Hot Federal Education and Workforce Topics


Starting January 2011 Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC will write weekly updates on this webpage with the latest news regarding federal education and workforce programs! So make sure to check back frequently! For more detailed summaries and analysis of these issues, please contact our offices about a subscription to the Federal Update.

Friday, February 28, 2014 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued new guidance for State and regional child nutrition directors on the implementation of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).  CEP permits local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools in high-poverty areas to provide all children with free- or reduced-price meals rather than using the household application process if they agree to cover with non-federal funds any costs of providing those meals in excess of federal reimbursements.  The guidance and frequently asked questions document provide information on calculating the threshold for LEAs or schools to be eligible for the program, how students are identified for CEP eligibility, timelines for implementing the program, and instructions on reporting data.

The CEP guidance is available here.

Friday, February 21, 2014 – North Carolina became the first Race to the Top (RTT) State to receive an additional year to implement a teacher evaluation system that involves personnel decisions.  The U.S. Department of Education also approved eight additional States to forgo double testing their students with State exams and field tests aligned with the RTT assessment consortia

Friday, February 14, 2014 – This week, Congress passed legislation that suspends the national debt limit until March 15, 2015.  On Tuesday, the House passed the measure with a majority of Republicans opposing the bill. The next day, the Senate passed the debt ceiling bill, despite difficulty obtaining Republican support for cloture.  Last week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had stated that the “extraordinary measures” would not extend beyond February 27th.

Friday, February 7, 2014 – This week, President Obama announced two new initiatives to improve school connectivity.  The Federal Communications Commissions will double the funding for the “school and libraries” aspect of the Universal Service Fund (USF), known as E-rate, to $2 billion annually.  The funding will come from leftover USF funds from prior years and the reallocation of new funds within the USF.  In addition, several companies such as Apple, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon announced partnerships to invest $750 million for school connectivity including tablets, digital software, and other Internet-enabled devices.

Friday, January 31, 2014 – During the State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama proposed several education initiatives that had been raised in earlier speeches.  Obama praised Race to the Top, which received $250 million in the omnibus appropriations bill, for States to develop and improve early education programs.  President Obama also announced a partnership with private companies to improve connectivity for 15,000 schools over the next two years.

Friday, January 24, 2014 – Earlier this week, 34 State superintendents sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) committing to not sharing personally identifiable information (PII) on students with the federal government.  The letter notes that the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments have raised concerns about the disclosure of PII student data.  The letter states “the consortia will not share any personally identifiable information about K-12 students with ED or any federal agency.”  The States will continue sharing school-level data that is required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other relevant federal education statutes.

A copy of the chiefs’ letter is available here.

Friday, January 17, 2014 – This week, both the House and Senate passed appropriations for all 12 Congressional spending accounts for fiscal year (FY) 2014.

One of the winners in the omnibus was early childhood education including Head Start receiving a total amount of $8.5 billion, exceeding pre-sequestration FY 2013.  Other education programs including Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ($14.4 billion), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – $11.5 billion), and Career and Technical Education State Grants ($1.12 billion) received slight increases from post-sequestration funding levels from FY 2013.

Several policy riders were included that impact education programs.  Two of the riders are related to State and local spending under IDEA.  Changes were also made to the School Improvement Grant including extending the grant period to five years and adding two school turnaround models.

Friday, January 10, 2014 – The “supercircular,” now termed the “omni circular’ was published by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in late December.  The final guidance replaces several circulars related to federal cost principles (A-87, A-21, A-122), federal administrative rules (A-110, A-102), and federal audits (A-133).  The omni circular is an attempt to improve the simplicity of the circulars and promote the themes of increasing program efficiency, accountability, and improving oversight.

In terms of simplifying federal requirements, OMB seeks to “improve consistency” and “eliminate… duplicative provisions.”  Another theme of the omni circular is shifting the focus of grants management from compliance to performance.  The omni circular increases the accountability requirements for federal entities including a focus on areas of the “greatest risk of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Friday, December 20, 2013 – On Thursday, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Financial Assistance Reform released the “supercircular”, also known as the “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.”  The supercircular will be formally published in the Federal Register on December 26th.  The supercircular seeks to consolidate and streamline several federal grants management requirements.  These include cost circular covering the federal cost principles (A-87, A-21, A-122), the federal administrative rules (A-110, A-102) and non-federal audits (A-133 and part of A-50 regarding Single Audit requirements).

