastructure, and research, the investments that are absolutely essential if we are going to stay competitive in a global economy.”

Jeers to:

thumbsdownHouse Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who convened the April 14 hearing as a platform to allow Governor Walker to defend his attacks on public employees.

thumbsdown Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL), who, at the April 14 hearing argued against collective bargaining, claimed that union activities cost millions to taxpayers, and stated that he was “offended” by the actions of the 14 Wisconsin Senators who left the state to block a vote on the anti-union bill.

thumbsdown Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA), who at the April 14 hearing stated that defined benefit pension plans are “an illusion.”

News from Capitol Hill. . .

4/8/11

STUDENTS, EDUCATORS, RETIREES: NO ONE IS SAFE FROM DAMAGING HOUSE BUDGET!


A budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 released by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) would attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and our most vulnerable populations. The House proposal would, among other things:
  • Make deep cuts to non-security “discretionary” spending – which would cause dramatic reductions in education services to students and ballooning class sizes;
  • Dismantle health care for the poor, disabled, and elderly by turning Medicaid into a block grant program. Fifty percent of Medicaid enrollees are children and one-third of all children receive their health care through Medicaid;
  • Cut the maximum Pell Grant award, dashing the dreams of higher education for millions of students;
  • Extend the District of Columbia Voucher Program, funneling scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools while slashing funding for programs serving public school students;
  • Convert Medicare into a voucher system in which recipients would purchase insurance. Under such a system, insurance companies could reject the sickest patients or charge higher premiums to the oldest.

The proposal passed out of committee on April 6 and the full House is expected to vote on it the week of April 11.

Take Action TODAY: Tell your Representative to vote NO on a proposal to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and the poor. Read NEA’s letter opposing the budget proposal.

At the same time, discussions continue on a continuing resolution for the current fiscal year (FY2011). To avoid a government shutdown, Members of Congress must reach an agreement this weekend. With many in Congress pushing for deep cuts in education and other programs, congressional supporters of public education must hold firm and stand up against such cuts. At stake is funding for critical education programs like Title I, IDEA special education, and Pell Grants – programs that are critical to ensuring every student the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century. Your voice is critical to keep up the pressure for investments in education.

Take Action TODAY: Tell Congress to craft a full-year continuing resolution that invests in education for our nation’s future

ATTENTION NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHERS: HELP SAVE NBPTS FUNDING!


Discussions around the continuing resolution have included proposals to eliminate all “earmarks,” including funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). We need your help to save this important funding! The NBPTS improves teaching and student learning. National Board Certified Teachers are highly accomplished educators who meet high and rigorous standards. Elimination of this funding would decrease the ability of over 20,000 teachers and other educators annually in all 50 states and D.C. to seek National Board Certification, and impede the participation of Board Certified Teachers in school improvement efforts.

Take Action TODAY: Tell Congress to protect funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

BILL TO REPEAL UNFAIR SOCIAL SECURITY OFFSETS INTRODUCED!


The Social Security Fairness Act, (H.R. 1332) which would repeal the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision, was reintroduced this week with 49 original cosponsors . The GPO and WEP unfairly cut or eliminate Social Security benefits that public employees or their spouses have earned. Learn more about these unfair offsets

Take Action TODAY: Tell your Representative to cosponsor and support passage of the Social Security Fairness Act.

TELL THE SENATE TO REJECT VOUCHERS AND STAND UP FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION


As we reported last week, the House has passed legislation to renew and expand the District of Columbia private school voucher program. NEA strongly opposed the bill, which diverts millions of scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools through a program already proven ineffective. Senator Lieberman (I-CT) is expected to try to move the voucher bill in the Senate by trying to attach it to multiple pieces of legislation coming to the Senate floor.

Take Action TODAY:

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

thumbsupRepresentative Mike Honda (D-CA), who sponsored and fought for an amendment in the budget committee to protect our students’ and our nation’s future by blocking proposed deep cuts to education and Head Start. The amendment, which failed on a 16-22 party line vote, was an important attempt to correct the backward priorities espoused in the Chairman’s proposal.

thumbsupRepresentative Tim Ryan (D-OH), who spoke eloquently in the budget committee in opposition to a budget that does nothing but ask the poor and middle class to sacrifice. Representative Ryan cited studies backing wise cost-effective investment in early childhood education and argued that we should be investing more in education.
thumbsup Representatives Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), who stood up for educators and other public employees by reintroducing the Social Security Fairness Act -- to repeal the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision.

Jeers to:

thumbsdownHouse Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who proposed a budget that runs completely counter to our values as a nation, by asking our children, working families, elderly, and disabled populations to make greater sacrifices than others. A particular jeer to Chairman Ryan’s characterization of safety net programs for the disabled and elderly as “hammocks” that allow people to become comfortable rather than helping themselves.

thumbsdownRepresentative Reid Ribble (R-WI), who, in speaking against Representative Honda’s budget committee amendment to protect education funding, argued that money isn’t what matters in education, what matters is holding schools and teachers accountable.

