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Federal Legislative Update June 2011


June 24, 2011

June 17, 2011

June 10, 2011
June 3, 2011


News from Capitol Hill. . .

6/24/11

DREAM ACT HEARING SCHEDULED: TELL CONGRESS TO HELP STUDENTS ACHIEVE THE AMERICAN DREAM


Gaby wants to be a teacher. She has three education degrees and dreams of opening a music center for autistic children.

Eric loves being in the lab, he has a full scholarship to Harvard University and wants to immerse himself in cancer research.

Felipe wants to be a high school teacher, he dreams of inspiring at risk kids to go to college.

They also dream of a day in which they won’t live in fear of being deported by immigration authorities. All three are undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children.

On June 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration, will hold a hearing on the DREAM Act (S. 952/H.R. 1842). This important bill, introduced by Senator Durbin (D-IL), will give eligible young people like those described above the opportunity to resolve their immigration status and work towards citizenship.  They will have to pass background checks and be of good moral character, graduate from high school, and go on to complete additional requirements related to attending college or completing military service.  Leading businesses such as Microsoft have endorsed the DREAM Act because they recognize that our broken immigration system is draining our economy of the talent and resources needed to compete in the global economy.

Take Action Today: Tell your Senators to cosponsor and support the DREAM Act -- a practical, fair solution that upholds the best of our shared American values of fair opportunity, accountability, and strong work ethics.

BUDGET GIMMICKS WILL HURT KIDS: WILL YOUR VOICE BE HEARD?


As the August deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling approaches, a bipartisan group led by Vice President Biden continues to negotiate. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would send the national and the world economy into a tailspin. But, some conservatives in Congress are threatening to oppose raising the limit unless it is tied to implementation of budget cuts and spending caps.

The specter of spending caps and/or a balanced budget amendment looms large in these negotiations. Both approaches would be devastating for children, seniors, working families, and our entire nation. They would result in the deepest federal spending cuts in modern history, decimating education funding, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These proposals are, in reality, attempts to address the nation’s fiscal woes on the backs of those who can least afford to sacrifice — those who have already been struggling to meet even basic needs.

Take Action Today: As educators, NEA members have a unique perspective on the importance of investing in education and protecting the most vulnerable in our nation. The stories you can share with policymakers about the impact of proposed spending cuts on your students, colleagues, and communities can be very powerful. Tell Congress to oppose balanced budget amendments and spending caps!

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND UPDATE: HOUSE COMMITTEE PASSES SECOND BILL


As a twenty-five year veteran educator in a crime-ridden and at-risk area, I can tell you, first-hand, that students in my district come to school with substantial economic, social, and academic challenges. The students and their parents are living at or below poverty levels, which places them at a distinct disadvantage when tackling the core curricular program and navigating the school system. School is, at times, an unwelcoming place for many of these families; not because teachers and school staff don't care, but because often school is difficult, parents are working 2 and 3 jobs just to survive, and many parents do not speak the "language of school.” Many of these children don't learn in "regular ways" but require differentiated instruction and different modes of acquiring the skills necessary for academic success. Yes, they can learn and make remarkable progress but they start out "behind the eight ball" when compared to students from more affluent means. Many of our students have family members who are incarcerated, regularly witness violence in their neighborhoods, and are learning English as a second language. These are not excuses for their lack of achievement — this is their reality and my reality as their educator. The truth is, simply, that you cannot, in all fairness, compare their standardized test scores with peers who do not live these challenges day after day. Come and spend a day with me and I'll show you what these students deal with and how the ones that graduate and "make it" defy logic and are miracles in their own right. -- NEA Cyberlobbyist, California

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues to move slowly, with no action in the Senate and action on only a few pieces in the House. This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed an ESEA-related bill on charter schools. The bill includes some positive provisions around protections for English Language Learners and students with disabilities and requirements for publicly reported annual audits of charter schools. However, the bill also falls short in a number of areas, including transparency, accountability, and funding equity. The bill is not likely to move to the House floor anytime soon.

NEA supports high-quality charter schools that: operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable to parents and taxpayers; do not increase segregation by family income, ethnicity, or race; and solicit and benefit from input from parents, school staff, and the communities they serve. Read NEA’s letter to the Committee.

While Congress continues to lag in reauthorizing ESEA, schools and students like those described in the above story need relief now. As we reported last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that the Department of Education would provide relief from some No Child Left Behind provisions if Congress does not complete work on a reauthorization bill prior to the August congressional recess. But, the Secretary indicated that such relief would be tied to “reform.”

NEA believes that regulatory relief should focus on the students.  Any system that positions some students as winners and losers is unacceptable.  Every child in every school has felt the effects of NCLB, so relief shouldn’t be selective or conditional. 

Take Action Today: Tell Secretary Duncan not to make relief from No Child Left Behind a competition! All students need relief now!