Friday, December 13, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released proposed priorities for grants under the Charter School Program.  Interested parties can submit comments until January 2nd.  ED’s five proposed priority areas are:

  • Improving efficiency through economies of scale;
  • Improving accountability;
  • Leveraging charter school autonomy to better serve students with disabilities;
  • Developing strategies to improve student outcomes for English-language learners; and
  • Expanding efforts to incorporate personalized technology-enabled learning for high-need students.

The proposed priorities are available here.

Friday, November 22, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new competitive grant program that would support innovative workforce development initiatives in high schools.  The program, called Youth CareerConnect, would be run by DOL and the U.S. Department of Education.

Grants totaling $100 million would go to between 25 and 40 grantees that would support “evidence-based models” for high school curricula with a focus on careers, provide opportunities like field trips, and are aligned to post-secondary education.  Eligible grantees are local educational agencies, public or non-profit workforce entities, or other nonprofits that are part of workforce partnerships.  Applications are due on January 27th.

More information on the new Youth CareerConnect program is available here.

Friday, November 15, 2013 – The Budget Conference Committee met for the second time this week to discuss possible areas of compromise for a long-term budget agreement.  Committee Chairs, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) struggled to agree on many issues including starting points for their discussion.  Members of the Conference Committee argued that the budgets passed in the House and Senate were “dramatically different.”

The Committee heard testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf who discussed cost saving measures proposed by members of Congress.  Some of these proposals were modifying the subsidizing of federal student loans, reducing subsidies for the National School Lunch Program, restricting eligibility for Pell Grants, and eliminating funding for non-academic programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Friday, November 8, 2013 – The bicameral Budget Conference Committee met last week to discuss a long-term budget proposal prior to the December 13th deadline.

One of the proposals discussed was modifying the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.  An idea, “sequestration flexibility”, was offered which would permit the heads of federal agencies to choose where additional cuts are made.  Another solution was suspending sequestration entirely for a year or more.  The next formal meeting of the Budget Conference Committee is expected to be on November 13th.

Friday, November 1, 2013 – The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations for schools to handle students’ food allergies.  The guidelines are “voluntary” and 15 States already have guidelines in place.  The guidelines recommend that schools should avoid food that contain allergens in class projects, parties, snacks, science experiments, and cooking exercises.  The guidance also recommends that staff should be trained on injecting devices for the medication epinephrine (EpiPen), designating allergen-free zones, and using non-food incentives for prizes.

Friday, October 25, 2013 – The House of Representatives passed legislation this week that would require State educational agencies (SEAs) to set policies mandating backgrounds for all current and prospective SEA and local educational agency (LEA) employees. The Protecting Students from Sexual Violent Predators Act, (H.R. 2083), is sponsored by Committee on Education and the Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA).

In order to receive federal education funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), SEAs would need to implement policies and procedures requiring backgrounds checks on new and existing SEA and LEA employees that have direct access to students. Background checks would need to include a search of the State’s criminal registry, a State-based child abuse and neglect registry, the National Sex Offender Registry, and an FBI fingerprint check.  Individuals would be prohibited from SEA or LEA employment if the background check reveals a conviction for a felony of a violent or sexual nature.  The bill would also allow an LEA to share the results of a background check on an individual with another LEA that the individual is seeking employment.

Friday, October 18, 2013 – Last Saturday, the House of Representatives appointed members to a conference committee that will work on a compromise with the Senate on plans to reauthorize the agriculture omnibus known as the Farm Bill.

Since the members of the conference committee have been named, congressional leadership now allow the conference to convene between the House and Senate to address differences in their proposals.

Members of the House conference committee will include Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI).  The Senate appointed its own conference committee members while awaiting passage of the House bill.

The biggest issue that the conference committee will face is how to address the proposed cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The House bill would cut $40 billion from SNAP over ten years, while the Senate would cut $4 billion.  Another issue that the conference will address is the House proposal to shorten the length of the nutrition title reauthorization from five years to three years.

Friday, October, 11, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that 219 applications representing 678 school districts were received for the second round of the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition.  The total amount available for the fiscal year 2013 RTT-D grants is $120 million and grants will range from $4 million to $30 million, depending on the student population.

