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Federal Legislative Update September 2014

September 19, 2014
September 12, 2014
September 5, 2014

September 19, 2014

NEA calls for E-Rate funding to double to meet need students’ needs; we need you to speak up now!

In comments filed Monday, NEA urges the Federal Communications Commission to double the funding “cap” for the E-Rate program to ensure schools have sufficient high-speed broadband capacity for Internet access to support 21st century teaching and learning, including one-to-one classroom devices and online assessments. Concerns voiced by educators played a key role in convincing the FCC to reconsider its decision to maintain the current funding cap—in effect since the program’s inception more than a decade ago—even though schools and libraries sought twice that amount last year. The FCC is accepting further comments on its latest proposal through September 30. Go here for step-by-step instructions (including sample text and talking points) to file comments urging the FCC to double the funding cap.

Congress passes short-term funding bill before heading home

Before adjourning this week until after the November elections, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from Oct. 1, when fiscal year 2015 begins, through Dec. 11, when Congress is expected to be in a lame-duck session. The CR essentially continues funding at existing levels. Educators need to weigh in and urge Congress to pass an “omnibus” final FY2015 funding bill that helps ensure equity and opportunity by prioritizing core formula grant programs—like Title I and IDEA, which provide targeted help for the students most in need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to prioritize core formula grant programs in the final FY 2015 funding bill.

House reauthorizes program that helps pay for child care; Senate vote delayed

House and Senate committee leaders reached agreement this week on an NEA-supported bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program (S. 1086), which helps make child care affordable for low-income families. The House swiftly passed the measure on Monday, but the Senate hit a roadblock late this week when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) placed a “hold” on the bill in an attempt to force a vote on a separate issue. Instead, the Senate will vote on the measure on Nov. 13 after the mid-term elections. The CCDBG bill incorporates lessons learned from research and the states to help children succeed when they start school—for example, by ensuring they are healthy and safe, investing in the early childhood workforce, and focusing on early learning.

GOP refuses to allow vote on lowering student loan rates

For the second time, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and supported by NEA. “Senator Warren’s legislation would help so many who continue to struggle with high student loan payments while juggling so many other expenses; yet it keeps falling victim to Republicans who side with banks over the needs of millions of students and their families working to pay for their higher education,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

S. 2432 would 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. The cost for this refinancing of federal student loans would be covered by implementing the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more. Sen. Warren has pledged to continue fighting to pass the legislation.

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student loan debt and make college affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity—giving all students a fair shot at college so they can get the education they need to land a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. To help further these goals, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and urge Congress to act.

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

Urge Congress to reduce high-stakes testing to help students most in need

NEA’s board of directors personally lobbied Congress this week to address the over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing that is a consequence of No Child Left Behind. Fewer federally-mandated tests would free up more time for instruction, enabling educators to give greater attention to the students most in need. Share your story about the impact of high-stakes testing on students and encourage your representative to co-sponsor the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 4172), which would reduce the number of federally-mandated English and math tests from 14 to 6. Here’s just one example of the powerful stories that have been submitted:

I am a mother of two (a son who is 7 with mild autism, and a daughter who is 9). I am also a teacher. I really am so sad that the love of learning that children should be experiencing has been replaced by anxiety and depression. I see a majority of my high school students who are having panic attacks, depression, and sleep problems due to the pressure of the many standardized tests. My daughter who is in 3rd grade begs me not to go to school due to the testing and pressure of it all. Up until this year she was excited to go to school each day. All that has changed. She now thinks that she is not smart and has nightmares about the pressures of the many tests.—Sarah L; Lake Zurich, Illinois

TAKE ACTION TODAY! UrgeCongress to reduce the federal role in testing.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN), George Miller (D-CA), Todd Rokita (R-IN), and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) for negotiating a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant program.

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Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Aaron Schock (R-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) for introducing the NEA-supported Teacher Tax Relief Act of 2014, which would extend and make permanent the $250 educators’ tax deduction and index it for inflation.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for touting “degrees not debt,” the theme of NEA’s campaign to reduce student loan debt, in her floor speech urging support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to allow refinancing of federal student loans at lower rates.

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) for attempting to advance the NEA-supported Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty.

Jeers to:

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) for blocking passage of the bill to allow refinancing of federal student loans by objecting to Sen. Warren’s request for unanimous consent to pass it.

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Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) for preventing the Senate from taking up the bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant program by putting a “hold” on it.

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) for blocking passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty by objecting to Sen. Harkin’s request for unanimous consent to pass it.

September 12, 2014

Vote on short-term funding bill pushed to next week

Due to the new debate about the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the House delayed expected action this week on a Continuing Resolution (CR) funding bill to keep the government running after September 30, when the current fiscal year ends. The House is now expected to act Tuesday or Wednesday, with the Senate to follow suit by the end of next week; both chambers may then adjourn until after the mid-term elections.

