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Federal Legislative Updates February 2014

February 28, 2014
February 13, 2014
February 07, 2014

February 28, 2014

Educators testify before Senate and call for raise in minimum wage to help students and families

NEA members Edith Kimball and Courtney Johnson testified to the economic struggles of working families, the hardships facing their students, and the need for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage at an extraordinary Senate Budget Committee hearing on Tuesday. Together, Edith and Courtney gave Senators a clear picture of how federal policy truly impacts students and families. Read about your fellow educators’ day on the Hill and see videos of them delivering their message here.

“For me, in my job, [raising the minimum wage] would mean an increase of $200 more a month for my family. That would help give us a just a little more in our budget. It could help me open a college savings plan for my children for their future,” said Kimball, an elementary school food services professional in Lee, Florida. Read her full testimony here (MS Word icon MS Word, 29 KB, 2 pgs.).

“I don’t know all of the specific policies that have contributed to the decline of the middle class, but I know that when folks don’t have good jobs, everything else in our society unravels,” said Johnson, a high school English teacher in Columbus, Ohio. “Where are we as a country when we do not value and respect the dignity of work?” Read her full testimony here (MS Word icon MS Word, 33 KB, 2 pgs.).

The NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness Act of 2013 (S. 1737/H.R. 1010) would raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — the equivalent of an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker — to $10.10 an hour in three steps. Share your story: How would raising the minimum wage help your students and community?

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Join Edith and Courtney and tell Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

President’s 2015 budget expected to call for more investment in education and jobs

President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015, to be released next week, will call for an end to austerity, a continued reversal of devastating sequester cuts, and increased investments in early-childhood education, job training, and other domestic programs that help the middle class. The President’s budget will also be notable for what it will NOT do: Call for use of a less-generous formula, called the “chained CPI,” to calculate cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries. That harmful policy proposal had been included in last year’s budget proposal but strong opposition from educators, retirees, and Members of Congress helped convince the Administration to drop it from this year’s plan. More details to come next week.

Urge Congress to say ‘no’ to shifting federal funds to vouchers

In the name of “school choice,” two Republican Senators and a Representative recently introduced bills that would massively increase federal funding for private school vouchers at the expense of our nation’s public schools. The Scholarships for Kids Act (S. 1968/H.R. 4000), introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), would shift up to $24 billion — or 63 percent of ALL federal education funding — to voucher programs for low-income students. The Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act (S. 1909), introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), would shift $11 billion of IDEA funding to voucher programs for students with disabilities and students on military bases, and expand the Washington, DC, voucher program. These proposals would divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real “choice” for the overwhelming majority of students.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell your Senators and Representative to oppose S. 1968/H.R. 4000 and S. 1909

Senate to vote next week on improving childcare and early learning opportunities for low-income families

The Senate is expected to vote next week on the NEA-supported Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act (S. 1086). This program helps low-income working families and parents transitioning from welfare to work find safe, affordable childcare. S.1086 incorporates lessons learned from research and the states, improving the likelihood that more children will enter school ready to succeed by investing in the early childhood workforce, focusing on early learning, and ensuring the health and safety of children served by the program.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) for inviting two educators to testify at a hearing on Tuesday about the real-life struggles facing students and families, and how Congress can help address those challenges.

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for his response to the testimony of NEA members Edith Kimball and Courtney Johnson. He thanked them for “putting a face on this,” noting that policy prescriptions and statistics don’t fully tell the story of what is happening in the real world.

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Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Tim Bishop (D-NY), and Democratic colleagues for signing a discharge petition to force an up-or-down vote on his bill, the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010), which would raise the pay of at least 25 million Americans.

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Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) for recent comments that the GOP should be more open to immigration reform. “I am more than willing to have a discussion about allowing at least part of the 11 million people here illegally to have some type of status,” he said. “I’m just disappointed that more people in my party don’t want to do that.”

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Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) for introducing resolutions honoring Read Across America Day.

Jeers to:

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Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) for calling for a continuation of austerity policies and questioning the need to raise the minimum wage at the Budget Committee’s hearing on Tuesday.


February 13, 2014

Congress extends debt ceiling with no strings attached

In a break from the recent past, when objections from the far right nearly caused a national default, Congress voted this week without brinksmanship to extend the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015 — with no strings attached. The vote in the House was largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting “yes” and most Republicans voting “no.” After brief drama over breaking a filibuster Wednesday afternoon, the Senate passed the measure.

