At long last, Congress is on the move, with the clock ticking!
1. Congress Checks Another Item Off The “Must-Do” List
Last week lawmakers in Congress rallied to unite behind a deal that keeps the government funded at its current levels through February 18th __ a Continuing Resolution (CR). This is the first in a series of “must-do” tasks before the New Year. The temporary patch keeps the government open, but it could result in federal agencies delaying grant competitions and disbursement of funds.
After checking the CR off of their list, Congress shifted gears to face the next items on the “must-do” list—raising the debt limit and passage of The National Defense Authorization Act. The nation’s current debt limit will be reached by December 15th and without congressional action, the government would not be able to meet its financial obligations. In recent weeks, Republicans vowed not to help Democrats raise the debt limit. In an unprecedented and contorted legislative move, Republicans did agree to help – sort of. They supported passage of an exception to the rule that requires a two thirds majority vote for passage in the Senate and, for this one time only, allows a simple majority vote (which means Democrats only) to adopt the provision. So Republicans supported the change of the rule, but will oppose the actual bill that raises the debt ceiling. The final votes will take place next week. Perhaps this is the 2021 version of bipartisanship!
The National Defense Authorization Act, the annual must-pass legislation that sets the policy agenda and authorizes almost $770 billion in funding for the Department of Defense, passed in the House on Tuesday night. The bill passed with a final vote of 363-70, with 169 Democrats and 194 Republicans voting for the bill, while 51 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) was the only member to not vote. The FY22 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $768.1 billion in defense spending, nearly $25 billion more than requested by President Biden. If the appropriations bill ultimately matches the authorization bill we can expect to see limits on all non-defense discretionary funds—including education funding.
Still on the list of “to-do” list for the Senate is passage of the Build Back Better Act, or the reconciliation bill. Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) has vowed that he will bring this up for a vote before the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office and the Parliamentarian are reviewing portions of the bill now and will render their determinations shortly. With two weeks left to go, and little else on the agenda, the likelihood of Senate passage before the end of the year is high. What is unclear is what provisions will make it into the final bill.
2. The Push to Pause Student Loan Repayment
This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to further extend the student loan payment pause . The pause on payments has been in effect since the federal government under former President Trump took emergency action to freeze payments in March of 2020. The group of lawmakers said the administration should continue the freeze on student loans “until the economy reaches pre-pandemic employment levels.” A recent analysis by the Roosevelt Institute suggests that about 18 million families will have to collectively pay more than $85 billion next year if student loan payments restart as scheduled. Without further executive action, borrowers are set to restart their student loan payments on February 1st.
3. Senate Confirms Sandra Bruce as Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education
Last week, the Senate confirmed Sandra Bruce as the Education Department’s next Inspector General. Bruce joined the Department of Education in 2014 as a Deputy Inspector General and has been leading the office since 2018 when former Inspector General Kathleen Tighe retired. In a statement Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona praised the confirmation of Sandra Bruce:
“The U.S. Department of Education has long benefited from Sandra Bruce’s integrity and years of experience as a leader in the federal government, and I am thrilled that she has been confirmed to serve as the agency’s inspector general.” “Sandra will be an asset in the continued promotion of efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in all Department programs and resources. I look forward to her continued work to advance our mission in service of students, educators, and families across the country.”
4. Educators for America Act Introduced
Today a group of House and Senate Democrats introduced the Educators for America Act, H.R.6205 and S. 3360. The bill represents a comprehensive and visionary rewrite of Title II of the Higher Education. It is intended to create a significantly expanded federal role to address the critical shortage of educators and the lack of diversity in the field.
Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) was joined by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), and Rep. Ruben Gallego(D-AZ) in introducing the bill in the House. Rep. Adams said, “Educators are struggling, particularly as they continue to grapple with the pandemic. Schools are facing pervasive staffing shortages, and we can no longer afford to neglect the educator pipeline. It’s time for a comprehensive national investment in our educators.”
Rep. Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, said: “I joined my colleagues in support of the EDUCATORS for America Act because it addresses the multitude of concerns classroom teachers face every day. We need to recruit, prepare, and support current and future educators, with financial assistance, faculty development and capacity building, while ensuring equity, diversity, and inclusion. As a teacher, I understand the impact this bill will have on educators, students and the community.”
In the Senate, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) was joined by Sen. Bob Casey (D-CA) to introduce the bill. Sen. Reed said: “Our nation’s outlook for the future is tied to the strength of the education profession and today the profession is in crisis. The EDUCATORS for America Act provides a comprehensive plan for uplifting the profession based on input from stakeholders across the education field about what is needed to recruit, prepare, and support educators.
A broad array of 46 national organizations have endorsed the bill including: The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; American Association of State Colleges and Universities; Council for Exceptional Children; Higher Education Consortium for Special Education; National Association of School Psychologists; National Association of Secondary School Principals; and the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children.
The final text comes after a nearly a two year process where input was solicited from stakeholders in the field from around the nation.
Key provisions of the bill include:
- Authorizing $500 million annually for grants to support states in developing and implementing a statewide strategy for meeting their educator workforce needs, including ensuring an inclusive and equitable workforce
- Authorizing $500 million annually to support educator preparation programs and partnerships including Teacher Quality Partnership Grants, Hawkins, and others
- Streamlining the data and reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs
- Doubling the TEACH grants to $8,000 per year
- Support for doctoral fellowships for diverse candidates in high need areas at colleges of education.
- Inclusion of school leaders, early childhood educators and specialized instructional support personnel for preparation
You can show your support for the Educators for America Act by urging your Congressional delegation to cosponsor the bill by simply filling out the form here.
In addition, consider using the following sample tweets to show your support for the Educators for America Act.
- “Thank you to @SenJackReed and @RepAdams for introducing the Educators for America Act, which will address the critical shortage of educators and the lack of diversity in the education field.”
- “[INSERT ORGANIZATION NAME] supports the Educators for America Act because it builds the capacity of educator prep programs to ensure all students have access to profession-ready educators. Thank you @SenJackReed and @RepAdams for your leadership in support of educator preparation.”
- “The Educators for America Act will help ensure all our nation’s students have access to a qualified and diverse educator workforce. Thank you @SenJackReed and @RepAdams for your leadership in support of educator preparation.”
5. New Resources
- US Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona penned an op-ed this week addressing the critical shortage of educators across the nation.
- National Association of Secondary School Principals released results from a nationally representative survey of principals that highlights retention risks due to lingering effects of the pandemic. Nearly 4 out of 10 principals report plans to leave the profession within the next three years.
- National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities released results of a survey that found that 65% of registered voters say they support the Pell Grant program, with strong bipartisan support for increasing or doubling the amount of Pell Grants.
On a personal note, I was very moved this morning in watching the funeral of Sen. Robert Dole, who was a big presence during my time working in the Senate. His leadership in shepherding the Americans with Disabilities Act through was key to its final passage, and a time when I had the privilege of playing a small supporting role. The article in today’s New York Times is an accurate reflection of his work on the law. He seems to represent a bipartisan time gone past when compromise was an essential part of legislating, rather than a symbol of failure. We have a lot to learn from Bob Dole. RIP.
Jane and Kait