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

thumbsup

Representative Tierney (D-MA), who, at a committee mark-up of charter school legislation this week, spoke eloquently about the need for oversight and monitoring of charter schools and their authorizers and more charter school accountability and transparency. Representative Tierney also spoke out against attacks on unions.

thumbsup Representative Lance (R-NJ), who spoke on the House floor in support of public schools in New Jersey identified as “excellent” by Newsweek and congratulated parents, teachers, students, and property taxpayers for supporting the public education system.
thumbsup Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Menendez (D-NJ) and Representatives Holt (D-NJ) and Payne (D-NJ), who released statements opposing a very troubling health and pension bill under consideration in the New Jersey legislature that would roll back public employee collective bargaining rights.
thumbsup Representative Murphy (R-PA), who expressed concerns about the impact of a Republican bill to change Medicaid eligibility rules because of the bill’s negative impact on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Representative Murphy stated that CHIP is still an important program and that Congress needs to talk to states about strengthening it.
News from Capitol Hill. . .

6/17/11

Balanced Budget Amendments And Spending Caps: What Do They Really Mean For Children, The Middle Class, And Our Nation’s Future?


As debates continue in Congress around balanced budget amendments and spending caps, missing from much of the conversation is the impact these proposals would have on the most vulnerable in our nation. Proposals are now on the table to cap federal spending, require a balanced budget, and mandate the approval of “super-majorities” in both the House and Senate to override caps or raise taxes to meet them. These proposals would have devastating consequences for children, working families, the elderly, and others with the greatest needs.

Simply put, these plans would result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history. Education programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs would be decimated. Our fragile economy would be sent into a tailspin and the investments necessary to continue economic recovery would be impossible. 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. A balanced budget amendment or spending caps would destroy the programs intended to help those struggling, leaving them stranded.

Take Action Today: As educators, NEA members have a unique perspective on the importance of investing in education and protecting the most vulnerable in our nation. The stories you can share with policymakers about the impact of proposed spending cuts on your students, colleagues, and communities can be very powerful. Tell Congress to oppose balanced budget amendments and spending caps!

No Child Left Behind: Tell Secretary Duncan All Students Need Relief


I am a special education teacher... I have a self-contained class of 17 first and second graders who are severely language delayed. To qualify for the class, the children need to be 2 years behind academically, socially, and in language skills. Most of the children have been diagnosed with autism, learning disabilities, or are health impaired. Although they make great gains academically, they rarely "catch up" with their general education peers by the end of second grade. As they continue their school career in third and fourth grade, they are required to take the Washington State Test at grade level with no accommodations for the pages and pages of directions for each area. As a result, the children do not pass the test and the school is penalized for not making adequate yearly progress. The third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching test taking skills, practicing for the actual test, and teaching the computer skills necessary for the children to take the test on computers.. Please come to my class, meet the children, and see the hard work that goes on there. Take a minute to apply common sense to the NCLB bill. Please get us off this testing treadmill. — NEA Cyber-lobbyist, Washington


With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) several years overdue, students and schools like the ones described above are still struggling under the flawed mandates of No Child Left Behind. This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education would provide relief from some No Child Left Behind provisions if Congress does not complete work on a reauthorization bill prior to the August congressional recess. Read the Department’s press release. But, the Secretary indicated that relief for states would be tied to “reform.” Read NEA’s press release reacting to this announcement.

NEA believes that regulatory relief should focus on the students. Every child in every school has felt the effects of NCLB, so relief shouldn’t be selective or conditional. Any system that positions some students as winners and losers is unacceptable.

Take Action Today: Tell Secretary Duncan not to make relief from No Child Left Behind a competition! All students need relief now!

Cheers and Jeers


Cheers to:

thumbsup

Senator Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, who wrote an opinion piece for Politico.com, entitled “Control deficit but don't hurt schools” in which he argued eloquently against the Republican leadership budget proposal and cautioned, “To bring federal deficits under control, we must be willing to make tough but necessary budgetary choices. But we must be just as willing to say ‘no’ to foolish, destructive choices. This is especially true when it comes to funding the education of our children.”

Read other education-related opinion pieces by House Education Chairman Kline, Secretary of Education Duncan, and former Secretary of Education Spellings.

thumbsup Senators Shaheen (D-NH), Blumenthal (D-CT), Levin (D-MI), Sanders (I-VT), Kerry (D-MA), Leahy (D-VT), Franken (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Schumer (D-NY), Boxer (D-CA), Johnson (D-SD), Wyden (D-OR), Gillibrand (D-NY), Kohl (D-WI), Udall (D-NM), Durbin (D-IL), Webb (D-VA), Akaka (D-HI), Tester (D-MT), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Rockefeller (D-WV), Merkley (D-OR), and Cardin (D-MD), who signed a “dear colleague” letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for providing the highest possible funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.


