Washington Update, March 3, 2023 

Dear Colleagues: 

There was a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill this week as Members of Congress returned from recess. House Republicans re-introduced the Parent Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court heard arguments on the Administration’s student loan forgiveness proposal. Let’s dive in below.

1. House Republicans Introduce ‘Parent Bill of Rights’ …Again

In February, the House Education and Workforce Committee held their first hearing: “American Education in Crisis”. During the Chairwoman’s opening remarks, Dr. Foxx (R-NC)  expressed her support for H.R.5 , more commonly referred to as “The Parent Bill of Rights”. The legislation was first introduced in the 117th Congress and would require K-12 school districts receiving federal funding to publicly post their curriculum and annually provide parents with a list of books in the school library, a breakdown of school expenditures, the ability to opt their child out of all data collection, and more. As anticipated, on Wednesday, House Republicans reintroduced the bill.

Following the introduction, Chairwoman Foxx said:

“What the Parents Bill of Rights is doing is reiterating to people in this country that we believe in the Constitution…We as Republicans believe in the Constitution and we’re upholding your rights as parents, and students and citizens of this country.”  

Democratic Ranking Member Bobby Scott released a statement denouncing the bill, saying:

“Now, instead of working with Democrats to address the real issues in schools, Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation that would further politicize our children’s education.” 

NEA President Becky Pringle also released a statement condemning the bill and the politicization of public education saying:

“As Americans, we want the same thing – for every student to have the freedom to reach their potential. And for the more than 50 million students across the country that means strong public schools. In every community across the nation, parents and educators continue to be partners, working to ensure all students, no matter their race or background, have the opportunity to succeed. Sadly, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is ignoring the needs of our students, as well as the wishes of the vast majority of parents, to appease right-wing billionaires like Betsy DeVos who want to drag their political games into our school buildings and onto our campuses. McCarthy would rather seek to stoke racial and social division and distract us from what will really help our students thrive: an inspiring, inclusive, and age-appropriate curriculum that prepares each and every one of them for their future.” 

The legislation is expected to pass in the House, but is unlikely to move in the Senate.

2. Supreme Court Hears Arguments Surrounding Biden- Harris Administration Student Loan Debt Relief Program 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments surrounding the Biden- Harris Administration’s student loan debt relief proposal. that would forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt per borrower. The program has been on hold while the high court debates the legal justification of the program. During more than three hours of oral arguments, conservative justices on the court questioned whether the Department of Education has the legal authority to discharge federal student loan debt. The Administration for their part has argued that the HEROES Act, a 2003 law, gives the Department of Education the authority to help borrowers respond during national emergencies. The law says that the secretary of Education may “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision” related to federal student loans “as may be necessary to ensure that” borrowers “are not placed in a worse position financially” because of a national emergency.

In total, the Department of Education estimates that about 40 million federal student loan borrowers would qualify for the program based on their 2020 or 2021 income. Borrowers must earn below $125,000 individually or below $250,000 as a couple to receive the relief.

A decision in the case is expected by the summer.

3. In the States: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Rules State Education Funding System is Unconstitutional and State Officials Consider Rejecting Federal Education Funding 

Nearly a decade after a lawsuit was first introduced by advocacy groups, several parents, and six school districts- a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that Pennsylvania schools do not have the resources to adequately educate all students, and the gaps between the high poverty schools and well-resourced schools render the system unconstitutional. The 786 page ruling issued by Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer directs lawmakers and the Governor’s office to ensure that Pennsylvania schools provide all students with an education that meets constitutional standards. How the state will respond remains unclear.

Judge Jubelirer her ruling stated that there was “no rational basis” for the disparities between high- and low-wealth districts, which stem from Pennsylvania’s heavy reliance on local property taxes to pay for public education. While Pennsylvania has a funding formula that steers additional funds and resources to districts with lower property wealth and greater student needs, it only applies to a portion of what the state spends on K-12 schools. An analysis presented at the trial indicated that Pennsylvania will need to spend an additional $4.6 billion to adequately fund schools.

Newly elected Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shaprio released a statement on Tuesday saying:

“…creating real opportunity for our children begins in our schools, and I believe every child in Pennsylvania should have access to a high-quality education and safe learning environment, regardless of their zip code… My Administration is in the process of thoroughly reviewing the Commonwealth Court’s opinion and we are determining next steps.” 

You can read the ruling in its entirety here.

State Officials Consider Rejecting Federal Education Funding 
State officials in Tennessee and Oklahoma are considering rejecting all federal education funding in favor of operating their schools with only state dollars. The move would essentially free the states from any federal mandates associated with the funds and allow the states to operate their education system independently.  Tennessee’s Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton said that he has introduced a bill that would explore the idea of declining federal funds;  “We as a state can lead the nation once again in telling the federal government that they can keep their money and we’ll just do things the Tennessee way…And that should start, first and foremost, with the Department of Education.” Tennessee receives nearly $1.8 billion in federal K-12 funding- the state’s FY2023 budget allocated $8.3 million for education. A Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma introduced a similar bill last month. This legislation follows Oklahoma State Superintendent and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters saying the state should scrutinize what federal money is being accepted. “We should look and make sure that any money coming from the feds doesn’t have mandates or strings attached, that doesn’t make it useful for kids.”

4. New Resources for Educators  

  • Higher Ed Dive issued a brief on declining K-12 enrollment and the impact on the higher education pipeline.
  • All 4 Ed released a new report on college and career readiness measures.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!