As we approach a long holiday weekend, Congress proceeds toward a pause, only to return July 12 with a full plate to manage.
1. House Appropriations Committee Set to Move on Education Spending Bill
While many Members of the Senate traveled home this week for a scheduled state work period, Members of the House of Representatives kept things moving on Capitol Hill setting funding levels for the FY2022 appropriations bills.
The House Appropriations Committee voted on allocations for each of the FY2022 appropriations measures which are moving through the House with hopes of meeting the September 30 deadline. Referred to as 302(b) allocations—these numbers reflect how much money is available for each of the 12 appropriations bills. Essentially, this is the House Democrats’ opening offer for proposed funding levels for FY2022. The Senate has not yet taken a position on 302(b) allocations for their versions of the bills and that could delay movement down the road.
This year, the House Labor-HHS-Education 302(b) allocation represents a $40.5 billion increase over last year’s programmatic funding level of $197 billion. The $40.5 billion increase is more than enough to cover President Biden’s $29.8 billion increase for the Department of Education—but that doesn’t guarantee that it will be included in the bill. The additional $40.5 billion for the Labor-HHS-Education measure must cover all programs in the Departments of Labor, HHS, and other independent agencies — in addition to Education. Competition between programs is always stiff, as there is never enough to go around and there are so many important and historically underfunded programs in the bill, including the National Institutes of Health – a bipartisan priority for many Members of Congress.
Nevertheless, the allocation increase sends a message that House Democrats are eager to accommodate the President’s historic proposed increase for education funding. Advocates look forward to Chair DeLauro’s (D-CT) Subcommittee markup of the bill on July 12, as well as the full Committee’s consideration of the bill July 14. At that point we will see exactly what numbers are included for each education program. Education advocates are collectively holding their breaths, hoping to see the President’s proposal reflected in the bill.
House Democrats plan to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of July. If the schedule holds, Chair DeLauro said the turnaround time between the release of the president’s full budget and floor passage of the bills would be one of the fastest ever. That being said, the Senate offers an imposing set of hurdles. They must come to agreement with the House on 302(b)s, mark up each of their 12 bills, and secure a bipartisan vote of 60 Members for passage. Thus, compromises will need to be made. In addition to enacting 12 appropriations bills, Congress needs to find floor time this summer to address the debt ceiling before the end of July, the bi-partisan infrastructure package under consideration, and a budget resolution which is likely to generate reconciliation instructions and a massive reconciliation bill. These trains are all moving down the track quickly with hopes that a collision can be avoided!
Most veteran hill observers speculate that Congress will resort to the time-honored tradition of enacting a continuing resolution in order to meet the September 30 deadline and avert a government shutdown. This will buy time for further negotiations on FY ’22 spending bills. It’s going to be a long hot summer in DC!
2. Focus on Student Financial Aid Intensifies
This week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VV.) sent a letter to the White House urging the Biden administration to extend pandemic-related student loan relief until early 2022. The letter notes that although the economy is beginning to show promising signs of recovery, millions of Americans continue to struggle to keep a roof over their heads, pay bills, and put food on the table. While the Biden Administration has been hesitant to extend the pandemic-related pause on student loan payments questioning their authority to do so, Murray and Scott argue the Administration has such authority under Section 2(a)(1) of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003.
Since March of 2020, the Department has suspended interest and monthly payments on most federal student loans. More than 40 million Americans are benefitting from the pandemic-related student relief. Analysts have suggested that borrowers have been saving approximately $7 billion worth of interest each month. Without action from the Administration the pause on payments and interest will expire at the end of September.
On Thursday, the Department of Education announced its implementation of new regulations for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program. TEACH is the only federal student aid grant program that directly benefits teachers working in high-need fields and underserved schools. The program has been plagued with faulty administration and erroneous loan conversion for recipients of the grants. The following improvements to the program were announced:
- TEACH Grant Exit Counseling is required, and the counseling will inform recipients that the TEACH Grant servicer, FedLoan Servicing, will now send detailed annual notifications to recipients that include service obligation requirements and timelines, documentation reminders, accrued interest estimates, and explanations about the reconversion process.
- TEACH Grant recipients will no longer have their grants converted to loans if they do not certify that they have begun teaching or intend to begin teaching within 120 days of graduating or withdrawing from school, and there is no requirement for recipients to certify their intent to teach within 120 days of graduating or separating from school.
- If TEACH Grant recipients do not certify at the end of each year of teaching completed, their grants are not converted to loans until they do not have enough time to complete the required four years of service within the eight-year deadline.
- ED expanded the reasons that a TEACH Grant recipient’s service obligation may be suspended for a period of time and a TEACH Grant recipient may teach for less than a full academic year, but still receive credit for the full academic year.
- ED simplified program requirements to allow TEACH Grant recipients to group together undergraduate and graduate service obligations, when possible.
- The reconsideration process is now open to all TEACH Grant recipients whose grants have converted to loans.
- The program changes provide additional relief for recipients whose TEACH Grants were converted to loans in error.
In a statement, Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona noted “The changes announced today deliver much-needed improvements to the TEACH Grant. And, through the American Families Plan, even greater investments will be made in the program to strengthen teacher pipelines into the profession, support teacher retention, and address critical teacher shortages so that every child across America can be taught by well-prepared and outstanding educators.” The American Families Plan proposes doubling the amount of the TEACH grants from $4000 per year to $8000 per year for juniors, seniors and graduate students. Advocates are hopeful that Congress will take up this recommendation and include it in one of the “must pass” bills on the agenda. The amount of the TEACH grant has not changed since the inception of the program in 2007.
3. Opportunity for Public Comment
The U.S. Department of Education is seeking public comment on the Secretary’s six proposed priorities and related definitions for use in discretionary grant programs. The proposed priorities and definitions are meant to reflect the Secretary’s vision for American education. This vision includes a respect for the dignity and potential of each and every student and their access to educational opportunity. These proposed priorities are aligned with evidence-based (as defined in this document) and capacity-building approaches to addressing various interconnected policy issues in the Nation’s education system. Proposed Priority 3- Supporting a Diverse Educator Workforce and Professional Growth to Strengthen Student Learning- recognizes that diverse, well-prepared, and well-supported educators play a critical role in ensuring equity in our education system and student success and emphasizes the importance of promoting the continued development and growth of educators, including through leadership opportunities. Comments are due by July 30, 2021 and you can submit those here.
4. New Resources for Educators
- The National Conference of State Legislatures created a database detailing state actions as they relate to the American Rescue Plan Act funding allocations. This database provides up-to-date, real-time information on the 50 states.
- FutureED is out with a new report which highlights 18 evidence-based practices that have delivered improvements in instructional quality, school climate, student attendance, or student achievement. The report comes as the American Rescue Plan, requires states and school districts to spend a portion of their funding on “evidence-based interventions” to address lost learning opportunities.
- The Learning Policy Institute, as part of their series on reopening profiles, is out with a new brief which describes reopening efforts in San Diego County, CA, where 98% of districts were reopened for in-person learning as of May 2021. The brief also describes how the county supported the reopening of childcare programs and highlights the reopening strategies adopted by Cajon Valley Union School District, the largest district in the county to resume in-person learning in fall 2020.
- Education Week looks at four things schools will no long be able to do under state proposed Critical Race Theory laws. Key findings include: discussions surrounding racism will be limited; anti-bias and anti-racism efforts could be curtailed or canceled; curriculum changes could be required; and conversations about sexism and gender identity may be curtailed.
- The Washington Post this week covered Fairfax County Public Schools’ inability to hire enough special education teachers to carry out their planned summer program. The program was delayed until the needed teachers can be hired.
- Alabama reports the highest level of teacher retirements in a decade, with a resulting exacerbation of the teacher shortage and a likely increase in emergency certifications.
Wishing you a glorious July 4 celebration!
Jane and Kait