ED has required RTT-D applicants to develop and implement strategies for “personalized learning environments” that must include alignment with college- and career-ready standards.  RTT-D funds must be awarded to grantees by the end of December 2013.  Despite the government shutdown, ED’s furloughed employees may be asked back to work to complete the award process before the end of the year.

The list of school districts that submitted applications is available here.

Friday, October 4, 2013 – Last week, Texas was added to the growing list of States that have received a waiver from some of the burdensome requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

ED granted Texas with a one-year conditional waiver due to issues finalizing the State’s teacher evaluation system.  Once the teacher evaluation system is implemented, ED may grant Texas with an additional year of flexibility.

Along with Texas, 42 States, the District of Columbia, and eight school districts in California have received an ESEA waiver.  ED has five additional waiver applications pending: Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education.  Due to the federal government shutdown, ED is unlikely to approve any additional waivers in the near future.

Friday, September 27, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) joined with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide informal guidance to institutions of higher education on how to deal with the use of race in their admission process in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

The joint letter reaffirmed ED and DOJ’s support for supporting a “racially and ethnically diverse student body” for colleges and universities. The letter also stated that “racially diverse education environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation.”

ED and DOJ also released a Q&A document that provided information on the Fisher case and additional support for institutions of higher education.

The joint letter is available here, and the new Fisher Q&A is available here

Friday, September 20, 2013 – The House passed a short-term budget proposal, also known as a “continuing resolution,” that would fund the government at current spending levels, but eliminate funding for the President’s healthcare law.  The House resolution would fund the government at $986.3 billion until December 15th.  Focus shifts to the Senate this week as the House resolution is expected to be dead on arrival.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has called the House resolution a “non-starter,” while Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is expected to introduce a spending bill maintaining funding at current levels but without “ideological additions.”  The Mikulski proposal is expected to pass the Senate which will force a showdown between the House and Senate that could increase the likelihood of a government shutdown on October 1st.

Friday, September 13, 2013 – Two Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee – Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education (ED), and Relations Agencies Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) – sent a letter to Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA) urging action on the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Labor-HHS-ED appropriations bill.

Lowey and DeLauro’s letter urged the Committee leaders to schedule a markup of the FY 2013 Labor-HHS-ED appropriations bill.  The Labor-HHS-ED bill is the only House FY 2014 appropriations bill that has been considered in subcommittee and the full Committee has not marked up the bill since 2009. The Lab or-HHS-ED Appropriations Subcommittee was originally expected to markup the bill on July 25th but was postponed due to “scheduling uncertainties.  Lowey and DeLauro criticized Rogers and Kingston for cancelling the subcommittee markup and recommended that they publicly release the details of the Labor-HHS-ED bill.

The letter from Lowey and DeLauro is available here.

Friday, September 6, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) began the process for establishing new regulations regarding higher education programs and ensuring students receive “gainful employment.”  ED released draft rules related to debt measures and reporting requirements.

The proposed language would broaden the number of programs that would receive scrutiny to all undergraduate certificate or diploma programs including programs leading to an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, post-baccalaureate certificate, master’s degree, doctoral degree, and first-professional degree. Under the draft language, approximately 11,000 programs would be applicable under the gainful employment regulations.  The draft rules would consider a program applicable under gainful employment if the students’ loan payments did not exceed 30% of discretionary income or 12% of total annual income.  The proposed rules also creates a “zone program” category, which includes programs where student debt is between 20%-30% of discretionary income or between 8%-12% of annual income.  A program would be considered ineligible for federal student aid if it is above the 20 percent or eight percent threshold for four consecutive years or above the 30 percent or 12 percent level for any two out of three consecutive years.

Friday, August 30, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education released new guidance for eligible States to apply for an additional two years of flexibility.  Only the 35 States that received ESEA waivers during the first two rounds are eligible for extending their waivers.

States seeking extensions would need to provide additional assurances:

  • Maintain the timeline to implement teacher evaluation systems during the 2014-2015 school year;
  • In addition to the existing teacher evaluation requirements, States must ensure that minority and low-income students are not taught by ineffective teachers at higher rates than other student subgroups;
  • States and districts must improve the use of Title II funds for professional development, including a requirement that districts must use “evidence-based” programs and are linked to college and career ready standards;
  • States must develop a “high-quality plan” for holding districts accountable for school turnaround; and
  • States must adopt a long-term plan for turning around Priority Schools, the bottom 5% of schools

Applications will be accepted in three phases, beginning January 2nd and ending on February 21st.