News from Capitol Hill. . .

6/10/11

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: WE NEED RELIEF NOW!


Today, [my principal told me] that I can only teach reading and math during the school day in my sixth grade class. Everyone is so scared to not make AYP, that this is the response that we are getting..I'm not allowed to teach science, social studies, and writing, [or] address the poverty students' needs or those who are neglected in some form or another. Can I incorporate some of this into my reading and math? Yes, I can do that because I'm a great teacher who cares about a well-rounded student. But it won't be enough. What do I tell my coworkers in middle school who teach these other subjects? There are major flaws in NCLB and they need [to be] fixed now.. Please help! — NEA Cyber-lobbyist, Wisconsin

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is now several years overdue, which means the flaws of NCLB, like those illustrated above, still apply to our public schools. NEA is urging Congress to craft a reauthorization bill that addresses these flaws. And, at the same time, NEA is urging the Department of Education to provide immediate regulatory relief from the negative consequences of NCLB.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can use regulations to:

  • Help champion student success, including by revising testing rules to allow all students to show what they really know and can do, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners;
  • Elevate the education profession by addressing the needs of rural and small schools and teachers who teach multiple subjects and by ensuring that collective bargaining is respected in critical decisions;
  • Fight for social justice, including by helping struggling schools get what they need to improve and providing more flexibility for districts to choose intervention models and strategies that work.

Take Action Today: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has the power to provide immediate relief through regulations, even while Congress is still working on reauthorization of the law. Contact the Secretary today and urge him to provide immediate regulatory relief.

FUNDING UPDATE: BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENTS AND SPENDING CAPS THREATEN CHILDREN, THE MIDDLE CLASS, AND OUR NATION’S FUTURE!


As we have reported in recent months, economic debates have been on the front burner in Congress, with a very dangerous budget proposal by House Budget Chairman Ryan (R-WI) at the center of the debate. The Ryan budget would slash funding for education and other programs that serve children, the elderly, and working families. As if that weren’t bad enough, Congress is now considering proposals for a balanced budget Constitutional Amendment that would make even deeper cuts and be even more devastating than the Ryan plan.

In recent weeks, the House Judiciary Committee has been considering a balanced budget amendment proposal by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) that would limit federal spending to 20 percent of GDP and allow waiver of this cap only by a two-thirds majority vote of both houses of Congress. In addition, it would prohibit any increase in revenues (taxes) without a three-fifths majority vote of both houses, thereby guaranteeing a decimation of federal programs in order to meet the caps. The Committee has already approved two amendments to make the proposal even more draconian! Similar proposals are being put forward by multiple Members of Congress in the House and Senate. These plans would result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history. Education programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs would be decimated. Our fragile economy would be sent into a tailspin and the investments necessary to continue economic recovery would be impossible.

Take Action Today: As educators, NEA members have a unique perspective on the importance of investing in education and protecting the most vulnerable in our nation. The stories you can share with policymakers about the impact of proposed spending cuts on your students, colleagues, and communities can be very powerful. Tell Congress to oppose balanced budget amendments and spending caps!


CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

thumbsup

Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Blumenthal (D-CT), who circulated a “dear colleague” letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for providing the highest possible funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.

thumbsup Forty-one Democratic Senators, led by Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), who signed a letter to President Obama commending him for opposing proposals to block grant the Medicaid program and pledging to work with him to oppose any efforts to eliminate the fundamental guarantee of Medicaid coverage for our most vulnerable citizens. Half of the 68 million people covered by Medicaid in 2010 were children and one-third of all children in this country are served by Medicaid. Read the full letter and see the list of co-signors.

Jeers to:

thumbsdown The House Judiciary Committee, who found a way to make a very bad proposal even worse by approving two amendments to the Goodlatte balanced budget proposal that would cap all federal spending at 18 percent of GDP (less than the 20 percent cap in the original proposal) and raise the super-majority needed to raise revenues from 3/5 approval to 2/3 approval.

News from Capitol Hill. . .

6/3/11


ESEA REAUTHORIZATION UPDATE: WHAT OUR STUDENTS NEED TO SUCCEED


[My elementary school] is situated in a small rural farming community..Many say that if you blink you might miss our quaint little town. Our community's makeup consists mostly of farmers, educators, small business owners, and migrant workers. Being a lifelong resident, I thrive on the knowledge and feeling that our close knit community works hard at taking care of their own. But unfortunately our struggles and limited resources still carry a heavy burden on our educational setting..Our children walk through our classroom doors with minimal knowledge of the expectations that will be required of them. Precious time is spent on teaching the fundamentals of learning, from holding a pencil correctly to learning basic personal hygiene, yet we still find a way to teach the grade appropriate Standards and Benchmarks. With the restrictions and limitations placed on educators by NCLB and other legislative rulings, our children and educators are being drawn out so thin that it feels as if very little is getting accomplished. Never in my 14 years of teaching has education reform taken on such a negative connotation..I challenge every single [Member of Congress] to walk in my shoes for one day, one hour, to see the challenges, the triumphs and the defeats that our children and we, as educators, face on an everyday basis. My doors are wide open and I plead for you to step through them and experience the joys and heartbreaks that we deal with, with the limited resources we have on hand. Our children, our future, are the most precious resource we have, and it is our duty to prepare them for what is to come. Making more rigorous laws and regulations, instead of aiding educators, will only hamper our progress. I truly understand the intentions of NCLB, but unfortunately it has only caused anguish to those who are affected by it. —NEA Cyber-lobbyist, New Mexico