Tell Congress to raise the minimum wage to help students and families

Before a looming snowstorm forced numerous postponements, the Senate HELP Committee had planned to hold a hearing on the minimum wage on Thursday. The hearing, “From Poverty to Opportunity: How a Fair Minimum Wage Will Help Working Families Succeed,” will likely be rescheduled in preparation for a vote in March on the NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness Act of 2013 (S. 1737/H.R. 1010). The bill would raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — the equivalent of an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker — to $10.10 an hour in three steps. Many education support professionals need to work in multiple jobs just to support their families, and one in four children in America has a parent who would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage. Share your story: How would raising the minimum wage help your students and community?

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

Urge Congress to ensure every child has access to high-quality early education

Committee action on the NEA-supported, bipartisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697/H.R. 3461) is expected in the coming months. NEA’s Board of Directors lobbied in support of the legislation last week, encouraging more co-sponsors, and 16 Representatives have since signed on, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 100. The bill would help states fund high-quality prekindergarten for four-year olds from low-income families; encourage states to support prekindergarten for four-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! — Urge your members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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28 House Republicans who voted to extend the debt ceiling with no strings attached: John Boehner (OH), Ken Calvert (CA), Dave Camp (MI), Eric Cantor (VA), Howard Coble (NC), Chris Collins (NY), Charlie Dent (PA), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA), Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Doc Hastings (WA), Darrell Issa (CA), Peter King (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Buck McKeon (CA), Patrick Meehan (PA), Gary Miller (CA), Devin Nunes (CA), Dave Reichert (WA), Hal Rogers (KY), Peter Roskam (IL), Ed Royce (CA), Jon Runyan (NJ), John Shimkus (IL), Christopher Smith (NJ), David Valadao (CA), and Frank Wolf (VA)

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Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for remarks on the Senate floor warning of a brewing crisis in student loan debt — which now exceeds the nation’s credit card debt — and urging action to make higher education more affordable.

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Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Robin Kelly (D-IL) for participating in a telephone town hall on campaign finance reform convened by NEA in partnership with the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America.

Jeers to:

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for threatening a filibuster to delay extending the nation’s debt ceiling.


February 07, 2014

More students and schools to get high-speed Internet access

ConnectEd, President Obama’s initiative to give 99 percent of America’s students access to high-speed Internet within five years, advanced on Tuesday with the announcement of a $750 million private sector donation — consisting of products and services — by Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, and the Verizon Foundation. “It’s a great thing to see these companies stepping up to the plate,” NEA Government Relations Director Mary Kusler told Politico. In a related development, the Federal Communications Commission announced a down payment towards connecting students and schools: revamping the E-Rate program and redirecting $2 billion in existing E-Rate funds to high-speed Internet access for 20 million students in at least 15,000 schools. A public notice soliciting comments on the proposed changes will be published soon, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler said on Wednesday in a National Digital Learning Day speech at the Library of Congress.

Urge Congress to ensure every child has access to high-quality early education

Both the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate HELP Committee held hearings this week on early childhood education. In both hearings and on both sides of the aisle, early childhood education was praised for its impact on child development and future success for students. But differences emerged between Democrats and Republicans in the House over the need for multiple programs that address early learning, the need for sufficient resources to promote high-quality programs, and whether early learning programs should be universally available for young children. The NEA-supported, bipartisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697/H.R. 3461) would help states fund high-quality prekindergarten for four-year olds from low-income families; encourage states to support prekindergarten for four-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! — Urge your members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

Tell Congress to raise the minimum wage to help students and 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 poverty threshold of $23,550 for a family of four. Many education support professionals need to work in multiple jobs just to support their families, and one in four children in America has a parent who would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage. Read about how an increase in the federal minimum wage would help a Florida food service worker and her family. The NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness 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 and community?

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

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, for explaining why he has stopped using the term preschool and now uses the term early childhood education: “Education begins at birth,” he said at the Committee’s hearing this week.

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Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for praising the long-lasting benefits of early childhood education and highlighting the important roles specific early education programs play for children across the country at the Committee’s hearing this week.

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Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) in an interview this week on “school choice” for explaining what’s wrong with school vouchers and why we need to invest fully in all students and educators to strengthen all public schools.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) for warning the GOP not to play games again by setting conditions for raising the nation’s debt limit such as repealing the Affordable Care Act — “[that would] punish families across the country with more uncertainty and higher prices,” she said in a statement to The Hill.

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The Senate Democratic Caucus for inviting Ohio educator Courtney Johnson to talk with them about current struggles of working families and the impact on her students.

Jeers to:

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for dashing hopes for immigration reform. “I think we have sort of an irresolvable conflict here,” he said Tuesday after a meeting of the Senate Republican conference.

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Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) for introducing a bill that would end in-state tuition for DREAMers, making it more difficult for students to further their education.


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