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Federal Legislative Update January 2012

January 27, 2012
January 20, 2012
January 13, 2012
January 6, 2012

1/27/12

STATE OF THE UNION RECAP: TELL US WHAT YOU THOUGHT


In his third State of the Union Address to the nation before a joint session of Congress, President Obama focused on “restoring an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.The president again pledged to continue making education a top domestic priority in his administration, saying that “teachers matter” and that “rather than bashing them or defending the status quo,” we should support teachers. Read the full text of the State of the Union.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel praised the president’s bold vision and ambitious plan to lead the country and provide more hope for middle class families. Much of the vision laid out in the speech was consistent with the letter president Van Roekel sent to President Obama earlier this month.

NEA member Sara C. Ferguson, an elementary math and literary teacher in Chester Upland, Pennsylvania, attended the State of the Union address as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. Chester Upland School District officials recently told educators that there wouldn’t be enough money to pay them. Teachers and support staff agreed to continue working without pay for the sake of their students. Read Sara Ferguson’s blog post in the Huffington Post.

Tell us what you Thought: What is your reaction to the State of the Union Address? Tell us what you liked in the president’s speech and your thoughts about his plan.

ESEA REAUTHORIZATION: MAKE SURE YOU ARE PART OF THE DEBATE!


The House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman has not yet scheduled a “mark-up” on two new draft ESEA reauthorization proposals – the
Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. Now is the time to weigh in and make sure educators’ voices are part of the debate. Read more about the House bills, including a list of pros and cons.

NEA believes that all students have the human and civil right to a quality public education and a great public school that develops their potential, independence, and character. But, more than 50 years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, too many students are still banished to unequal schools and a lifetime of lost opportunities. The House draft bills fail to address equity issues adequately. They do not push states enough to narrow achievement gaps; provide equal access to quality education; and ensure that state standards and assessment and accountability systems work for students. The proposals also lack a comprehensive plan to address existing inequities in public education that harm students and communities, particularly students and communities of color. Read more about troubling gaps affecting equity, access, and opportunity in the House bills.

Take Action Today: Educators working in schools and classrooms across the country are the best and most effective voices to ensure a good ESEA reauthorization bill. Your experience and expertise are critical to the debates in Congress and policymakers need to hear what you have to say. Contact your Representative today to give your thoughts about what will work best for your students and school.

EDUCATION FUNDING: FISCAL YEAR 2013 PREVIEW


President Obama has announced that he will release his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal the week of February 13, one week later than expected. Budget negotiations this year will be particularly critical, as automatic cuts are scheduled to go into effect for many programs, including education, on January 1, 2013. These cuts, triggered by the failure of the “super committee” to reach a deficit reduction deal late last year,
could slash billions from education and cost additional loss of jobs across America. See the projected impact of these cuts on education. The cuts to education programs would also result in a projected loss of more than 71,000 jobs in communities across America.

Take Action today: Tell Congress to protect education from further cuts.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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President Obama, whose State of the Union Address outlined plans to give hope and help to Americans and showed that he understands that investing in education now and opening opportunities to all students are fundamental to the long-term economic well-being of our children and our nation.

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Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT),who this week introduced legislation to ensure that interest rates on certain student loans do not dramatically increase this year.

Jeers to:

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Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who in his Republican response to the State of the Union Address called the president’s policies “extremism” that amount to a “pro-poverty” policy.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who in his response to the State of the Union criticized the proposal to require millionaires to pay more in taxes.

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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who said that the president “will always prefer a food stamp economy to a paycheck economy and call it fair.”

1/20/12

WILL YOU WATCH? STATE OF THE UNION – WHAT DO YOU WANT TO HEAR?


President Obama will give his State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 24 at 9:00pm eastern time. NEA has called on the President to set forth a bold agenda that offers both hope and help – one that puts people back to work and helps the middle class get back on their feet. In particular, we have asked that the president focus on job creation, infrastructure investments (including school modernization), college affordability, and the range of services that help families and children succeed (child care, early childhood education, Medicaid). Read NEA’s letter to the President. Follow NEA’s twitter feed during the State of the Union Address for immediate reaction to the President’s speech.

A LOT AT STAKE FOR YOUR STUDENTS IN THE NEW HOUSE ESEA REAUTHORIZATION BILLS!