News from Capitol Hill. . .

4/1/11

WE ARE ONE, WE ARE EVERYWHERE: STAND UP FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS ON APRIL 4


On April 4, 1968
, 43 years ago in Memphis, a long struggle for human rights and human dignity ended in the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it brought economic justice and the respect that all people deserve to 1,300 city sanitation workers. On April 4 this year, the anniversary of Dr. King’s death, labor unions, civil rights organizations, and religious leaders will stand together across this country for the same human rights and human dignity for working men and women.

We have stood together as one with public workers across this country whose bargaining rights are under attack, with private workers who can’t get bargaining rights, and against those politicians and their allies who want to silence our political voice. On April 4, 2011, on the job, in our schools and in our communities, we will remind our elected officials that workers rights are human rights, and that those rights will not be destroyed.

  • Support protestors and rallies across the country by giving a tax-deductible donation to the 51 Fund.

TELL SUPPORTERS OF PUBLIC EDUCATION TO STAND FIRM ON EDUCATION FUNDING!


The current short-term continuing resolution (CR) funding government programs will expire on April 8. To avoid a government shutdown, Members of Congress must reach an agreement on a funding bill to cover the rest of this fiscal year (through September 30). While reports earlier this week indicated that the Administration and congressional negotiators had reached a broad deal, later reports were that no deal had been reached and negotiations were continuing.

With many in Congress pushing for deep cuts in education and other programs, congressional supporters of public education must hold firm and stand up against such cuts. At stake is funding for critical education programs like Title I, IDEA special education, and Pell Grants – programs that are critical to ensuring every student the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century. Your voice is critical to keep up the pressure for investments in education.

Take Action TODAY: Tell Congress to craft a full-year continuing resolution that invests in education for our nation’s future

HOUSE PASSES VOUCHER BILL: TELL THE SENATE TO STAND UP FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION


It is no April Fools’ joke -- the House of Representatives this week passed legislation to renew and expand the District of Columbia private school voucher program by a vote of 225-195. NEA strongly opposed the bill, which diverts millions of scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools through a program already proven ineffective.

Thanks to the tremendous efforts of NEA cyberlobbyists, we were able to keep the vote close and secure the votes of eight Republicans, who bucked their Party leadership to oppose the voucher bill – Representatives Biggert (IL), Dold (IL), Graves (MO), Griffith (VA), Johnson (IL), LoBiondo (NJ), Paul (TX), and Reichert (WA). Representative Platts (R-PA), who voted against the bill in committee, missed the vote due to an important conflict, but inserted in the official House record a statement that he would have voted against the bill had he been present. Only one Democrat – Representative Lipinski (IL) – voted in favor of the voucher bill. See how your Representative voted.

Action now shifts to the Senate, where Senator Lieberman (I-CT) is expected to try to move the voucher bill either as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to other bills under consideration. Senator Lieberman may try to attach the voucher bill to multiple pieces of legislation as they come to the Senate floor.

Take Action TODAY:

  • Tell your Senators to VOTE NO on renewal and expansion of the DC voucher program, when it comes up for a vote in that chamber. Remind them that, instead of taking taxpayer money out of public schools for private schools, Congress should be investing in strategies to improve student achievement, such as increasing parental involvement, strengthening teacher training, and reducing class size.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

thumbsup All the Members of Congress who stood up for public education and spoke eloquently on the House floor against the DC voucher bill. Read the full debate and see if your Representative spoke up.

thumbsup Representative Charlie Bass (R-NH), who in testimony to the House Budget Committee, called for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at the federal government’s promised 40 percent of the cost to educate students with disabilities. Representative Bass stated, “the federal government’s failure to live up to its promise and fully fund its share only diverts local education resources that either have to be made up through cuts to other programs or by raising local taxes. We all agree that students with special needs deserve these extra services, but insufficient federal IDEA funding continues a broken promise that has a direct impact on each and every school district across the country.”

thumbsupSenator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who introduced legislation in support of the National Women's History Museum, the organization working to secure support and permission for a privately-financed museum near the National Mall dedicated to celebrating and teaching about the lives, achievements, and contributions of American women.

Jeers to:

thumbsdownRepresentative Joe Walsh (R-IL), who during debate on the DC voucher program accused teachers unions of being “scared to death” of the voucher program because “they don't want kids to be able to escape.”

thumbsdownRepresentative Phil Roe (R-TN), Chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, who during his subcommittee hearing on “The Future of Union Transparency and Accountability” derided the “culture of union favoritism that dominates the workforce policies of the current administration.”