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Federal Legislative Update January 2014

January 31, 2014
January 24, 2014
January 17, 2014
January 10, 2014

January 31, 2014

State of the Union stresses opportunity, especially for children and families

Opportunity was the unifying theme of President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. “Opportunity is who we are,” he said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” The President cited ongoing education priorities directed to the most vulnerable in our nation’s schools, including universal early childhood education, redesigning high schools to include more job training, making college affordable, and ConnectEd, an initiative to bring high-speed broadband to all schools. He also highlighted policies — such as raising the minimum wage and ensuring access to healthcare — that help reduce inequality and create opportunities, especially for children and families. “[O]ur opportunity agenda won’t be complete — and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise — unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American,” he said.

Investing and supporting public education is key to fulfilling that agenda. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who attended the State of the Union, said in his video response: “Opportunity can’t happen if all children and adults are not provided with a solid education, regardless of where you live or your economic status.”

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell us which issues that promote more opportunity are most important to you and your students.

Urge Congress to help kids and families by raising the minimum wage

President Obama can increase the minimum wage for federal contractor workers to $10.10 an hour with the stroke of a pen, as he vowed to do during the State of the Union. But to raise it for millions of others, Congress must act. Today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is equivalent to an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker — far below the $23,550 that is the official poverty level for a family of four. Many education support professionals need to work in multiple jobs just to support their families, and educators see students each day whose families are struggling financially. An incredible 23 percent of all children in America have a parent who would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage. The NEA-supported Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 1737/H.R. 1010) would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps. Share your story: How would raising the minimum wage help your students, colleagues and community?

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

Tell Congress every child should have access to high-quality pre-K

Both the House and the Senate will hold hearings next week on early childhood education, a top educational priority also cited by President Obama in the State of the Union. The NEA-supported, bipartisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697/H.R. 3461) would help states fund high-quality prekindergarten for 4-year olds from low-income families; encourage states to support prekindergarten for 4-year-olds from moderate-income families; and encourage learning opportunities for even younger children — for example, through partnerships with Early Head Start programs.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to pass the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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President Obama for again making education a key focus of his State of the Union speech and legislative agenda, and opening the speech with a salute to educators: “Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

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Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for remarks he delivered on the House floor to mark National School Choice Week: “Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their strategists, have embraced so-called ‘school choice’ as part of their rebranding efforts, to appear more caring … This new effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: the Growth and Opportunity Project. This is political posturing at its worst … If you ask most parents in America, they will tell you that their first ‘choice’ is for their neighborhood school to be a great school.”

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for her reaction to so-called school choice: “I have always had great anxiety with the thought that we’d take public money, state money, and send it to private schools.”

Jeers to:

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Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) for his tweet about the State of the Union address: “On the floor of house waitin on ‘Kommandant-In-Chef’... the Socialistic dictator who’s been feeding US a line or is it ‘A-Lying?’”

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Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) for introducing new school voucher proposals, including a plan to divert $24 billion per year of federal funding for education to a new “school choice” program; a proposal to create a special education voucher program; and expanding the Washington, DC, voucher program.

January 24, 2014

What would you like President Obama to say Tuesday night?

President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 28 (9 p.m. Eastern Time) is expected to focus, in part, on how much harder it has become for many families to make ends meet. The result is too many children living in poverty — a record 16.1 million, according to a new report this week from the Children’s Defense Fund. One-fourth of America’s infants, toddlers, and preschoolers live in poverty during the crucial early years of brain development. Educators see firsthand how students’ ability to learn is challenged by living in poverty or having a long-term unemployed parent. Share your thoughts on these and other issues you’d like to see President Obama raise Tuesday night — for example, the importance of access to high-quality early childhood education and making higher education affordable for all students. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who will be a special guest of Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) at the State of the Union, has offered his hopes for the speech.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell President Obama what you’re hoping to hear.