As we reported last week, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) has released two new draft ESEA reauthorization proposals – the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  The proposals are expected to be considered by the Committee in a “mark-up” (where they will debate and amend the draft); however, no mark-up has been scheduled.

Under the bills, schools would still test students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” formula would be scrapped. Achievement data would still be broken down to show how different subgroups of students, such as English-language learners and students with disabilities, are doing relative to their peers. Students with disabilities would be assessed in a manner deemed appropriate by their IEP teams.

Any ESEA reauthorization proposal must be judged by how well it focuses on equity, supports educators and struggling schools, and helps ensure that public education thrives.  We are very concerned that the drafts walk away from the traditional federal role of ensuring that every student has equal opportunity and access to a quality education regardless of where he or she lives.  We must find an appropriate balance of federal and state roles by refocusing on strong state accountability systems while continuing to maintain a sharp federal focus on equity across state and district lines.  Overall, we are concerned that the drafts tip the balance too far toward the states by failing to provide for a clear federal role in ensuring equity for students most in need, namely children living in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Take Action Today:  Educators working in schools and classrooms across the country are the best and most effective voices to ensure a good ESEA reauthorization bill.  Your experience and expertise are critical to the debates in Congress and policymakers need to hear what you have to say.  Contact your Representative today to give your thoughts about what will work best for your students and school.

SHAMEFUL SCHOOL CONDITIONS ACROSS THE NATION: TELL CONGRESS TO ACT ON SCHOOL MODERNIZATION


North Carolina -- The school system I work for has battled decades of high poverty, crime, teen pregnancy, and dropout rates with some major successes. All that we have achieved is now at risk as 30-40 students are crowded into classrooms built for 20. When I stepped into my classroom here for the first time last year, there were no rulers, no pencil sharpener, no supplies of any kind, and more than half the chairs needed to be replaced due to broken legs. I went out and bought essential supplies, asked the carpentry teacher to help me fix the chairs, and scoured everything from Craigslist to yard sales to business discards to get enough materials to teach art. I’m beginning to wonder whether I have the stamina to keep going at the job I love.  I worry: What if another chair breaks? How can a child do art without an eraser? I don’t have an extra and can’t afford to buy one because I’m counting pennies until pay day.

New Jersey -- I am a fourth grade teacher working in a school that is over 100 years old. The 3rd floor was deemed unsafe and therefore condemned. We do not have air conditioning and students are expected to perform well in standardized tests that could fall during a 90-degree week. Our computers run on a twelve-year-old Windows 2000 program. How are we expected to compete with surrounding affluent districts that have up-to-date technologies and facilitates? If we could modernize our facilities, not only would test scores improve but we would be able to get Americans back to work.

The shameful conditions described in the stories above should be shocking in a nation as wealthy as ours. Yet, they are only a few examples of the deplorable conditions many students and educators are forced to endure across the country.

Last year, the Senate postponed a vote on the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act, which would provide desperately-needed school modernization resources. Now, Senate leaders have indicated they may schedule a vote on the bill, introduced by Senator Brown (D-OH), within the next few months. In addition, President Obama may mention the need for school and other infrastructure improvements in his State of the Union Address. We need to keep the pressure on for Congress to act!

Take Action Today:

  • Remind your Senators and Representatives to support school and campus modernization legislation.
  • Watch NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen as she tackles the issue of indoor air quality and school modernization along with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

The Lunchpail Republicans, a group of Indiana Republicans who have stood up for union rights and against a proposed “right to work” bill. The group says “If we work under a union contract, chances are we are paid better than we would be without it. That means something to us. If a union helps us earn more money to support our families, paying our union a little bit is only fair.”

Vice President Biden, who spoke this week at an Ohio high school about the rising cost of higher education and the consequences for our nation. Biden said, “If you take the promise of access to college out of the American Dream, how much have you broken the dream? The single distinctive feature of America, the backbone of our country, is its middle class and the certitude that the dream is real.”

Jeers to:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, while millions continue to struggle to make ends meet, downplayed his $374,000 in speaking fees as “not much.”

1/13/12

WHAT’S IN THE NEW HOUSE ESEA REAUTHORIZATION BILLS?