The CR will essentially continue funding at existing levels, and is likely to contain no controversial policy provisions and run until Dec 11 or 12. The final FY2015 funding bill will be deferred until the lame duck session or beyond. Looking ahead, any final bill should aim to prioritize core formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA that provide targeted help for the students most in need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to support an FY2015 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill that ensures opportunity and equity for all students

Best shot to increase E-Rate funding—we need you to weigh in!

NEA will file comments strongly advocating for a permanent funding increase for the E-Rate program in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s latest proposal—and urges you to do the same. Concerns previously voiced by educators played a key role in convincing the FCC to reconsider adjusting the funding “cap” for the E-Rate program, which provides discounts for broadband and other services to schools and public libraries. The cap has been in effect since 1998 even though demand is now more than double the available funds. Comments on the latest FCC proposal must be filed by Monday, September 15.

House to vote next week on program for low-income kids and families

After months of negotiations, the House will vote next week on reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which helps make child care affordable for low-income families. The Senate passed its version of reauthorization (S. 1086) last spring by a vote of 97-1. The negotiated bill is similar to the NEA-supported Senate bill and has bipartisan, bicameral support from leadership. NEA is reviewing the new language, but passage in the House and Senate now appears likely before Congress adjourns.

Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United fails to advance

On Thursday, the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and move forward with a final vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution (S. J. Res. 19) that would allow Congress to regulate and limit the amount of money raised for—and spent on—federal political campaigns. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC four years ago, corporate money has flooded our political system, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. “The power to speak freely is a hollow freedom for the millions of Americans whose voice is drowned out by the booming echo of big money posing as free speech,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García following the vote.

More than three million people have signed petitions urging Congress to amend the Constitution to restore government by the people and undo the damage done by recent Supreme Court decisions.

Senate vote possible next week on lowering student loan rates

The vote on the NEA-supported Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), was also postponed this week. S. 2432 would 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. The cost for this refinancing of federal student loans would be covered by the implementation of the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more.

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student loan debt and make college affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity—giving all students a fair shot at college so they can get the education they need to land a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. To help further these goals, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and urge Congress to act.

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

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) for leading a sign-on letter urging Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to support the educational well-being of the children of our troops by having

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) for his leadership in introducing the IDEA Full Funding Act to ensure Congress finally meets its commitment to fund 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure, and to the original co-sponsors of the bill: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kay Hagan (D-NC).

Jeers to:

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to advance the NEA-opposed H.R. 5272, which would block funding for continuing or expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His effort was defeated on the Senate floor.

September 5, 2014

Congress returns Monday from its summer recess and will be in session for a few short weeks this month before hitting the campaign trail leading up to November’s elections.

Senate to vote again on lowering student loan rates

Early next week, the Senate will again take up the NEA-supported Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill would 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. The cost for this refinancing of federal student loans would be covered by the implementation of the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more.

NEA member Brittany Jones told the Senate Budget Committee at a standing-room-only hearing in July 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.”

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign aims to push lawmakers to reduce student loan debt and make college affordable for all Americans, regardless of family income. The goal is educational equity—giving all students a fair shot at college so they can get the education they need to land a good job, own a home, and eventually send their own children to college. To help further these goals, take the Degrees Not Debt pledge, and urge Congress to act.

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

Senate to vote Monday on overturning Citizens United

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC four years ago, corporate money has flooded our political system, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. This Monday, the Senate will vote on an NEA-supported amendment to the U.S. Constitution (S. J. Res. 19) that would allow Congress to regulate and limit the amount of money raised for—and spent on—federal political campaigns, and allow states to regulate campaign spending at their level. Join the more than three million people who have signed petitions urging Congress to amend the Constitution to restore government by the people and undo the damage done by recent Supreme Court decisions.

Congress expected to pass short-term funding bill

With just a few weeks remaining until the start of FY2015 on October 1, Congress needs to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the entire government. The CR will essentially continue funding at existing levels, and is likely to contain no controversial policy provisions and run through mid-December. A final FY15 funding bill will be deferred until a lame duck session or beyond.

Looking ahead, any final bill should aim to prioritize core formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA that provide targeted help for the students most in need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to support an FY15 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill that ensures opportunity and equity for all students

Comments on FCC’s latest E-Rate proposal due September 15

In response to concerns voiced by educators from coast to coast, NEA and other organizations, the Federal Communications Commission is considering adjusting the funding “cap” for the E-Rate program, which provides discounts for broadband and other services to schools and public libraries. The cap has been in effect since 1998 even though demand is now more than double the available funds. NEA will file comments strongly advocating a permanent funding increase for the E-Rate program in response to the latest FCC proposal and urges you to do the same. Comments to the FCC are due by September 15.