This story submitted to Congress via NEA’s Legislative Action Center illustrates so vividly what we are fighting for as Congress starts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind. The one-size-fits-all approach under current law simply does not work in real-world classrooms such as those described above.

This week, the push toward reauthorization continued as the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on charter schools. Read NEA’s letter and charter school policy brief submitted to the committee. The next piece of ESEA-related legislation to be released is expected to focus on “flexibility,” but could include troubling provisions that allow school districts to shift funding among programs, including out of Title I. This would seriously undermine the federal government’s commitment to students with the greatest needs.

Take Action Today:

  • As Congress moves forward on ESEA reauthorization, we encourage you to share your stories, your ideas, and your dreams for your students with Congress.
  • Also, remind Congress about the core values reflected in the original ESEA. Urge your Members of Congress to reject “flexibility” proposals that undermine the federal government’s role in targeting resources to those most in need.

FUNDING, THE DEBT CEILING, AND SPENDING CAPS: WHAT DO THEY MEAN FOR CHILDREN AND WORKING FAMILIES?


Debates in Congress continue on a range of economic issues — including the nation’s debt ceiling, potential spending caps, and funding for the next fiscal year. While much in the media has focused on the political strategies behind these debates, NEA believes that the more important question is the impact on children, working families, the elderly, and others in our nation with the greatest needs. The outcome of these debates will show whether we as a nation are going to make the investments necessary to lift everyone and ensure a strong nation for the 21st century, or whether we are going to continue to use rhetoric and false arguments to prop up Wall Street, oil companies, and the wealthiest individuals.

This week, the House of Representatives held a symbolic but essentially meaningless vote on whether to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The ceiling must be raised by August in order to avoid default on our debt. Failure to raise the ceiling would send the economy into a tailspin. Many in Congress, however, are threatening to oppose raising the debt ceiling unless Congress passes spending caps or other proposals to cut federal spending dramatically. As expected, the debt ceiling vote failed overwhelmingly, as negotiations continue behind the scenes on an overall deal.

Also this week, the House Judiciary Committee “marked-up” a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would require a balanced budget and severely limit federal spending. Read NEA’s letter opposing this proposal. The proposal would result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history. It will not be possible to achieve the spending levels required under balanced budget proposals without massive cuts in education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs.

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.

FOR-PROFIT CAREER EDUCATION: HELP PROTECT STUDENTS FROM DECEPTIVE PRACTICES


This week the Obama Administration released final regulations to enforce the federal requirement that career education programs receiving federal student aid “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” NEA supports these regulations. Numerous investigations have revealed pervasive abuses by some career education programs: deceptive and aggressive recruiting of students; inflated job placement rates and false reporting to authorities; overstatement of a program’s value and understatement of its high cost; and dismal completion rates. Too many of these programs are preying on low-income students, minority students, and veterans seeking to further their education, who take on insurmountable debt to pursue degrees or certificates that don’t help them get jobs.

The new “gainful employment” regulations will ramp up over four years, giving colleges time to reform while protecting students from exploitative programs. However, some in Congress — spurred on by pressure from for-profit schools — have already tried, and will likely continue to try to block implementation of the regulations.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to protect students by supporting gainful employment regulations.

CHEERS AND JEERS

Cheers to:

thumbsup Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), who gave an inspiring speech on the nation’s deficit problems, calling out the need to address revenue as well as spending and specifically focusing on the need to invest in education, stating, “Education is No. 1. I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother was a schoolteacher. She used to say: In our household, No. 1 is education, No. 2 is education, and No. 3 is education. We got the message.”
thumbsup Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL), who at a hearing on charter schools raised important questions about the agencies responsible for monitoring charter authorizer performance, how they are monitored, and whether technical assistance is provided to improve authorizer performance.

Jeers to:

thumbsdown House leaders, who scheduled a meaningless vote to raise the debt ceiling, which they knew would fail overwhelmingly, as a further step in their efforts to tie raising the ceiling to implementation of dangerous spending caps.
thumbsdown Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) who, during a hearing on charter schools specifically chastised the Alabama Education Association for their stance on charter schools and asked witnesses for information to “debunk” AEA’s arguments