The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has released two new draft ESEA reauthorization proposals – the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  The proposals are expected to be considered by the Committee in a “mark-up” (where they will debate and amend the draft), which could take place as early as the end of this month.


NEA is very concerned that the drafts walk away from the traditional federal role of ensuring that every student has equal opportunity and access to a quality education regardless of where he or she lives.  We must find an appropriate balance of federal and state roles by refocusing on strong state accountability systems while continuing to maintain a sharp federal focus on equity across state and district lines.  Overall, we are concerned that the drafts tip the balance too far toward the states by failing to provide for a clear federal role in ensuring equity for students most in need, namely children living in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Specific pros in the drafts include:

  • Continuation of the disaggregation of data to track achievement of minority students and students with special needs
  • Reduction in some of the federal micromanagement of accountability systems
  • Allowing more locally-developed models for turning around struggling schools, rather than a narrow, prescriptive list from a federal level
  • Allowance for more appropriate testing of students with disabilities so an IEP team can decide what assessment is educationally appropriate for a particular student
  • Better alignment of academic standards and assessments for English Language Learners.

However, the drafts also have some very troubling provisions, including:

  • Allowing the potential for federal funds to flow to private schools through vouchers
  • Eliminating requirements that states maintain their level of spending on K-12 education
  • A continued reliance on standardized testing to measure student achievement without consideration of the multiple measures needed for an accurate and effective accountability system 
  • Capping the amount of funds that can be used to reduce class sizes 
  • Problematic federal mandates in the area of teacher evaluation
  • Eliminating almost all language protecting collective bargaining and the ability of educators to have a voice in teaching and learning condition. 

NEA believes that any reauthorization proposal must be judged by how well it focuses on equity, supports educators, supports struggling schools, and helps ensure that public education thrives. 

Take Action Today:  Educators working in schools and classrooms across the country are the best and most effective voices to ensure a good ESEA reauthorization bill.  Your experience and expertise are critical to the debates in Congress and policymakers need to hear what you have to say.  Contact your Representative today to give your thoughts about what will work best for your students and school.

WATCH CNN THIS WEEKEND—NEA VP LILY ESKELSEN JOINS CNN DOC SANJAY GUPTA!


NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen worked with CNN on a special news piece that reveals just how hazardous crumbling schools are to student learning.  CNN will shine the national spotlight on indoor air quality in schools across America with a segment airing on Saturday, January 14 at 8 p.m., 11 p.m., and 2 a.m. eastern time.  The program will re-air again at the same times on Sunday, January 15.  The piece will follow CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he visits schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut to examine the impact of IAQ on students and school employees.  During his travels, Dr. Gupta spoke to NEA members and leaders, including NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen, who emphasized the dire need to fix our schools, making clear the safety and health issues for students and impact on learning.

Take Action Today:

  • Remind Congress to support school and campus modernization legislation.
  • Watch a sneak peak of the CNN segment and behind the scenes video, visit.
  • Read more about the segment and leave your comments.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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The North Carolina Supreme Court, which issued a temporary injunction blocking implementation of a law that would stop the North Carolina Association of Educators from collecting dues from teachers' paychecks via payroll deduction.  The law was approved last week by Republican state legislators in a surprise midnight session.

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The Obama Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which has issued a notice of intent to change regulations to reduce the amount of time U.S. citizens are separated from their families while their families members go through the process to become legal residents of the United States. 

Jeers to:

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who this week, as millions of Americans continue to struggle, joked that he likes to “fire people.”

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State legislators in Indiana and New Hampshire, who continue to push anti-worker, anti-union “right to work” laws that research shows will create few jobs while lowering wages and benefits.

1/6/12

CONGRESSIONAL PREVIEW: ESEA AND OTHER CRITICAL ISSUES MOVING EARLY IN 2012


Congress adjourned in late December and will return in mid-January with a full plate, although election year partisanship is likely to outweigh any efforts for bipartisan action. The House is scheduled to reconvene on January 17; the Senate will return the following week on January 23. The President’s State of the Union address is scheduled for Tuesday, January 24.

