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Federal Legislative Updates March 2014

March 28, 2014
March 14, 2014
March 07, 2014

March 28, 2014

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

The next vote on raising the federal minimum wage is fast approaching and time to garner support is running out — a vote in the Senate is expected the week of April 7. Raising the minimum wage would help education support professionals as well as students. More than 16 million children under age 18 — nearly 22 percent of all children — are living below the official poverty threshold. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the equivalent of an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker, would rise to $10.10 an hour in three steps under the NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness Act of 2013 (S. 1737/H.R. 1010). Share your story: What would an increase in the minimum wage mean for your students’ families and your community?

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

Educators to raise hands and voices for student success on April 2

Next Wednesday, April 2, NEA is sponsoring a groundbreaking, bipartisan “Raise Your Hand” event on Capitol Hill featuring NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) as speakers. The day-long event, titled “Real-World Perspectives on Public Education,” will include four panel discussions of crucial issues. The panels are composed of leading thinkers and advocates on public education, and classroom teachers and education support professionals — 10 member educators are participating, as well as Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner. More than 20 local affiliates have signed up to host local “Raise Your Hand Day” events on April 2. It’s not too late to get involved. Visit NEA's Raise Your Hand webpage for tools and resources to help raise hands and voices for student success.

Urge Congress to support more time for student learning by reducing the federal role in testing

The NEA-supported bipartisan Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 4172) by Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) would reduce the federal role in testing to the pre-No Child Left Behind (NCLB) status known as grade-span testing, giving educators more time to teach and students more time to learn. With grade-span testing — meaning once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school — the number of federally-mandated standardized tests students take during their K-12 years would drop from 14 to 6. States or school districts could choose to administer their own assessments more frequently, particularly to help improve instruction in a timely manner.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to reduce the federal role in testing.

Budget wars to resume next week with release of Ryan proposal

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal blueprint for 2015 and beyond is expected to be released early next week and “marked up” in committee on Wednesday, April 2. It is widely expected that he will again propose very deep cuts in non-defense discretionary programs in upcoming years and balancing the budget on the backs of low-income families and seniors with cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. Democrats will likely release an alternative budget that repeals much of the remaining sequester cuts in upcoming years and demands closing costly corporate tax loopholes. Further details will be provided in next week’s Education Insider.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dan Coats (IN), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Dean Heller (NV), Ron Johnson (WI), Mark Kirk (IL), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA) and all 55 Democrats who voted for cloture on a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for five months, paving the way for the measure to move to the Senate floor.

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158 House Democrats who signed a discharge petition that could bring the comprehensive, NEA-supported Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15) to the floor of the House for an up or down vote.

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Senate Joint Economic Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for holding a press event to emphasize the importance of raising the federal minimum wage for women in particular.

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Congressional Progressive Caucus Vice Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) for pre-emptively criticizing House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s expected proposals for deep cuts in domestic programs, and countering by calling for greater investments in domestic programs and having wealthy households pay their fair share in taxes.

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Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) for touting the importance of residency programs as part of teacher preparation, including the recommendations in a new NEA report, at a HELP Committee hearing this week on teacher preparation.

Jeers to:

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Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for indicating that the House is unlikely even to consider a bipartisan Senate proposal to extend unemployment benefits for millions of American families in need.

 


March 14, 2014

Urge Congress to support more time for student learning by reducing the federal role in testing

The NEA-supported bipartisan Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 4172) by Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) would reduce the federal role in testing to the pre-No Child Left Behind (NCLB) status known as grade-span testing, giving educators more time to teach and students more time to learn. With grade-span testing — meaning once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school — the number of federally-mandated standardized tests students take during their K-12 years would drop from 14 to 6. States or school districts could choose to administer their own assessments more frequently, particularly to help improve instruction in a timely manner.

“The federal testing mandates, when combined with the amount of state and district level assessments, has snowballed to create the feeling that our schools are not centers of learning, but rather are test-prep factories,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, and driving teachers out of the profession.”

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to reduce the federal role in testing.

Tell Congress students deserve full funding for IDEA

The NEA-supported bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act (H.R. 4136) would require regular increases in IDEA spending to fulfill the federal government’s promise to pay 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure for special education. In the 39 years since IDEA became law, the funding pledge has never been met. Thanks to years of federal education spending cuts, current funding sits at just 15 percent. Fully funding IDEA would help take pressure off state and local budgets that are already stretched thin, freeing up funds for other priorities. Schools and the students they serve cannot afford to wait any longer for the relief they so desperately need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! — Tell Congress to fulfill the promise to fund IDEA.

Show how raising the minimum wage helps students and families

The Senate is expected to vote on raising the federal minimum wage in the next few weeks, after returning from a week-long recess. 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.

More than 16 million children under age 18 — nearly 22 percent of all children — live below the official poverty threshold. An increase in the minimum wage would help students and many education support professionals nationwide. Share your story: What would an increase in the minimum wage mean for the families of your students and in your community?

