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Federal Legislative Update May 2014

May 30, 2014
May 23, 2014
May 16, 2014
May 9, 2014
May 2, 2014

May 30, 2014

NEA member to testify: Americans deserve degrees, not debt

The testimony of Brittany Jones, former president of the Student Virginia Education Association, at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on June 4 will spotlight NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign, which aims to push lawmakers to reduce student debt, give students a fair shot at a college education, and make it affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity for all—making sure students can get the education they need to get a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. The Senate is expected to vote during the week of June 9 on a college affordability bill, like the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2292), which would allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013, to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. To raise your voice in support of these goals, take the NEA Degrees Not Debt pledge.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt.

FCC’s approach to modernizing E-Rate falls short on equity

As part of the EdLINC coalition, NEA sent a letter this week weighing in on the Federal Communication Commission’s approach to strengthening and modernizing the E-Rate program, which discounts the cost of telecommunications and Internet services for schools and libraries. The FCC’s proposed use of a formula-based per-pupil model to allocate funds would disadvantage rural and other geographical areas with relatively small populations. The coalition’s letter stresses that modernizing must not mean abandoning equity—using poverty as a metric to determine need—and that a permanent, sustainable way to increase funding for the E-Rate program must be found.

House Republicans walk back nutrition standards for school meals

In a party-line vote, the House Appropriations Committee defeated an NEA-supported amendment to delete language allowing waivers of Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards—already being implemented effectively in 9 out of 10 schools—from the agriculture spending bill. Instead, schools could opt out of rules requiring meals to contain more fruits and vegetables, less sodium, and more whole grain-rich products on grounds that they are a money-losing proposition. Earlier this week, ESP member Donna West, a food service manager from Alabama, joined Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on a media call to talk about how the school meal standards are in fact working well.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), Representative Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Representative Danny Davis (D-IL), Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for joining NEA in a standing-room-only CBC briefing to discuss eliminating systemic barriers to educational success for African-American students as part of the 60th anniversary commemoration of Brown v. Board of Education.

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Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) for offering the amendment to the agriculture spending bill to halt GOP efforts to undermine rules that ensure school meals are healthful and nutritious.

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Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Pete King (R-NY), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), and Joe Heck (R-NV) for their bipartisan amendment, supported by NEA, to an appropriations bill providing an additional $19.5 million for grants to states to ensure records of prohibited firearm purchasers are provided to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS). The House approved the amendment by a vote of 260-145.

thumbsup Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) for introducing the Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act of 2014, which would simplify the financial aid process and make higher education more accessible and affordable for students and their families.

Jeers to:

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Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Luke Messer (R-IN) for introducing the House companion to the NEA-opposed Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act (S. 1909) by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), which would expand the District of Columbia voucher program, allow federal IDEA funds to be used for state voucher programs, and create a pilot voucher program

May 23, 2014

Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt

NEA’s newly launched Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student debt, give students a fair shot at a college education, and make it affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity for all—making sure students can get the education they need to get a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. In the next couple weeks, the Senate is expected to vote on the Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013, to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. To raise your voice in support of these goals, take the NEA Degrees Not Debt pledge.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt.

Urge the House to take action on immigration reform—now!

Eleven months after the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with broad bipartisan support, the House still has not taken up the NEA-supported Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15). Modeled closely after the Senate bill, H.R. 15 would provide a realistic pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans, an expedited pathway to citizenship for students brought to this country as children, and preserve the unity of families, traditional and nontraditional.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell the House to take action on immigration reform now.

Compromise reached on long overdue reauthorization of WIA

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan compromise on the long overdue reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, was unveiled this week and could soon be passed by both the House and the Senate. NEA is still analyzing the bill, but is encouraged by several provisions—among them, maintaining labor representation on workforce boards and key funding streams, providing work-based learning opportunities for youth, and ensuring federal programs that partner with the workforce system can still meet their primary obligations. Further details will be provided in future issues of the Education Insider.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN), George Miller (D-CA), Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Ruben Hinojosa (R-TX) for negotiating a long-overdue bill to reauthorize the nation’s workforce development system.

Jeers to:

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Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for touting the so-called “National Right to Work Act,” a bill that would undermine labor unions and their ability to represent members.

May 16, 2014

HELP Committee votes to broaden access to early childhood education

On Wednesday, in party-line votes the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Strong Start for America’s Children’s Act (S. 1697) and defeated a substitute bill offered as an amendment by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The NEA-supported bill would encourage and help states provide high-quality pre-K for children from low- and middle-income families. High-quality pre-K confers lasting benefits—kids who attend are less likely to drop out, repeat grades, need special education, or get in trouble with the law later on. High-quality pre-K also brings enormous economic benefits—programs can pay for themselves in as little as a year and save billions over decades. NEA’s message to Congress is that every child should have access to high-quality pre-K, not just those from families that can afford to pay for it.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to invest in high-quality pre-K.

Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt

NEA’s newly launched Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student debt, give students a fair shot at a college education, and make it affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity for all—making sure students can get the education they need to get a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. To raise your voice in support of these goals, take the NEA Degrees Not Debt pledge.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt.

Senate bogs down again, delays action on tax package with education elements

After initially moving forward this week, the Senate reverted to partisan sniping again and fell short of the needed 60 votes Thursday to advance the bipartisan EXPIRE Act (S. 2260). The package of more than 50 tax breaks includes two NEA-supported provisions: the $250 educator tax deduction and the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program, which helps school districts in rural and urban communities by providing a financing mechanism to renovate buildings and invest in equipment and technology. During the 2012-13 school year, 99.5 percent of all public school teachers dipped into their own pockets to provide $1.6 billion in classroom supplies and instructional materials for their students. The Senate may try to resuscitate the bill in the coming weeks, though others suggest it could slide to a post-election Lame Duck session.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senate HELP Committee Democrats for voting to pass the Strong Start for America’s Children Act out of committee.

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Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) for introducing an amendment to the tax extenders bill to increase the educator tax deduction from $250 to $350 with an inflation enhancement.

Jeers to:

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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for proposing a plan during the HELP Committee’s early education markup that would consolidate funding from existing early childhood programs without ensuring they meet current requirements and standards, and without any new investment. The Committee rejected the plan on a party-line vote.

May 9, 2014

House votes to update charter school law; NEA amendments prevail

By a vote of 360-45, the House passed the Success and Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10). The bill is slightly better than the current law in a few respects, such as requiring greater charter authorizer accountability and including weighted lotteries to address under-enrollment of disadvantaged students. NEA took no position on final passage of the bill while strongly supporting amendments to address its shortcomings: no mandatory disclosure and reporting on key data, including funding from private sources; no independent audit requirements; no open meeting requirements; not enough transparency to the public and parents; and no conflict-of-interest guidelines.

The House did, however, approve several NEA-supported amendments, including two priority ones. The first, which had bipartisan support, ensures public reporting of key information to parents and taxpayers on attendance and suspension rates, class sizes, and other data that traditional public schools must report. The second requires states to report on working with charter schools to foster greater community involvement.

Senate Committee to vote on greater access to high-quality early education

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled to markup the Strong Start for America’s Children’s Act (S. 1697) on May 14. The NEA-supported bill would encourage and help states provide high-quality pre-K for children from low- and middle-income families. High-quality pre-K confers lasting benefits—kids who attend are less likely to drop out, repeat grades, need special education, or get in trouble with the law later on. High-quality pre-K also brings enormous economic benefits—programs can pay for themselves in as little as a year and save billions over decades. NEA’s message to Congress is that every child should have access to high-quality pre-K, not just those from families that can afford to pay for it.

Ideally, pre-K would be publicly funded and universally available, just like our public system of K-12 education. NEA recognizes the need for a mixture of public and private funding for pre-K, however, and is working with lawmakers to ensure that federal dollars used by private providers are subject to certain protections—for example, federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination in hiring, proselytizing with federal resources, and using public funds for religious purposes.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to invest in high-quality pre-K.

Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt

A growing network of NEA members, community partners, and allies are joining the Degrees Not Debt campaign. Our goal: making college affordable for all, because every student deserves a fair shot at a college education. Total student loan debt now stands at $1.2 trillion and surpasses total credit card debt. The first step is the NEA-supported Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, introduced in both the House and Senate this week, which would allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013, to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. Under current law, some recent graduates are being charged interest rates as high as 7 percent—nearly twice the 3.86 percent rate for undergraduate loans in the 2013-14 school year.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress Americans deserve degrees, not debt.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Representatives Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Alan Grayson (D-FL), David McKinley (R-WV), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) for their successful amendment to H.R. 10 to ensure parity with traditional public schools in public reporting of charter school and student information.

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Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) for her successful amendment to H.R. 10 to require states to report how they have worked with their charter schools to foster community involvement

thumbsup Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Mike Honda (D-CA) for leading on two amendments to H.R. 10 on financial disclosure, conflict-of-interest-guidelines, and requiring open meetings of charter boards.
thumbsup Representative John Tierney (D-MA) for leading on two amendments to H.R. 10 on open meetings and parental involvement, and financial accountability for companies contracted to manage schools.
thumbsup Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) for leading on an amendment to H.R. 10 requiring a two percent set-aside of funds to assist with state oversight of their charter schools, and ensure disclosure of private sources of funding in audits.
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Representatives Dave Reichert (R-WA), Rick Larsen (D-WA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) for leading on an amendment to H.R. 10 to respect states’ ability to determine the best charter school system to meet their students’ needs and prevent states with charter school caps from being at a competitive disadvantage when competing for federal funding.