The new guidance, a letter to State chiefs, and the renewal form are available here.

Friday, August 23, 2013 – This week, President Obama launched a college affordability bus tour to New York and Pennsylvania colleges and universities.  At the University of Buffalo, Obama announced that he wants the U.S. Department of Education to develop by the 2015 school year a rating system that provides students information on college affordability and access based on outcomes including graduation rates and debt.  The President also laid out a proposal for using the rating system to reform the way federal financial aid is awarded to institutions of higher education by 2018.  Institutions that perform well on the proposed scorecard would be eligible for larger Pell Grants and lower interest rates for student loans.

Friday, August 16, 2013 – Three States that have received waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Kansas, Oregon, and Washington, received a “high-risk” designation from the U.S. Department of Education.  These States received one-year conditional waivers dependent on progress implementing new teacher and principal evaluation systems.  ED determined that the waivers were high-risk because each State struggled with integrating student growth into their teacher evaluation systems.

In a letter sent to these States, the States were asked to submit a “high-quality” plan to ED within 30 days to resolve the concerns addressed. If States do not submit a plan to ED, the high-risk designation will be made final.  The States could also lose their waivers if ED deems a lack of progress on their improvement plans.

Friday, August 9, 2013 – Congress, while in recess until September, is beginning to ponder options for a continuing resolution (CR), to extend government funding after September 30th.

Some of the issues that Congress is addressing in passing another CR include whether or not to keep federal programs funded at the current level, how long the CR should extend government funding, and should it include other fiscal measures such as the debt ceiling and a larger deficit package.

Many pundits have predicted that a government shutdown could be possible on October 1st. It is unclear which path forward Congress will take until they return from recess and the proposals take shape.

Friday, August 2, 2013 – On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension approved legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  The Workforce Investment Act of 2013, S. 1356, is sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).  The proposal would require State to fund infrastructure for One-Stop centers from State allocations which could reduce the amount of State administrative funding for the federal Perkins and Adult Education and Family Literacy Act programs.  Despite bipartisan support of the bill, there are several barriers to passage including significant differences with the House-passed reauthorization bill, the SKILLS Act.

Friday, July 26, 2013 –  A bipartisan group of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) introduced legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) to sponsor the legislation, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356).

The legislation would improve the coordination between programs and activities of State and local Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) by requiring States to submit a “unified State plan.”   The composition of State and local WDBs would be altered to ensure that representatives of businesses and employers make up a majority of the seats.  Local WDBs would be allowed to transfer up to 50% of funds between the adult education program and the dislocated worker program.  The proposal would create a new Workforce Innovation and Replication Grant, which would expand and replicate strategies to improve youth and adult activities.

Friday, July 19, 2013 – The House of Representatives passed a bill on party lines, 221-207, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The Student Success Act, H.R. 5, authored by Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce would reduce the federal role in education by consolidating and eliminating over 70 programs.  The proposal would create flexible local funding streams that would provide more State and local control over the spending of federal education funds.

One notable amendment to H.R. 5 was the removal of requiring certain elements of teacher evaluation systems.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) Title I portability amendment was also approved which would permit funds to follow students to the public school of their choice.

President Obama issued a veto threat on H.R. 5 due to the lack of accountability and civil rights protections.  The bill is dead on arrival in the Senate where Senator Tom Harkin’s ESEA proposal provides a drastically different approach to reauthorizing federal K-12 education programs.

Friday, July 12, 2013 – The House will take up debate late next week on Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s (R-MN) ESEA reauthorization proposal, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5).  H.R. 5 would require LEAs to develop teacher evaluations that prioritize student outcomes as a significant factor in measuring teacher performance.  Kline’s proposal would also place a cap on authorization levels for annual appropriations.  Over 70 programs would be consolidated and programs including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and the School Improvement Grants would not be authorized. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce released its report on the Student Success Act available here.

Friday, June 28, 2013 – Congress left Washington D.C. without reaching a deal that would prevent the interest rate on Stafford loans from increasing on July 1st.  On July 1st, the interest rates are set to rise from 3.4% to 6.8%.

