A well educated workforce is one of the key drivers of strong economic growth. In the face of global and technological advancements that have made the modern economy more complex and dynamic, it is imperative that Americans have access to a high-quality education. Despite record taxpayer funded investment in public education by federal, state, and local governments over the past few decades, academic achievement has not seen a commensurate improvement, and the state of the American education system is sobering. Stagnant student achievement levels and exploding deficits have demonstrated that massive amounts of taxpayer funding and top-down bureaucratic interventions are not the way to provide America’s students with a high-quality education. It is imperative, then, that we allocate our limited financial resources effectively and efficiently to improve education in this country and ensure the continued success of future generations of Americans.
Education in the House-passed Budget
The House-passed budget offers a sensible path forward to expand opportunity and chart a brighter future for the next generation. The budget calls for reorganization and streamlining of K-12 programs and anticipates major reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). These reforms are necessary because the current structure is fragmented and ineffective. Many programs are highly restricted, serving a small number of students, or duplicative; for example, there are 82 programs designed to improve teacher quality. Given budget constraints, Congress must focus resources on programs that truly help students and reduce or eliminate programs that fail to improve student achievement.
Furthermore, the House-passed budget ensures that higher education assistance programs are put on a sustainable funding path, better focusing aid on those in need and better addressing the root drivers of tuition inflation for all students. While financial aid is intended to make college more affordable, there is growing evidence that it has had the opposite effect: college costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation for about thirty years, and economists have pointed to federal tuition subsidization as the culprit. In other words, the more aid the federal government provides in student loans, the higher college and universities raise tuition.
H.R. 4348 – MAP-21
H.R.4348, signed into law on July 6, 2012, authorizes funds for Federal-aid highways, highway safety programs and transit programs. The legislation also includes a one year extension of the 3.4% interest rate on Federal Direct Stafford Student loans. As background on the issue, House Democrats passed legislation in January 2007 to phase-in reductions to interest rates on certain student loans, thereby choosing temporary relief over lasting solutions to the rising cost of higher education. Under that law, students with loans issued for the 2011-2012 school year received a 3.4% interest rate. The rate was in effect for one year and was scheduled to double to 6.8% in July 2012. The authorization of the highway, highway safety and transit program funding resolved the student loan rate issue for one year.
H.J.Res.117 – Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2013
H.J.Res.117 is a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government until March 27, 2013. The funding measure maintains funding levels and was signed into law on September 28, 2012. The pre-cursor to the CR was H.R.2055, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. This legislation set the levels at which H.J.Res.117 would extend funding. H.R.2055 provided a total of $71.3 billion for the Department of Education, ensuring that the educational system nationwide has adequate operational resources. This funding level included $14.5 billion for Title I Grants to local school districts, a continuation of the maximum Pell Grant level of $5,550, $11.6 billion for Special Education programs and cut funding for the “Race to the Top” initiative by more than 20%. A bill for Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations will be introduced in the 113th Congress.
Student achievement and increases in spending have not correlated with rising academic success. The education of an individual student can be centered on the academic institutions and educators available but without the support system of parents, family and community mentors, the educational system in this country will continue to fall short. Rather than relying on the federal government to ensure that students are given the capability to fulfill their potential, education ought to be governed by state and local boards more ably qualified to make determinations about student need.
H.R.8 – American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, which was signed into law on January 2, 2013, prevented a tax rate increase on 98 percent of taxpayers and made these lower tax rates permanent so they would not expire again. H.R.8 also made permanent 97 percent of the tax relief provisions for small businesses enacted in 2001 and 2003 and delayed the Fiscal Year 2013 sequestration for two months, giving Congress the opportunity to focus the nation’s attention on the fact that we are spending more money than we have. With regard specifically to education, the legislation also included the extension of deductions for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers.
Without Congressional action to address this issue, the American people would have been hit with a $4.4 trillion tax increase; instead revenues will increase by $600 billion. In the end, the choice presented to Members of Congress was to raise taxes by either $4.4 trillion or by $600 billion — I voted for the latter. Despite my concerns with other provisions in the bill, at a time when families and small businesses are facing high gas prices and overall increases in the cost of living, the last thing taxpayers need – right now or in the future – is a tax increase.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 reauthorized virtually all ESEA programs through 2008. On June 16, 2011, H.R.2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act was introduced. The bill would modify the existing Charter Schools Program, Per-Pupil Facilities Aid program, and Credit Enhancement Initiatives to Assist Charter School Facility Acquisition, Construction and Renovation program currently authorized under ESEA. Substantial changes would be made to Title V-B-1 and 2, while preserving many of the provisions of the current law. The bill was passed in the House on September 13, 2011, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The legislation will need to be reintroduced in the 113th Congress, which began in January of 2013.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) first passed in Congress in 1965. The most recent reauthorization – No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – increased federal funding for K-12 education and established new requirements for state and local school systems nationwide. Despite spending nearly $2 trillion, there have been few demonstrable improvements to educational outcomes.
Introduced by Representative Bishop (R-UT) in the 112th Congress, The Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act would allow states to opt out of NCLB, giving them greater flexibility to appropriately meet state educational needs. With the approval of at least two of three state entities (Governor, State Legislature, state education agency), states would enter into a five-year performance agreement with the Secretary of Education and would be required to demonstrate uniform increased academic achievement as well as provide disaggregated performance data from various demographic groups.
The A-PLUS Act limits federal influence over state education programs and provides relief from the imposition of NCLB’s top-down reform policies. In the 112th Congress, I signed on as a co-sponsor of this bill and will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation should it be reintroduced.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, has been introduced several times in recent years. This bill amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to permit states to determine state residency for the purpose of higher education benefits. Additionally, it grants conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who entered the United States as children. While the DREAM Act has been promoted as an alternative to comprehensive reform, and I understand the points that its’ supporters have raised, I believe this legislation attempts to treat a symptom – rather than the root cause – of our current problems. Rather than pursuing piecemeal reforms such as the DREAM Act, we must streamline the immigration system such that it allows for efficiency, ensures fairness and emphasizes family unification in a comprehensive, responsible and methodical way.
As the 113th Congress begins to consider legislation that affects education, rest assured that I remain committed to ensuring we have an efficient educational system that makes appropriate use of taxpayer dollars as we aim to serve the individual needs of our children and students. Both Republicans and Democrats alike can and should share the bipartisan goal of ensuring that educational opportunities adequately prepare future generations of America to support not only themselves, but to contribute to the continued academic and economic success of our nation.