Tell Congress: Raising the federal minimum wage helps families

Today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is equivalent to an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker — far below the $23,550 that is the official poverty level for a family of four. Many education support professionals need to work in multiple jobs just to support their families, and educators see students each day whose families are struggling financially. An incredible 23 percent of all children in America have a parent who would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage. The NEA-supported Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 1737/H.R. 1010) would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps. Share your story: How would raising the minimum wage help your students, colleagues and community?

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

Urge Senators to help children and families by extending unemployment benefits

Congress is deadlocked over extending unemployment benefits, but not the public. A new Fox News poll shows that 69 percent of the people think unemployment insurance should last at least a year — twice as long as the current 26 weeks. More than 2.3 million children are living with a long-term unemployed parent — triple the number just five years ago — according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute. In 2012 alone, unemployment benefits kept 600,000 children out of poverty. Read how losing this lifeline is already impacting families and students and help make the case for extending unemployment benefits with more stories.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell your Senators to support the bipartisan Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S. 1845)

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for publicly stating his support for immigration reform that includes a path to legal status for aspiring Americans.

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Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Jared Huffman (D-CA), David McKinley (R-WV) and Gregg Harper (R-MS) for leading an effort to ask fellow House members to join them in urging President Obama to increase funding for IDEA in FY2015, and work with them on a plan to reach full funding for IDEA in 10 years.

Jeers to:

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Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann (MN), Lou Barletta (PA), Kerry Bentivolio (MI), Mo Brooks (AL), Tom Cotton (AR), Jeff Duncan (SC), John Fleming (LA), Phil Gingrey (GA), Walter Jones (NC), Steve King (IA), Mike Rogers (AL), Lamar Smith (TX), Steve Stockman (TX), Steven Palazzo (MS), Joe Wilson (SC), and Ted Yoho (FL) for their letter to President Obama opposing comprehensive immigration reform for unsound reasons: “[W]ages for American citizens would fall while American unemployment would rise. Per-capita GNP would sink as well … [it] would represent the final economic blow for millions of workers who have been struggling to gain an economic foothold.”

January 17, 2014

Educators’ voices lead to wins for students most in need in final funding bill

The NEA-supported FY2014 omnibus funding bill to be signed into law by President Obama largely restores funding to pre-sequester levels for key programs serving the students most in need. While the bill is not perfect, it does begin to reverse the austerity approach that has been so harmful to schools. Congress would not have gotten the funding priorities right had it not been for months of advocacy by educators nationwide. Among the highlights:

  • K-12 — 86% of cuts in Title I and IDEA grants restored, and 100% of cuts restored in Impact Aid, 21st century afterschool program, TRIO and GEAR Up, education for the homeless, and math-science partnerships
  • Early childhood — 57,000 lost Head Start seats fully restored, $500 million more for Early Head Start, $250 million for states for pre-K initiative for 4-year-olds
  • Post-secondary prep — 94% of cuts in Perkins career and technical education grants restored

The measure also provides much-needed flexibility in the School Improvement Grant program, which augments resources for struggling students and schools. Two new approaches to transformation — a whole school reform model and a flexible reform option subject to approval by the state and Secretary of Education — mirror an NEA-supported amendment to ESEA reauthorization previously included in Senate legislation.

Tell Senators halting unemployment benefits hurts children

Partisan sniping derailed two efforts to advance the bipartisan Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S. 1845) this week. More than 2.3 million children are living with a long-term unemployed parent — triple the number just five years ago — according to a new report from the nonpartisan Urban Institute. In 2012 alone, unemployment benefits kept 600,000 children out of poverty. Read how losing this lifeline is already impacting families and students and help make the case for extending unemployment benefits with more stories.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell your Senators to support S. 1845.

Urge Congress to take action on minimum wage

Failure to raise the federal minimum wage is emblematic of the growth in income inequality and decline in opportunity for all that President Obama recently described as the “defining challenge of our day.” The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 1737 and H.R. 1010) would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour in three steps. NEA strongly supports the measure, noting that many of our education support professionals need to work multiple jobs just to support their families, and far too many of their students are living in poverty. Today’s federal minimum wage is equivalent to an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker. Share your story: How would a minimum wage increase help your students, colleagues and community?

