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Education Insider

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January 9, 2015

Welcome to the new Congress!

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The 114th Congress took office January 6. Republicans control both chambers: the Senate by a margin of 54-46 and the House by a margin of 246-188 (one seat is vacant). On January 20th, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union Address. Committee leadership in the 114th Congress will include new and familiar faces in key committees impacting education:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) is the new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Senator Patty Murray (WA) is the new senior Democrat (“ranking member”)
  • Senator Thad Cochran (MS) will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) will serve as the senior Democrat
  • Representative John Kline (MN) will remain chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and Representative Bobby Scott (VA) is serving as the new senior Democrat on the Committee
  • Representative Hal Rogers (KY) will continue to chair the House Appropriations Committee and Representative Nita Lowey (NY) will remain as the senior Democrat

House passes bill endangering health care coverage

The House on Thursday passed the NEA opposed Save American Workers Act of 2015 (H.R. 30) by a vote of 252-172. The bill would create a disincentive for employers to provide health care coverage, negatively impacting employer-sponsored health insurance and harming families, children and educators who need coverage. The Senate HELP Committee is expected to markup a companion bill in two weeks, with the bill going to the floor shortly after. The White House has issued a veto threat.

Tell Congress to reduce the federal role in testing

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As the 114th Congress begins their work, it is expected that the Senate and House will move quickly with an ESEA reauthorization. A key element is the continued debate over high-stakes testing, and the voices of NEA members and parents is making an impact. We expect a new bill in the coming weeks to provide more time for one-on-one teaching and learning by reducing the number of federally-mandated tests from 14 to 6.

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. 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

House Republicans look to undo Immigration order



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House Republicans plan to move as early as next week on legislation to try to halt President Obama’s executive action on immigration which would protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations. That move is likely to be paired with spending for the Department of Homeland Security, which got only short-term funding from an agreement in December. Fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority for educators because it has a profound impact on our students and their families. President Obama’s recent announcement of executive action on immigration has the potential to bring five million aspiring Americans out from the shadows, many of whom were brought into the country through no fault of their own as children, and including the parents of children who are U.S. citizens. NEA strongly supports this executive action.

President Obama calls for tuition-free community college hard-working students

President Obama on Friday in Tennessee announced a new proposal to offer 2 years of tuition-free community college for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and are pursuing a four-year degree. The proposal, which would require Congressional approval, could potentially help up to 9 million students afford college. In a statement, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia applauded the Administration’s efforts to make college more affordable for more students. Adding, “Education has always been the gateway to success and far too many students are graduating with mountains of debt. At a time when post-secondary education has become even more important, students and their families are scrambling to pay for that education.”

Cheers & Jeers

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House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for his defense of the Affordable Care Act and the countless Americans who could lose their employer sponsored health benefits if the Saving American Workers Act of 2015 (H.R. 30) becomes law.

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Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) for circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter, urging members to tell House Republicans to keep funding for the Department of Homeland Security free from measures that would gut President Obama’s immigration actions, which could affect more than 5 million aspiring Americans.  

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House GOP leadership for pushing a “rules package” that includes dynamic scoring — a way to make it easier to pass deeper tax cuts for the wealthy.