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Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) for leading on an amendment to H.R. 10 to ensure that charter schools make key information publicly available on their websites.

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Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) for leading on an amendment to H.R. 10 to require all charter schools receiving public funds to publicly disclose information on school demographics, student attrition rates, and total tax dollars received.

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Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) for leading on an amendment to H.R. 10 to develop and enforce conflict-of-interest guidelines for all charter schools receiving federal funding.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives John Tierney (D-MA) and George Miller (D-CA) for introducing bills to help make college more affordable by allowing college loans to be refinanced.

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Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) for highlighting NEA members who would benefit from the repeal of GPO/WEP penalties at a hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

May 2, 2014

Senate obstructionism blocks minimum wage hike, but fight for working families continues

The NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223) failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Senate on Wednesday, stalling the effort to raise the hourly federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, “Unfortunately, a minority of the Senate prevented action and turned its back on the working people who are just trying to make ends meet and to support their families. This is of special concern to educators because we know firsthand that raising the minimum wage will help students whose parents work hard to support their families, and we know that it will help many of our fellow educators—food service professionals, custodians, and even adjunct college professors who do not earn a living wage.” See how your senators voted.

The fight to raise the minimum wage is far from over, as additional votes are possible. Congress needs to know how raising the minimum wage would help students and working families, including education support professionals. 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.

House to vote next week on legislation governing charter schools

Next week, the House is scheduled to vote on the Success and Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10). The bill is better than current law in some respects—for example, weighted lotteries would help address under-enrollment of disadvantaged students—but falls short of requiring full transparency and accountability in the now 23-year-old charter sector. This week, the NEA Board of Directors is lobbying members of Congress to support amendments that address these issues when the bill comes to the House floor. The improvements we’d like to see include requiring charter schools to:

  • Hold open meetings, just as traditional public schools do.
  • Adopt conflict-of-interest guidelines.
  • Disclose data on student attrition, demographics, and private sources of funding.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell your Representative to support amendments to H.R. 10 that strengthen accountability and transparency.

Urge Congress to trim federal testing requirements so students have more time to learn

NEA’s Board of Directors is also this week urging members of Congress to co-sponsor the bipartisan Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 4172) to help address the overuse and misuse of standardized tests. H.R. 4172 would give educators more time to teach and students more time to learn by restoring the pre-No Child Left Behind (NCLB) practiceknown as grade-span testing for federally-mandated tests—meaning once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school. This approach would free up time for instruction, help reduce testing’s drain on resources, and diminish the excessive emphasis on “teaching to the test” brought by NCLB. States and school districts could still choose to administer tests more frequently than federal law requires.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell your Representative to reduce the federal role in testing.

Encourage Congress to give every child access to high-quality early education

In the next couple weeks, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is likely to take action on the Strong Start for America’s Children’s Act (S.1697), which would encourage and help states provide high-quality pre-K for children from low- and middle-income families. High-quality pre-K confers lasting benefits—kids who attend are less likely to drop out, repeat grades, need special education, or get in trouble with the law later on. High-quality pre-K also brings enormous economic benefits—programs can pay for themselves in as little as a year and save billions over decades. You can join with NEA’s directors, who lobbied their senators in person this week, by asking senators to co-sponsor S. 1697 and delivering this message: Every child should have access to high-quality pre-K, not just those from families that can afford to pay for it.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to invest in high-quality early education.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for leading an effort to urge appropriators to dramatically increase funding for special education by $1.5 billion this year.

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Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) for expressing concern to Secretary Arne Duncan during a budget hearing about the competitive grant nature of the Connect Educators proposal, which is tied to ensuring that schools are equipped with modern technology to enhance student learning. The senator pointed out that too many competitive grants disadvantage rural school districts that don’t have grant writers.

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Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for questioning the Administration’s continuing shift toward competitive grants at the expense of formula grants, noting that the share of funding for competitive grants would rise from 10 percent to 16 percent of discretionary funding with a commensurate reduction in formula grants.

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Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) for also urging, during a hearing with Secretary Duncan, a greater emphasis on formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA instead of continuing the shift toward competitive grants that do not reach all students

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Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) for urging increased emphasis on educating the whole child and fostering creativity, achieved in part by broadening STEM programs and making them STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).

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Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee for voting against a permanent extension of several corporate tax loopholes.

Jeers to:

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Representative Luke Messer (R-IN) for conflating vouchers and equal opportunity for “every kid in America” during a budget hearing this week.