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Federal Legislative Update November 2014

November 21, 2014
November 14, 2014

November 21, 2014

President Obama puts family first to fix broken immigration system

Using his executive authority to expand DACA, President Obama is taking new steps to fix our nation’s broken immigration system that will allow up to five million undocumented immigrants, including the parents of children who are U.S. citizens, to register to stay in the United States and pay their fair share of taxes. “We know that this decision will shield from deportation families seeking to stay together, add to the rich and robust cultural tapestry of our country, contribute to our economy, and pursue the American dream,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “That’s why we welcome the president’s proposal. Since its inception two years ago, DACA has kept an estimated 700,000 students and their families together. Expanding DACA will lift the cloud of deportation from the lives of many more aspiring Americans across the nation.”

Proposed $1.5 billion hike for E-Rate would help communities most in need

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced this week that the FCC will vote December 11 on increased funding for the E-Rate program as educators across the nation have urged. Funding has been capped since the program was created in 1996 and would go from $2.4 billion to close to $4 billion per year. “The FCC announcement is good for America’s students and makes for smart public policy,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Increasing the funding level of the E-Rate program will continue to bring broadband to the communities that need it the most—students and educators in urban, rural and low-density populated areas. More to the point, investing now in the E-Rate Program to help students will pay off in the long run.”

Tell Congress to prioritize funding for students most in need

With less than three weeks until the lame-duck Congress is scheduled to adjourn, a budget deal remains elusive—some Republicans are calling instead for using the funding measure to try to stymie President Obama’s immigration action. Another funding bill must be passed by December 11, when the current short-term fix, called a “continuing resolution,” runs out. Weigh in! Tell Congress to pass a full-year funding bill, called an “omnibus,” and prioritize programs like Title I and IDEA that target the students most in need, including children in poverty and students with disabilities.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to pass a full-year funding bill and prioritize programs for students most in need

Tax assistance for educators and schools up for renewal

Unfinished business addressed during the lame-duck session may also include two tax provisions of particular significance to students and educators: the $250 educator tax deduction, which helps cover out-of-pocket costs of materials and supplies students need to succeed, and the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program, which helps disadvantaged communities finance school renovations, repairs, and investments in technology. Both may be renewed as part of a package of more than 50 expired tax provisions, called “tax extenders.”

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Urge Congress to renew the educator tax deduction and QZAB program

Senate passes CCDBG reauthorization, President signs it into law

The Senate passed the bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which helps make child care affordable for low-income families, by a vote of 88-1 on November 17 and President Obama signed it into law on November 19.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) for their letter to Senator Obama urging him to use his “well-established” executive powers to “improve as much of the immigration system as you can” and vowing to “support changes to keep families together while continuing to enforce our immigration laws in a way that protects our national security and public safety.”

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Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) for introducing the NEA-supported resolution in honor of American Education Week in the Senate, and Representatives Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Mark Takano (D-CA) for introducing it in the House.

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Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Richard Burr (R-NC) for concurring with the House and leading the final stage of the historic bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which was nearly 20 years in the making.

Jeers to:

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Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) for being the only senator to vote “no” this week when the Senate passed CCDBG.

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Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) for describing the aspiring Americans helped by President Obama’s executive order as “millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.”

November 14, 2014

Congress returns, but gears up for changes next year

The 113th Congress returned this week for a lame-duck session that is expected to end December 12, but with an eye toward the next Congress already front and center. Republicans will control both chambers in the 114th Congress that takes office January 3; as of now, the ratios are 53-46 in the Senate (one race still to be decided) and 244-186 in the House (five races still to be decided). The leadership of key committees impacting education is expected to look like this in the new Congress:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) is expected to replace retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) as chairman of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Senator Patty Murray (WA) is expected to be the senior Democrat (“ranking member”).
  • Senator Thad Cochran (MS) is expected to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) is expected to be the senior Democrat.
  • Representative John Kline (MN) is expected to remain chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and Representative Bobby Scott (VA) is expected to be the senior Democrat.
  • Representative Hal Rogers (KY) is expected to continue to chair the House Appropriations Committee and Representative Nita Lowey (NY) is expected to remain the senior Democrat.

Senate scheduled to vote Monday on child-care bill

After clearing a procedural hurdle Thursday, the Senate on Monday is expected to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which helps make child care affordable for low-income families. Already passed by the House, the NEA-supported 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. “The vote on CCDBG is a significant development that shows Congress can work in a bipartisan manner,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It provides a blueprint for further collaboration during the lame-duck session and 114th Congress.”

Urge Congress to prioritize programs for students most in need

Before adjourning, the lame-duck Congress must pass another funding bill as the “continuing resolution” enacted just before the elections will expire December 11. Weigh in! Congress needs to pass a full-year “omnibus” bill for fiscal 2015, not another short-term fix. This approach would allow Congress to prioritize formula-grant programs—like Title I and IDEA—to ensure opportunities and extra assistance for the students most in need.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Tell Congress to pass a year-long omnibus funding bill and prioritize formula-grant programs.

Tax assistance for educators and schools up for renewal

Unfinished business addressed during the lame-duck session may also include two tax provisions of particular significance to students and educators: the $250 educator tax deduction, which helps cover out-of-pocket costs of materials and supplies students need to succeed, and the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program, which helps disadvantaged communities finance school renovations, repairs, and investments in technology. Both may be renewed as part of a package of more than 50 tax provisions, called “tax extenders,” that are expiring.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Urge Congress to renew the educator tax deduction and QZAB program.

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to:

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Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) for circulating a letter of support for President Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to revamp our nation’s broken immigration laws.

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Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) for resisting the call from some members of the GOP to shut down the government over the immigration issue. “At some point we have to fund the government, and we should not fight to attach some demand. I don’t want to stand by and watch as our party gets driven into a ditch.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for participating in a tele-town hall with 8,000 NEA members to discuss her continued fight to reduce student loan debt. The tele-town hall was part of NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign.

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

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

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