After several weeks of negotiations between Congressional Republicans and Democrats, a compromise could not be reached that would resolve the student interest rate issue.  Major disagreements on the length of the solution and whether or not to cap the interest rates were barriers to address the issue.  House and Senate Democrats have supported a short-term fix which would tie interest rates to short-term government bonds.  President Obama and House Republicans have supported legislation aligning loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note.

Friday, June 21, 2013 – On Wednesday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) authored by Chairman John Kline (R-MN) passed on a party-line vote with no Democratic support.

The Student Success Act would provide statutory limits on the Secretary’s waiver authority including restricting the U.S. Department of Education (ED) from imposing condition on standards and assessments in exchange for a waiver and ED could not create additional requirements on States through regulations beyond what is permitted in the statute.  Annual student assessments would continue in grades three through eight and once during high school under Kline’s bill.

Several ESEA provisions would be repealed under Kline’s proposal including “highly qualified teachers” and maintenance of effort requirements.  Seventy K-12 programs serving migrant children and other student groups would be consolidated into one block grant that would provide flexibility to States and local educational agencies.  Some of President Obama’s signature education initiatives – Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and Investing in Innovation – would not receive permanent authorization under this legislation.

House Republican leadership have shown interest in bringing the Student Success Act to the House floor for debate in July.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has encouraged Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Kline to bring their respective ESEA reauthorization bills to a conference committee to address their significant differences.

Friday, June 14, 2013 – President Obama announced the appointments for two senior level staff positions at the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  Catherine Lhamon was nominated for Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and James Cole Jr. was selected to be ED’s General Counsel.

Lhamon will replace Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Seth Galanter, who has been serving in that position since the former Assistant Secretary, Russlynn Ali, left ED in November 2012.  Lhamon is currently the Director of Impact Litigation at Public Counsel Law Center and previously worked at the American Civil Liberties Union.  Cole currently serves as the Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Transportation.

Friday, June 7, 2013 – This week three proposals were unveiled to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released legislation to reform the nation’s federal elementary and secondary education system.

Senator Harkin’s legislation known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act mirrors several provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.  The legislation makes changes to accountability and teacher evaluation provisions.  Aspects of the proposal also reflect requirements laid out in the Administration’s ESEA waiver application.

Senator Alexander’s bill called the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act shifts the accountability system away from the federal government.  The proposal would not require States to create annual percentage targets for student subgroups or develop turnaround strategies for low-performing schools.  The Secretary of Education would also be prohibited from offering conditional waivers from the ESEA.

Representative Kline’s bill, the Student Success Act, combines three “piecemeal” bills that House Education and the Workforce Committee members introduced during the last Congress.  The legislation is similar to Senator Alexander’s proposal in the accountability provisions.  Kline’s bill would also eliminate and consolidate 70 federal education programs.

Friday, May 31, 2013 – House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to maintain the funding levels for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  In a letter to Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Ranking Member (D-CT), Kline noted that federal investments in education for students with disabilities is an obligation that is not currently being met by Congress.  Kline also criticized the new proposals from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for “wasting taxpayer dollars on new and ineffective programs and instead work toward meeting our basic obligation to ensure special needs children are prepared for success.”  Kline has been an advocate for full funding for IDEA acknowledging that too much of the funding burden is placed on the States.

Kline’s letter is available here.

Friday, May 24, 2013 – Three more States have received approval from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) of their waivers from some provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia along with 34 other States and the District of Columbia have opted out some of the most burdensome requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the announcement of the new waivers reiterated that reauthorizing ESEA is a top priority.

Several States have pending applications including Illinois, Alabama, Wyoming, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire. A consortium of school districts in California known as the CORE districts have also applied for a waiver and recently revised their proposal after receiving feedback from ED.

Friday, May 17, 2013 – The House Appropriations Committee released its proposed funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2014 that would see federal education programs receive significant cuts.

Chairman Hal Rogers’ (R-KY) plan would cap the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services at $122 billion, a cut of $28 billion, or 18.7% below funding levels under sequestration.  Chairman Rogers also proposed to increase defense spending by 6% to $513 billion.  The proposed cuts are deeper than the 12% cuts offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).  The funding level disparities between Chairman Rogers and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) will be a large obstacle in their appropriations negotiations.

