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Letter to the House urging opposition of the FY17 Labor HHS Education appropriations bill

July 12, 2016

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we urge you to Vote No on the FY17 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill scheduled for markup on Wednesday. Despite nominal increases for a few education programs, overall, this bill cuts discretionary funding for education by more than $1.3 billion below the FY2016 enacted level. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress.

To realize the full potential of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Congress must start down the path of providing adequate resources, particularly a significant increase to Title I. Investments in education are needed to help close opportunity and resource gaps and ensure all students have access to a high-quality education. Approximately 16 million children currently live below the Federal Poverty Level which underscores the imperative need for Congress to do its part in closing these gaps. We believe this bill falls short of that goal and serves as an undeniable example of why Congress should again raise the untenable budget caps, beyond even last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act.

We recognize the allocation provided to the Committee is inadequate, but believe more could have been done to prioritize necessary investments in education. While we note that the bill includes $1 billion in funding for ESSA’s Title IV (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) which aims to help provide a well-rounded education for all students, Title I is flat-funded, after adjusting for having absorbed the $450 million from the School Improvement Grants program. This is especially disappointing and shortsighted when states and schools nationwide are beginning to implement the new law and may in fact lead to cuts at the local level at this critical time.

In addition, we oppose:

  • The $400 million cut to the Title II program - now known as Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants - which provides professional development and class size reduction to support educators as they work with students most in need;
  • The $1.3 billion cut to Pell Grant discretionary funding, although we acknowledge the maximum Pell award will increase from $5,815 to $5,935. We are disappointed that the bill does not restore year-round Pell Grants as the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill does and hope this will be addressed in a year-end funding bill;
  • The elimination of the Magnet Schools program, which helps to provide greater opportunities for students most in need and was elevated in ESSA;
  • Cutting funding for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at a time when enforcement of opportunity gaps is essential;
  • Blocking the Department of Education from implementing the gainful employment regulation which safeguards students and taxpayer dollars from overpriced, ineffective career education programs that do not prepare students for employment and leaves them with high-debt;
  • Prohibiting any funding for the Centers for Disease Control to conduct research related to gun violence;
  • Blocking the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing its rules that facilitate union elections, and;
  • Blocking implementation of the recent Title IX guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice. Educators welcome and support the guidance because we know every student matters, and every child has the right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our schools. Transgender students have the right to equal educational opportunities, and educational institutions must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all respects.

While we applaud the $500 million increase for IDEA, as well as boosts for Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and Impact Aid, the overall cuts to education will impede progress in truly closing the opportunity gaps that exist in our nation.

We urge you to Vote No on the FY17 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill and ask that you work with your fellow members of Congress to raise the budget caps to make room for needed investments in education that will ensure all students have access to a high quality education, regardless of their zip code.

Sincerely,  

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations