Issue Position: Education
During the 110th Congress, the House Education and Labor Committee is working on many important issues, including the No Child Left Behind reauthorization and higher education access. Education serves an important role in both our lives and in our society. Indeed, that commitment to education has been reflected in the increases we have seen in spending at the Department of Education over the past ten years. For example, funding increased significantly from $23 billion in Fiscal Year 1996 (FY1996) to $59.2 billion in FY2008. Title I funding, in particular, experienced a dramatic increase since the mid-1990s. In FY1995, it received $6.8 billion; in FY2008, Title I received $14.4 billion.
It is imperative that we allocate our resources in the most efficient manner possible and do not simply hope that spending more money on education without adequate planning will improIssue Position: Education
ve our educational system. As we move through the 110th Congress, I welcome your feedback on education funding and policy decisions so that Congress can make the most efficient use of taxpayer money without eliminating the programs that are making a major difference in the lives of our children.
Update on the No Child Left Behind Act.
The 110th Congress is expected to actively consider legislation to amend and extend the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Enacted on January 8, 2002, NCLB contains some reforms I favor and others that I do not. It highlights greater parental involvement in education, targets more federal education resources to schools that need the most assistance, and increases accountability for our nation's schools. During the implementation of this law, the Department of Education has responded to criticisms that it received from educators across the country and has modified certain provisions of the law.
As a result of NCLB, the federal government is now spending far more money for elementary and secondary education than at any other time in American history. In FY2007, for example, both states and schools received $23.7 billion for implementation of NCLB. NCLB received similar funding in FY2008. Department of Education funding has increased 150 percent, from $23 billion in 1996 to nearly $60 billion in FY2008.
Debates on reauthorization are likely to focus on the following issues: annual yearly progress (AYP) rates and whether they are appropriately focused on improving education for disadvantaged students; the impact of testing on students and whether it should be expanded; funding adequacy and authorization levels; the need for a greater emphasis on math, science, and foreign language; and the role of the federal government in public K-12 education. It is also expected that Congress will examine whether or not program improvements, restructuring, and corrective actions for failing schools have actually resulted in real progress.
As Congress debates the policy changes in the NCLB Act, I believe we must continue to make fiscally responsible reforms while improving student achievement. Furthermore, decisions in individual school districts' curriculum should be left to those who know best: parents, teachers, the school districts, and states. To that end, I have signed on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 1539, the A-PLUS Act.
Many educators and parents have expressed frustration with the numerous federal requirements that have come with NCLB funding. The A-PLUS Act allows states to implement their own, individual education plans by providing the Secretary of Education a "declaration of intent' to assume full responsibility for the education of their students. While states would continue to receive federal aid, it would provide states freedom from one-size-fits-all mandates. Importantly, accountability would remain an integral part of this legislation. States that select the A-PLUS option would maintain their own state assessment systems, ensuring a high level of transparency to the consumers of education- parents and other taxpayers. This bill will be an important way to allow educators who are close to the students to decide upon policy, rather than forcing them to comply with burdensome federal program requirements.
I will continue to monitor the federal government's role in NCLB and other education programs. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on No Child Left Behind and the state of education in Wisconsin so that Congress can make the most efficient use of taxpayer money without eliminating the programs that are making a major difference in the lives of our children.
Improving Access to Higher Education.
The State of Wisconsin has some of the highest quality public and private universities in the nation. In a time of increasing globalization and competition from abroad, our universities provide an important comparative advantage. Recognizing this, Congress took up H.R. 4137, which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965.
The principal objective of the HEA is to expand postsecondary education opportunity, particularly for low-income individuals, and to increase affordability for moderate income families as well. The heart of the legislation is its student aid programs authorized under Title IV, which provide student aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study assistance. There are seven titles of the HEA that authorize numerous programs and provisions designed to provide assistance to postsecondary students and institutions.
Just as I have concerns about NCLB mandates on States, I have similar concerns about this bill. While there were several important provisions in H.R. 4137, such as increased transparency, I could not support the final bill because of its numerous federal mandates. I have heard from many educators regarding the frustrations they have had with No Child Left Behind's federal mandates into State education systems. Unfortunately, H.R. 4137 requires that States fund their higher education systems at a minimum of their previous 5 year average. This does not take into requirement that many States have to balance their budget. Additionally, it may end up with the unintended consequence that States spend less on higher education so that they do not have to make deep budget cuts in other areas, such as K-12 education, in order to meet this federal mandate.
Currently, the Senate and the House are meeting in Conference to iron out the differences in their two bills. It was previously expected that a Conference report would be provided sometime this summer. However, it is currently unclear what the final timetable will be for completion.
H.R. 5715, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act.
In recent months, turmoil in the credit markets has caused difficulty for some lenders in the federally guaranteed student loan program to acquire the capital needed to provide loans to college students. In fact, some lenders have dropped out of the student loan market altogether, citing the high cost of borrowing money and lower rates of return due to lowered government subsidies. In order to forestall growing fears that private lenders may not be able to provide the necessary amount of student loans, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5715 with my support on April 17, 2008. On May 7, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 5715.
H.R. 5715 would ensure that college students attempting to receive loans are not denied due to the current credit market. First, it provides explicit authority to the Secretary of Education to advance funds under the Lender of Last Resort program. While the Secretary of Education had already claimed this authority, providing the authority permanently will clarify the situation and stop any future ambiguity.
Next, the bill would provide the temporary authority for the Department of Education to purchase existing Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL). Because many FFEL loans are securitized into what are called "asset backed securities' (ABS) they are dependant upon auctions to raise additional capital. While a similar process in the mortgage market caused many of the credit problems in the subprime market, student loans have not seen a default rate comparable to subprime loans. However, some of the auctions that have previously sold these loans have failed, meaning that no investors wish to purchase the ABS. While this is a temporary situation, it falls during a time when most students are attempting to receive their student loans, and so a temporary injection of liquidity of the market is warranted. However, I do believe that this should not turn into a permanent authority, and will not support any such move.
Fiscal Year 2008 (FY2008) Consolidated Appropriations Act.
On December 17, 2007, the House passed H.R. 2764, the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes the FY2008 Education funding, by a vote of 241-178. On December 26, 2007, the President signed this bill into law. Among other provisions, this bill would:
* Provide $59.2 billion to the Department of Education, which is $1.7 billion over 2007 levels;
* Provide $24.6 billion for No Child Left Behind programs;
* Fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants at $10.9 billion; and
* Increase Head Start funding by $89 million, totaling $6.9 billion for FY2008.
While I support many provisions within H.R. 2764, I could not vote for this bill because it violated the FY08 budget resolution and abused the budget process. It included $7.5 billion in questionable "emergency spending." Programs that are able to be planned for, such as salary increases for Forest Service employees, should be enacted through the traditional appropriations process. Additionally, over 9000 earmarks were included in the bill, including earmarks for fruit fly research in France, and rodent control in Alaska.