On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we urge you to VOTE YES on the conference report for the fiscal year 2012 omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2055). We also urge you to OPPOSE legislation that would implement a 1.8 percent across the board cut to non-defense discretionary spending (H.Con.Res.94). Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress.
We are pleased that, under the constraints of the Budget Control Act, Congress has reached an agreement reflecting important national priorities. In particular, the omnibus packages takes steps toward ensuring needed investment in core education programs that will help students succeed and set our nation on the path to economic prosperity. Investing in education makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy. Funding targeted to improving public schools will see the greatest return on taxpayer money and will strengthen the entire economy. We are also very pleased that the bill rejects anti-labor provisions representing unwarranted attacks on struggling working families.
Specifically, we are pleased that the conference report:
While Title I has made a significant difference in addressing gaps in educational access and opportunity, many challenges remain as far too many students’ success in school continues to depend in large part on the zip code where they live. According to First Focus, from 2008 to 2009, the number of America’s children that live in poverty grew by close to 2 million. In 2009, child poverty reached a level of 20.7 percent — a rate of more than one in five and totaling more than 15.5 million children. This makes increased funding of Title I even more important, to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed.
- Provides small increases for formula grant programs like IDEA and Title I. We support targeting limited resources to programs that provide assistance to students and schools with the greatest needs, such as Title I and IDEA.
Similarly, increased IDEA funding is essential to ensure all students the services they need to succeed. For too long, Congress has failed to live up to its commitment to fund 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure of every child in special education. This continued underfunding — in combination with current state fiscal crises — forces school districts to raise taxes or dip into general education budgets to make up for the shortfall, thereby cutting other critical services. Increasing IDEA funding will help take pressure off of state and local budgets already stretched thin and free up funding for other priorities.
Preserves the maximum Pell Grant award and addresses the Pell shortfall. Maintaining Pell Grant awards is critical to increasing access to higher education. The federal commitment to student financial aid helps ensure enough educated, skilled Americans to sustain economic recovery or secure our nation's future for the next generation. We do however, have continued concerns about provisions restrict Pell Grant eligibility that would increase barriers to higher education by limiting the number of semesters a student can receive a grant. Many students must work while attending school. These changes would do great harm to these students and would undermine their ability to attain the education they need to advance in their careers.
Continues or increases funding of key programs like School Improvement Grants, Promise Neighborhoods, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, literacy programs, Arts in Education, and minority-serving institutions. These programs were slated for elimination under the earlier House bill. Such eliminations would have significantly undermined efforts to help struggling schools, ensure effective student supports, and provide a well-rounded education to our nation’s students.
Continues funding for Title II teacher quality programs. A growing body of research confirms what school-based personnel have known for years—that the skills and knowledge of educators are the most important factors in how well students learn. Continuing funding for teacher quality programs is essential if we are to ensure every student the opportunity to learn from the highest quality teachers.
Protects funding for the landmark Affordable Care Act. NEA members across the country see first-hand every day the importance of access to health care for children’s success in school. Students simply cannot learn unless they come to school healthy. Families with access to regular medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home.
Rejects House policy riders that would have undermined workers rights, including those that would have negated decades of National Labor Relations Act protections and amended Davis-Bacon wage protections.
Rejects a House policy rider that would have blocked implementation of “gainful employment” regulations. These regulations advance the common-sense principle that federal financial aid should go to career education programs that consistently provide what they promise and don’t leave students buried in debt they cannot repay.
While we support passage of this omnibus package, we oppose any efforts to implement a 1.8 percent across the board cut to non-defense discretionary spending (H.Con.Res.94). This proposal would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from education programs, undoing many of the positive provisions in the underlying omnibus.
Again, we urge you to support passage of H.R.2055 — the omnibus FY 2012 appropriations bill. We thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues.
Director, Center for Advocacy
Director of Government Relations