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Federal Legislative Update June 2014

June 27, 2014
June 20, 2014
June 13, 2014
June 6, 2014

June 27, 2014

Senate passes bipartisan bill to reauthorize WIA by huge margin

By a vote of 95 to 3, the Senate, on Wednesday, passed the bipartisan NEA-supported Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) (S. 803), the long overdue reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. While the basic structure of the workforce development system remains the same, the bill enhances work-based learning opportunities for young people; provides more services for low-income, low-skill workers; and increases the focus on successful transitions for adult basic education students. Part of a compromise with the House-passed version, S. 803 will help ensure that young people are prepared to enter the workforce and that adult workers have the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy. House action is likely in July.

Act NOW to stop the FCC from hurting poor and rural students

Now is the time for educators to rise up, raise their voices, and tell the FCC to drop its proposal to fund the E-Rate program on a per-pupil basis. In just two weeks, the agency is scheduled to vote on a misguided approach to modernizing the program: “repurposing” existing funds and using a new, per-pupil formula likely to shortchange the very schools districts that need assistance the most. Instead, funding should be driven by equity, including poverty and locale, and the funding cap for the already oversubscribed program should be lifted. NEA and a dozen other education groups have already voiced strong concerns—repeatedly. It’s time for educators to weigh in and tell the FCC to go back to the drawing board.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell the FCC per-pupil E-Rate funding jeopardizes Internet connectivity to schools. This action will take you to a form on the FCC's website. Please include Proceeding Number 13-184 on the form.

Bill that would help safeguard voting rights draws partisan fire

The Senate Judiciary Committee this week held a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945), bipartisan legislation drafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA), severely undermining its effectiveness. S. 1945 would undo some of the damage and help safeguard voting rights. Republican Senators who previously supported the VRA—the Senate voted 98-0 to reauthorize it in 2006—were quick to criticize the pending legislation. Democratic Senators said that until Congress answers the call of the Supreme Court in Shelby, discrimination will continue.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress you support the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945).

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for successfully shepherding the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act through the Senate.

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Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on the need to combat violence and discrimination against women, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for calling for passage of the NEA-supported Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at the same hearing.

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Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) for again introducing a bipartisan bill to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits for 3.1 million Americans, and Representatives Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) for introducing the House companion.

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Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for asking how the federal government can help fill holes in higher education budgets caused by state cuts at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, “Less Student Debt from the Start: What Role Should the Tax System Play?”

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Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) for using—and entering into the record—language from an NEA letter opposing provisions of legislation considered by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that would undermine the child tax credit.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Jeers to:

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Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) for objecting to the Voting Rights Amendment Act on grounds that it presumes states already covered by the law are guilty of discrimination and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for misusing statistics to argue that suppression of voting rights is no longer a problem.

June 20, 2014

Shake-up in House leadership

House Republicans elevated Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA) to majority leader, the number 2 position in GOP leadership, and elected Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) majority whip, the number 3 position previously occupied by McCarthy. This week’s shake-up is a by-product of the unexpected defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (VA) in a primary election June 10. After the mid-term elections in November, leadership elections will be held again.

Tell Congress students need good nutrition to succeed

Last week, the House took up and then delayed completion of an agriculture appropriations bill for FY 2015 that would weaken nutrition standards for school meals set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This week, the Senate began debating its version of the bill, which includes compromise language that largely preserves the current standards, and then delayed action due to partisan disagreements on multiple amendments. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) filed an amendment that would water down the nutrition standards.

NEA contends that the nutrition standards should be maintained, as they are being implemented effectively in 9 out of 10 schools, and submitted comments on the important role child nutrition programs play in combating hunger, promoting wellness, and preparing students for learning.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress not to weaken nutrition standards.

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

NEA joined a dozen groups in expressing strong concerns about the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed approach to modernizing the E-Rate program. “Educators are deeply disappointed that Chairman Wheeler has ignored the serious concerns we have raised for more than a decade with the proposed changes to the E-Rate Program,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “We feel the chairman is missing the opportunity to seize the moment and truly address the items that will bring broadband to the communities who need it the most. This failure will have a negative impact on students and educators, especially in urban, rural and low-density populated areas.”

Instead of lifting the funding cap for the already-oversubscribed program, which has been in effect since its inception, the FCC would “repurpose” existing funds and use a one-size-fits-all “per pupil” formula to allocate them. The groups maintain that equity should continue to drive distribution of funds, including poverty and locale, and that efforts to modernize cannot succeed unless the funding cap is lifted. The FCC is expected to vote on proposed changes on July 11.

Constitutional amendment on campaign spending advances

An NEA-supported amendment to the Constitution to grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the amount of money raised for—and spent on—federal political campaigns is moving forward in the Senate. On Wednesday, in a straight 5-4 party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights advanced S. J. Res. 19, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). The full Committee is expected to vote on it July 10.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) for leading a “dear colleague” that urges Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring legislation supporting gun violence prevention and reduction to the House floor for a vote.

thumbsup Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for issuing a statement in support of educators in the wake of the Vergara v. State of California ruling: “We all want the best education for our students and high-quality teachers are the backbone of our education system. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruling merely strips away key workforce protections for teachers while doing nothing to improve student learning.”

Jeers to:

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) for filing an amendment to the FY 2015 agriculture appropriations bill that would weaken Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards.