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

Senate votes to reauthorize program for low-income kids and families

On Thursday, the Senate voted 97 to 1 to reauthorize the NEA-supported Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which helps make child care affordable for low-income families. The Senate version of reauthorization (S. 1086) would improve the quality of child care services, health and safety provisions, and aligns better with early education programs — a good step toward a more comprehensive early childhood education system. The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold an informational hearing on CCDBG on March 25.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Burr (R-NC) for their work in bringing the NEA-supported bipartisan Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) bill to the floor.

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Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) for speaking out against shifting funding from traditional public schools to charter schools, particularly when research shows little or no difference in students’ test scores, at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on Wednesday. “More money doesn’t necessarily mean more quality,” he said, “but less money inevitably means less quality.”

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Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) for her comments at the Committee’s hearing this week on closing corporate tax loopholes. “Our tax code is riddled with wasteful loopholes and special-interest carve-outs,” she said. “And far too many of these tax breaks are skewed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, who need them the least. In other words, we’re spending a lot of money through the tax code on wasteful and inefficient giveaways to people and businesses who don’t need help, at a time when investing in better schools, infrastructure repairs, or medical research could strengthen our economy and help a lot of families who really do [need help].”

Jeers to:

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Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) for touting “school choice” during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We need to set free all the potential of our kids in our country through school choice,” he said.

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Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for using the debate around the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which helps make child care affordable for low-income families, as a platform for his ill-conceived legislation to create widespread federal vouchers for K-12 students.

 


March 07, 2014

President’s 2015 budget stresses education and opportunity

President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2015 moves toward ending the era of austerity with a proposed 1.9 percent increase in education funding and an “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative” that would provide an additional $28 billion for non-defense discretionary priorities, including an enhanced federal role in early-childhood education. Damaging sequestration cuts would be eased in fiscal 2015 and ended in fiscal 2016.

The President’s budget also calls for making preschool available to all 4-year-olds, and would make permanent a tax credit for college tuition and tax relief for college grants. Other proposed tax reforms would help students, transform the economy, and create opportunities for working- and middle-class families. And as previewed last week, the President’s budget does NOT call for use of the “chained CPI” to calculate future cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits, which would result in painful cuts that accumulate over time.

While there is much in the budget proposal to cheer, it once again falls short by failing to include an increase for core formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA state grants, which address equity issues and help the students most in need. NEA will continue to work with Congress to prioritize funding for these critical programs, as the final fiscal 2014 funding bill did.

“Educators know that the road to economic security and prosperity starts in America’s classrooms,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “President Obama’s budget rightly reflects our belief that a strong economy starts with a public education system that creates opportunity and excellence for all.”

Senate to vote on program that helps low-income kids and families

Inclement weather forced a delay this week in an expected Senate vote on the NEA-supported Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act (S. 1086), a program that helps low-income working families and parents transitioning from welfare to work find safe, affordable childcare. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week. 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.

Tell your Senators to vote YES on S. 2077 to extend unemployment benefits

As Congress prepares to vote again — as early as next week — on extending long-term unemployment benefits, the number of long-term jobless Americans stands at 2 million. Benefits ended for 1.3 million workers in December. Each week since then, another 70,000 Americans who would have been eligible have joined them. 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 vote YES on S. 2077.

NEA raises concerns over equity in new FCC push on E-Rate program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week released a Public Notice seeking further comments on how to modernize the E-Rate program. A vital resource for enhancing student learning, the program provides discounts for telecommunications and Internet services to schools nationwide; President Obama would like to modernize the E-Rate program to help ensure that schools have high-speed broadband connectivity within five years.

Unfortunately, the FCC’s proposal takes a piecemeal approach to reform, raising concerns that it could exacerbate rather than reduce inequities. Last year, E-Rate demand was double the program’s funding cap — and yet, the FCC appears uninterested in adjusting the cap. NEA is also concerned that the FCC’s proposal would redirect current funds to new uses instead of addressing the real problem: existing needs are not being met.

NEA filed initial comments in September 2013 and reply comments in November 2013 in response to the FCC’s initial, broad request for input on modernizing the E-Rate program. The FCC will accept further comments until April 7, with reply comments due April 21. NEA will have more information in coming weeks.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for introducing the Student Testing Improvement & Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill that would reduce the federal role in testing to the pre-No Child Left Behind status known as grade-span testing. This means states would only have to give federally-mandated tests once in elementary, middle, and high school.

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Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), David McKinley (R-WV), Tim Walz (D-MN), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and David Reichert (R-WA) for introducing the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act (H.R. 4136), which would require regular increases in IDEA spending to meet the federal government’s promise to pay 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure for special education.

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Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) for introducing a bill that would use savings from the farm bill to extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits for six months. The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

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Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) for calling for a federal investigation of 15,000 automated calls to students’ homes about Arizona’s voucher program, which offers money to parents who send their children to private schools.


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