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Letter to Congress on the FY2014 Omnibus Bill

January 14, 2014

Dear Member of Congress: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we urge you to vote yes on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (the Omnibus) to be voted on this week.  While not perfect, we are pleased that the measure takes important steps to address the harm that sequestration imposed on education, and students most in need.  Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress.  

The bill takes positive steps in charting a path away from the damaging austerity approach of recent years. We are particularly pleased that, despite the difficult fiscal constraints still in place, the Labor-HHS-Education bill prioritizes critical formula grant programs that are so essential to addressing inequities and providing targeted help to students in poverty, children with disabilities, and those most in need of extra assistance.  We appreciate that Title I and IDEA grants are almost fully restored from the sequester cuts. Formula grants like these provide more funding certainty to states and local school districts rather than competitive grants that typically create winners and losers, leaving too many students behind.   

The Omnibus also recognizes what educators have long known — that the first years of a child’s life are a vital window of opportunity.  In that light, we applaud the full restoration of Head Start funding for the 57,000 seats lost due to sequestration and the $500 million boost in funding for Early Head Start. The bill also includes $250 million for grants to states to help build capacity, develop, and enhance or expand high-quality pre-K programs for students from low- and moderate-income families. We support the commitment the bill makes to quality early childhood education programs which play a critical role in putting a child on the path to success—in school and in life.   

We also appreciate that the bill restores the sequester cuts to Impact Aid, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, TRIO, GEAR Up, Math and Science partnerships, and Education for Homeless Children and Youth. And we applaud the clear effort to prioritize funding for English Language Learners and Career and Technical Education Grants, and the increase of the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,730.  

As educators and districts continue to focus on improving struggling schools, the bill notably includes additional flexibility aimed at turning around low-performing schools by allowing for two new models: a whole school reform model and a flexible reform option approved by the state and Secretary of Education.   

While we are encouraged by much of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriation measure, we must note our continued opposition to the omnibus’ inclusion of $16 million in taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers in Washington, D.C. NEA opposes diverting essential and limited resources from public schools to private and religious schools that are not publically accountable, especially when those funds mean fewer resources available for overall improvements in America's public schools. 

We commend the bipartisan work by Appropriators to craft this omnibus proposal, especially the inclusion of the Labor-HHS-Education measure that is often relegated to a continuing resolution. While this funding bill does not fully correct the devastating impact of the sequester on education, students and communities, it takes critical steps in the right direction. And it correctly prioritizes programs that help students most in need.  We urge you to vote yes on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. 

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations