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Joint NEA-AFT letter on priorities for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

April 29, 2008

Dear Chairman Kennedy and Chairman Miller:


On behalf of the more than four million members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), including 300,000 higher education professionals working in our nation’s colleges and universities, we would like to take another opportunity to address our joint top priorities, especially as the April 30th extension deadline nears.  As we have indicated throughout this process, we have specific interests and concerns that we strongly urge you to address in a final conference agreement. 

Academic freedom and federal non-intervention in academic decision-making at the institutional level are two fundamental tenets of the U.S. system of higher education and federal higher education policy. The AFT and NEA remain strongly opposed to Section 104 of S. 1642, the “Protection of Student Speech and Association Rights.”  We urge you to exclude it from a final conference agreement.

We believe Section 104 still can be interpreted to mean that the federal government should establish standards and monitor activity to ensure that student rights are protected on campus. The original version of this provision came out of a political and ideological movement that has portrayed professors around the country as indoctrinating, rather than teaching, their students and punishing those who differ with them. This is simply untrue. The AFT and NEA support the free exchange of ideas on campus and non-intervention by the federal government in matters of curriculum, teaching and grading. We prefer the approach taken in the House bill, which keeps the government out of academic affairs entirely.

Title II offers an opportunity to improve teacher quality by providing resources to schools of education so they can refine current teacher preparation programs in an effort to ensure that prospective teaching candidates are properly trained for the classroom.  Since various places in Title II deal with compensation and staffing issues, we urge that a construction clause that protects collective bargaining be added to cover the entire title. The AFT and NEA recommend the final conference bill should contain Sec. 200A of H.R. 4136 (on page 118, lines 21-25 — page 119, lines 1-6),  the “Rule of Construction” clause..

In addition, we have made our positions on performance—based and merit pay clear to both Committees. The AFT and NEA strongly believe that compensation is a mandatory matter of collective bargaining subject to state and local, not federal, law. Therefore, the AFT and NEA make the following recommendation:  Strike (2)(E)(iii) on page 103, lines 8-11 of the S. 1642 and replace it with language from H.R. 4137, page 141, lines 10-15. It should read:

“(iii) with respect to a mentor, a stipend, which may include bonus, differential or incentive pay, based on their extra skills and responsibilities.”

Thank you for considering our priorities as you prepare a House-Senate conference agreement.  If you have any questions about these or other issues in the legislation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Kristor W. Cowan, Director of AFT Legislative Department