Washington Update, June 9, 2023 

Dear Colleagues: 

To say it was a busy recess for members of Congress and their staff would certainly be an understatement. Just days before America was slated to reach the debt limit, President Biden signed into law the Fiscal Responsibility Act which raises the debt ceiling and limits federal funding for the next two years. Education advocates will now spend much of our days on Capitol Hill working to not only protect federal investments, but simultaneously make the case for the need for increased investments for education. Your voices will be critical in the coming months as we work towards an FY2024 spending bill.

1. America avoids an Economic Disaster  

Just days before American was expected to reach the debt limit, President Biden signed into law the  Fiscal Responsibility Act. The measure passed in the Senate with a 63-36 vote- nearly 24 hours after the House cleared the bill 314-117. The legislation raises the debt ceiling until January 2025 and flat funds fiscal year (FY) 2024 and limits a funding increase for FY 2025 to just 1%. Additionally, the deal changes some SNAP and TANF rules that will limit eligibility for some, rescinds some of the IRS funding provided in the Inflation Reduction Act, ends the pause on student loan repayments at the end of summer, rescinds some unobligated COVID-relief funding and a few other changes.

In regard to the unobligated COVID-relief funding; the U.S Department of Education has indicated that this does not apply to the allocations under K-12’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds since that money is considered to already be obligated.

Additionally, the department said $390 million of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding that would be rescinded includes funds that were either returned or not claimed by institutions of higher education-a small portion of the $76 billion in total funding for recovery efforts.

For additional context, caps were previously in place for non-defense discretionary funding, which includes education, from FY 2013-2021. During that time, education funding was cut and then took 6 years to return to the 2011 level in nominal dollars- it has not yet returned to 2011 levels when accounting for inflation.

In a statement, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten said in part:

“This deal avoids the $130 billion in draconian cuts to education and other critical public services. It rejects deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the president’s student debt plan and ignores far-right demands to undo progress on climate change. Yet, we remain troubled by other aspects of the bill. These include new restrictions on SNAP food assistance, impacting thousands of vulnerable adults, and the slashing of resources allocated to the IRS to pursue tax evaders, while maintaining tax breaks for billionaires. We believe that Congress should have passed a clean bill raising the debt limit weeks ago. But in the face of an imminent default that would raise costs on everything from car loans to mortgage payments, both legislative chambers must approve this deal to allow the federal government to pay its bills and avoid massive harm to the students, families, workers and communities that need and rely on government to work for them.” 

The White House and President Biden also issued a statement saying:

“No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: this bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people. It protects the core pillars of my Investing in America agenda that is creating good jobs across the country, fueling a resurgence in manufacturing, rebuilding our infrastructure, and advancing clean energy. It safeguards peoples’ health care and retirement security, protecting bedrock programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It protects vital investments in hardworking families that help make our country strong—from child care and education, to public safety and Meals on Wheels. It protects my student debt relief plan for hardworking borrowers. And it honors America’s sacred obligation to our veterans by fully funding veterans’ medical care.Our work is far from finished, but this agreement is a critical step forward, and a reminder of what’s possible when we act in the best interests of our country…” 

You can read the House Majority’s summary of the Fiscal Responsibility Act here.

2. In the States: North Carolina Declares State of Emergency for Education 

Late last month, in a video address to constituents, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency  for public education for the state of North Carolina. The Governor pointed to teacher salary, respect of the profession, and the expansion of private school vouchers as key issues that are “aiming to choke the life out of public education.”

North Carolina’s state legislature is led by a Republican majority. In the Senate’s budget proposal, teachers across the state would see a 4.5% raise over the next two years while the House had suggested a 10.2% raise for teachers. The Governor for his part had pushed for an 18% salary increase for educators.

“The Senate has given veteran teachers a $250 raise spread over two years…That’s a slap in the face and will make our teacher shortage worse,” said Governor Cooper.

Additional concerns presented by the Governor throughout his video address include:

  • 5,000 teacher vacancies that need to be breached, which is where he said the average pay raises exacerbated the problem. Senators have touted raising the starting pay level significantly to address the need to recruit and an investment in educational programs for teachers.
  • The need to invest in early childhood education, about which he said lawmakers were “turning their backs on children, parents and the businesses that want to hire those parents.” Lawmakers have included some funding for childcare assistance in their budgets.
  • The “political culture wars” that he said would put “politicians in charge of curriculum-setting, micromanage what teachers can teach and target LGBTQ+ students.” He mentioned the elimination of some science classes and the restructuring of history curricula.

3. New Resources for Educators  

The technical assistance centers will host webinars on the resource and fact sheets:

  • Introduction to the Department’s “Guiding Principles for Creating Safe, Inclusive, Supportive, and Fair School Climates” (August 9, 3 p.m. Eastern Time)
  • Strategies for School and District Leaders (August 23, 3 p.m. ET)
  • Strategies for Schools to Enhance Relationships with Families (September 20, 3 p.m. ET)
  • Strategies for Educators and School-Based Staff (October 4, 3 p.m. ET)
  • Strategies for Student and Teacher Support Teams (October 18, 3 p.m. ET)
  • The Department of Education  announced new Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grants for four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) disrupted by bomb threats last year.  Project SERV awards short-term funding for school districts and postsecondary institutions that have experienced a violent or traumatic incident to assist in restoring a safe environment for learning.  Eight other HBCUs were previously awarded grants.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!