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to raise the minimum federal wage.

House GOP to unveil immigration “principles” but action needed to help families

According to media reports, House Republicans are rushing to release their principles for immigration reform before the President’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28. The NEA-supported Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15), which is closely modeled after the comprehensive bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in June, provides a 13-year pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans and a five-year expedited pathway to citizenship for eligible DREAMers.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell your Representative to support H.R. 15.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), respectively the Senate and House Appropriations chairs, for their leadership in working together to finalize the omnibus FY2014 funding bill, including the often-controversial Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. Citing “critical investments in early learning,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) called it “the bill in which we invest in our future.”

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A bipartisan group of House members for introducing H.R. 3899, the “Voting Rights Amendment Act,” a good start to restoring critical voter protections following last year’s Supreme Court decision on the VRA. Representatives Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Conyers (D-MI), Lewis (D-GA), Chabot (R-OH), Bachus (R-AL), Scott (D-VA), and Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced the House bill, with Senator Leahy (D-VT) introducing S. 1945.

Jeers to:

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for saying to extend unemployment benefits would be “to slap another Band-Aid from Washington on it [the economy] and call it a day.”

January 10, 2014 

Tell Congress to prioritize Title I and IDEA in final funding bill

As negotiations continue on discretionary spending for the rest of this year, it is likely that Congress will need a short-term continuing resolution of at least a few days to buy time for finalizing and voting on an omnibus spending bill. To avert another government shutdown, lawmakers must pass either an omnibus bill or another continuing resolution by January 15, when the current CR expires. NEA is urging the appropriators crafting the Labor-HHS-Education and other funding bills to make core formula grant programs for our students most in need, like Title I and IDEA, a top priority.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to undo the sequester’s cuts in core formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA.

Urge your Senator to vote to extend unemployment benefits

On Tuesday, six Republicans joined with Democrats and voted for cloture on the bipartisan Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S. 1845), temporarily paving the way for final passage. But by week’s end, familiar partisan sniping had left the measure’s outcome in doubt, with further action delayed until next week. In 2012 alone, unemployment benefits kept 600,000 children out of poverty. The long-term unemployed share of the workforce is nearly twice as high today as it was in any other period when Congress allowed an extended benefits program to expire, reports the Economic Policy Institute. Some 1.3 million people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks have already lost their unemployment benefits, and an additional 3.6 million people will lose them by the end of this year if Congress fails to act. Read how the loss of this lifeline is already impacting families and students and help make the case for extending unemployment benefits with more stories.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell your Senator to support S. 1845.

Encourage Congress to raise the federal minimum wage

According to media reports, in his State of the Union address on January 28 President Obama will highlight the issue of income inequality and call for raising the federal minimum wage. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 1737) would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour in three steps. NEA strongly supports the measure, noting that many of our education support professionals need to work multiple jobs just to support their families. Today’s federal minimum wage is equivalent to an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker.
 
TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to raise the minimum federal wage.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Republicans who initially voted with Democrats to invoke cloture, at least paving the way for the bill to extend unemployment insurance to proceed: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dan Coats (IN), Susan Collins (ME, Dean Heller (NV), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH). While these senators helped move the bill forward, their support for final passage remained uncertain.

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U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice for developing and issuing comprehensive guidance on disciplining students — the first time the federal government has done so — and underscoring the need to eliminate any bias, especially with regard to “zero tolerance” policies that disproportionately impact minorities and students with disabilities.

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Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for his response to misleading Republican messaging on school choice: “It’s very nice to go around the country and say you’re for education. But if you cut the labor health bill by 22.6 percent in your budget, it’s like No Child Left Behind, it’s very nice to say we’re not going to leave any child behind, we didn’t fund it…. Talk is cheap, but performance is what counts.”

Jeers to:

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) for continuing to push for federal vouchers, including the so-called Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, DC, in which the U.S. Government Accountability Office has found inadequate safeguards over millions of dollars in federal funding, insufficient information for parents, and a student database riddled with incomplete information.