Education To-Do List for Congress
Congress is back from its week-long July 4 recess and has just 16 business days left before lawmakers hightail it back out of the nation's capital for their annual five-week summer break. Between now and then, however, there are some education-related happenings you should be on the lookout for. Here is a rundown:
- The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: The bipartisan workforce training law will likely clear the president's desk before lawmakers head back to their districts in August. The Senate passed the bill with support from both sides of the aisle on June 20, and the House is expected to follow suit, likely this week. While the proposal deals mainly with workforce training and adult education, it includes a small K-12 provision that would provide greater access to job training for students entering the workforce with special needs.
- The Higher Education Act and House Republicans: House Republicans, led by Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., are in the midst of introducing a series of bills that, taken together, would overhaul the Higher Education Act. The piecemeal-style strategy is Kline's specialty, and he promised swift introduction and markup of all those bills. Members of his committee already introduced three bills, all of which are slated for markup this Thursday. But there's likely to be at least four additional bills if you take into account Kline's 11-page white paper that outlines priorities. Stay tuned for proposals that would restructure the federal student-loan system and the Pell grant program, reduce reporting requirements, and shift the teacher quality program to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to name a few.
- The Higher Education Act and Senate Democrats: Efforts in the Senate are also underway to overhaul the Higher Education Act. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced a 785-page discussion draft on June 25. The massive proposal includes a new grant that would allow states to rank teacher and school leader preparation programs. The committee is seeking stakeholder input on the language and could unveil an official bill later this summer.
- Federal Fiscal 2015 Education Funding Details: Sen. Harkin also chairs the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the education spending bill. Democrats reported that spending bill out of the subcommittee in June, in which they rejected a new iteration of Race to the Top aimed at bolstering education equity. (You can read more about other programs the committee nixed here.) The funding proposal was then set for a markup from the Committee on Appropriations, but Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., indefinitely postponed it. Republicans accused Democrats of intentionally postponing the markup to prevent Republicans from offering certain amendments. Harkin rejected that assertion and said he wants a full committee vetting of his spending bill. At this point, that's unlikely to happen, given the proximity to upcoming midterm elections and the potentially difficult votes it would force some Democrats in tough races to make. But keep an eye out for the official education funding numbers reported out of Harkin's committee anyway, which he could release if he wants to.