June 13, 2014

Senate filibuster blocks student loan bill for now but “Degrees, not debt” message grows louder

This week, a minority of senators prevented action on Sen. Warren’s (D-MA) Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, S. 2432. that would allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013 to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. The NEA-supported bill would have paid, for this refinancing of federal student loans with the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more. While the bill did not garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, the Senate is expected to continue focusing on providing some relief to the 40 million student loan borrowers saddled with student loan debt.

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign continues to grow: two NEA members joined President Obama on Monday as he announced executive actions to help reduce student debt. The Degrees not Debt campaign aims for 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 help further these goals, complete our survey, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and tell Congress to take action.

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

Urge your Representative to oppose weakening nutrition standards

The House began debate this week on the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which includes a provision allowing schools to opt out of Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards on the grounds they are too costly. Already being implemented effectively in 9 out of 10 schools, the meal nutrition standards include serving more fruits and vegetables, reducing sodium, and using more whole grain-rich products. These common-sense requirements are essential to ensuring all children a healthy and successful start in life — especially those from families that cannot afford to serve fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods at home on a regular basis. An NEA-supported amendment by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) would strike the anti-nutrition provision. The House delayed completion of the funding bill but it is expected to bring it back in in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected next week to advance its version of the Agriculture funding bill that includes compromise language that largely preserves the current nutrition standards.

On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing in preparation for the eventual reauthorization of child nutrition programs. NEA submitted comments for the hearing discussing the important role child nutrition programs play in combating hunger, promoting wellness, and preparing students for learning.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress students need good nutrition to succeed.

Encourage Congress to fund formula programs, focus on equity for students


The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed its FY15 appropriations bill early this week but then abruptly postponed full committee action. It is unclear when action on the bill will resume. While the overall investment in the subcommittee-passed bill is close to the FY 2014 funding bill given continued fiscal constraints, NEA was pleased to see increases, albeit small, to formula-grant programs—like Title I and IDEA—that provide targeted help for the students most in need, thereby helping to ensure equal educational opportunity for all. The Committee on Appropriations has done a commendable despite the recent funding constraints job making key investments that help all students through prioritizing formula grants. But, the looming reality is that the harmful, indiscriminate sequester level funding is scheduled to return for FY16, which would be devastating for our students and schools. Going forward, your advocacy will be needed to push for an end to sequestration and ensure we can make the needed investments in education.


TAKE ACTION TODAY!
Tell Congress to ensure equal educational opportunity.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for holding a hearing on the importance of child nutrition programs. Of the School Breakfast Program, Sen. Stabenow said, "In the classroom, a school breakfast can spur a lifetime of achievement."

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Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Corker (R- TN) for joining all Democrats in voting to advance Sen. Warren’s student loan refinancing bill this week.. Unfortunately, the bill needed 60 votes to advance.

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Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) for continuing to lead his colleagues in the fight to keep healthy nutrition standards in school meals. Rep. Farr proposed an amendment to the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations Bill which would strike a provision that would allow schools to opt out of higher nutrition standards during the coming school year. A vote is expected when the House returns to the bill.

thumbsup Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) for their statements in support of educators in the wake of the Vergara v. State of California Supreme Court ruling that undermines the ability of school districts to recruit and retain quality teachers.

June 6, 2014

Tell Congress to heed NEA member’s message: “Degrees, not debt, should be our collective goal”

NEA member Brittany Jones, a recent college graduate and past president of the Student Virginia Education Association, told the Senate Budget Committee at a standing-room-only hearing on Wednesday that to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher, she took out $70,000 in loans she will be repaying for the next 25 years. “Senators,” she said, “you have the power to make sure it isn’t this way any longer. You can take actions to help make college more affordable, so all students have a fair shot at pursuing their dreams. ‘Degrees, not debt’ should be our collective goal.”

Next week, the Senate is scheduled to vote on NEA-supported legislation (S. 2432) to amend the Higher Education Act to allow students who took out loans before July 1, 2013, to refinance and pay the same low rates as new borrowers. NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign aims for 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 help further these goals, complete our survey, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and tell Congress to take action.

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

Urge your Representative to oppose weakening nutrition standards

The full House is expected to vote next week on an agriculture spending bill for FY2015 that includes a provision allowing schools to opt out of Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards on the grounds they are too costly. Already being implemented effectively in 9 out of 10 schools, the standards include serving more fruits and vegetables, reducing sodium, and using more whole grain-rich products. These common-sense requirements are essential to ensuring all children a healthy and successful start in life — especially those from families that cannot afford to serve fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods at home on a regular basis.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress students need good nutrition to succeed.

Encourage Congress to fund formula programs, focus on equity

The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the FY 2015 funding bill for Labor-HHS-Education next week. While the overall investment is likely to be close to the FY 2014 funding bill, your continued advocacy is needed to ensure that priority is given to formula-grant programs—like Title I and IDEA—that provide targeted help for the students most in need, thereby helping to ensure equal educational opportunity for all. Going forward, your advocacy will be needed to push for an end to sequestration, which will automatically take effect in future years unless Congress acts.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to ensure equal educational opportunity.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) for holding a hearing on college affordability and inviting NEA member and future educator Brittany Jones to testify, and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for their supportive response to her testimony. “I’d like to be a student in your class,” said Kaine. “Because somebody who wants to be a teacher as much as you, somebody who’s willing to take on your shoulders that much (debt) and still fight to achieve your dream … is going to be one fantastic teacher.”

thumbsup Dr. Jill Biden for emphasizing the need to make college more affordable and student loan debt manageable at a White House meeting Thursday that included NEA member Brittany Jones.