At the conclusion of 2011, Congress passed an NEA-supported funding bill for the current fiscal year (FY2012) that provides modest increases for important programs like Title I and IDEA special education while rejecting previously proposed program cuts and eliminations. Read NEA’s letter of support. In addition, the House and Senate agreed to a two-month extension of the expiring Social Security payroll tax cut that had been enacted in December 2010. The congressional agenda for early 2012 will include:

  • ESEA reauthorization – The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is expected to release draft proposals on accountability and teachers/leaders very soon, with a committee mark-up expected in early February. The committee passed three smaller ESEA-related bills (on charter schools, program eliminations, and transfer of funding among programs) last year. The Senate committee held a mark-up on a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization bill in late 2011.
  • The fiscal year 2013 budget – President Obama will release his Budget proposal in early February followed by congressional debate on House and Senate plans. We will need to be vigilant to prevent plans that cut education and programs that serve children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations – as in last year’s House-passed budget.
  • Additional work on the payroll tax and unemployment benefits -- A joint House-Senate conference committee will convene early in 2012 to work out a long-term extension of the payroll tax cut, along with extensions of benefits for the long-term unemployed and Medicare physician reimbursement rates.
  • School and campus modernization – A Senate vote on legislation to repair and modernize k-12 schools and community college campuses has been promised for early 2012. Remind your Senators to support this critical legislation.
  • Deficit reduction – In the wake of last year’s failure of the Super Committee to reach a deal on deficit reduction, across-the-board cuts are scheduled to go into effect in January 2013. During the coming year, activists will need to work hard to block scheduled cuts to education and to protect programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare that could once again be targeted for cuts.

SOCIAL SECURITY FAIRNESS: SENATE BILL INTRODUCED TO REPEAL UNFAIR OFFSETS


Just prior to congressional adjournment, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 2010), which would repeal the unfair Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The bill is a companion to the House version (H.R. 1332), introduced earlier last year by Representatives McKeon (R-CA) and Berman (D-CA). The GPO and WEP take away Social Security benefits earned by many public employees. The Social Security Fairness Act would fully repeal these unfair penalties. Learn more about the GPO and WEP.

Take Action Today: Urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Social Security Fairness Act.

NEW SITE HELPS ADVOCATES DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION, MIDDLE CLASS


Election 2012 is in full swing. In both state and federal races, so much of what you care about is on the line, from public education, students, and the survival of a middle class to jobs, health care, and strong communities. It is in that spirit that NEA’s Education Votes (EdVotes) website proudly introduces our Election 2012 site . Geared toward the concerned voter, the Election 2012 site places a premium on what you’ve come to expect from EdVotes: news you can use from a pro-public education perspective. We strip away the sound bites and give you the facts on pivotal state ballot measures and initiatives, key state races, and where the presidential candidates really stand.”

The page features:

  • An updated presidential candidate comparison guide.
  • A regularly updated list of state ballot measures and initiatives that affect public schools, worker rights, public services and more.
  • A rundown of the presidential primary and caucus dates, presidential debates, and party conventions.
  • Just the Facts, complete with candidate quotes and citations on hot topics.
  • All EdVotes coverage of candidate- and election-related content.

THANK YOU ACTIVISTS! NEA NAMED MOST EFFECTIVE EDUCATION ADVOCATES


A new survey of 50 current and former administration, Capitol Hill aides, and state level leaders has found that the National Education Association is the most effective education lobbyist in Washington. NEA captured the top spot in on an open-ended question asking respondents who they saw as the most effective education lobbyists lobbying federal policy right now. NEA’s success in advocating for educators and the students you serve would not be possible without the grassroots activism of our hundreds of thousands of cyber-lobbyists. Thank you for your continued efforts to make your voices heard on Capitol Hill!

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who stood up for the rights on educators and other public employees by introducing the Senate version of the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 2010).

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President Obama, who appointed three pro-labor individuals to fill key, vacant positions on the National Labor Relations Board.

Jeers to:

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Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R), who was quoted recently as saying, “Let’s look at colleges and universities…They’ve become indoctrination centers for the left. Should we be subsidizing that?”

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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R), who attacked President Obama’s pro-labor appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, calling the President “a crony capitalist” who had put ‘union stooges’ on the federal board that oversees the workplace.”

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The North Carolina General Assembly, which voted to hold a special legislative session after midnight, in which they voted to override the Governor Purdue’s veto of a bill to stop the North Carolina Association of Educators from collecting dues from teachers' paychecks via payroll deduction.