Friday, May 3, 2013 – The House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent out a notice on April 26 that asked for feedback on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).  The notice included a letter signed by Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) of the Committee, and Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Ranking Member Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

The letter stated that Congress is ready to reauthorize the HEA and members of the Committee are seeking input from students, parents, and the higher education community.  Three areas emphasized in the letter were “empower students as consumers in higher education,” “improve the student aid and loan programs,” and “reduce costs.”

The Committee is expected to host a series of hearings to address various aspects of the HEA.

Friday, April 26, 2013 – The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL) announced the availability of $474.5 million for the third round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCT) program.   The goal of the program is to provide employment opportunities for students by creating partnerships between community colleges and employers.    In 2009, the TAACCT was appropriated $2 billion between fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2014.   Due to sequestration, the automatic and across the board spending cuts, the total amount of funding for FY 2013 was cut from $500 million to $474.5 million.

The FY 2013 grants include a new requirement to include six core elements including evidence-based design and advanced online and technology-enabled learning.  The competition also includes three new “pre-conditions” that must be met by prospective applicants: employer engagement strategies; the use of Labor Market Information in developing the programs and plans; and plans to use a third-party evaluator to determine the effectiveness of the program.

The application deadline for individual institutions is June 18th.  July 3rd is the deadline for consortium applicants.  The Solicitation for Grant Applications (SGA) is available here.

Friday, April 19, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced new competitions in President Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top.  Grants of $370 million for the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) and $120 for the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) will be made available soon according to ED.

RTT-ELC’s 2012 competition included 14 States receiving funding to expand access to early childhood education.  Six States only received a portion of their proposed budgets, and these States can apply for supplemental funding the in 2013 round.  The remaining funds will be given to States who have not received RTT-ELC grants.  RTT-D offers local educational agencies funding to develop “personalized learning” plans.   The 2012 competition provided $383 million to 16 winning districts.  ED proposes to revise selection criteria including reducing the maximum and minimum award in order to increase the total number of grantees.  ED has also proposed to add a selection priority for applicants to describe how they will “address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students.”

Comments on the proposed RTT-D competition priorities will be accepted until May 16th.

Friday, April 12, 2013 – President Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget to Congress on Wednesday.  The budget increased funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by 4.6% compared to FY 2012.   The majority of the funding increases in ED’s budget were through new competitive grant programs rather than formula funds.

One significant initiative in the President’s budget proposal is an early learning program called “Preschool for All” to be integrated into ED and the Department of Health and Human Services.   The program would be funded through an increase on the federal tax on tobacco products.

The budget proposes the creation of a $300 million competitive grant program for high schools to increase college and career readiness through science, technology, engineering, and math education.  Other funds would go towards supporting the Promise Neighborhoods Program the School Improvement Grants, and the Investing in Innovation programs – three of the President’s signature initiatives.

The budget proposal for ED is available here and the full budget is here.

Friday, April 5, 2013 – The U.S. Senate is expected to unveil new school safety legislation next week.  The proposal sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), would create $40 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice. The bipartisan bill would offer local educational agencies (LEAs) funds for security infrastructure, safety training, and improving coordination with local law enforcement.  The legislation does not include any provisions on improving mental health, which has been a key component of President Obama’s school safety efforts.  The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is going to discuss mental health legislation on April 10th.

Friday, March 29, 2013 – Last Saturday the Senate passed a budget resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2014.  The Senate voted on over 500 amendments to the non-binding resolution which will guide the Senate Appropriations Committee in developing appropriations legislation.

The budget proposed $975 million in revenue and $975 million in spending cuts, a 50/50 proportion that is consistent with President Obama’s prior proposals.   The Senate budget would cut $142 billion from non-defense discretionary spending which includes education and workforce development programs.

The Senate’s effort is the first time in four years that the chamber has passed a budget measure.  The Senate and the House of Representatives have demonstrated their interest in proceeding through the appropriations process by passing bill for each spending account rather than continuing resolutions or omnibus spending bills.  President Obama is expected to release his delayed budget proposal on April 10.

Friday, March 22, 2013 – Both chambers of Congress passed budget proposals that provide federal funding for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2013 and ceased concerns over a possible government shutdown.  The Senate passed the budget on Wednesday followed by the House a day later.

The continuing resolution (CR) maintains funding levels and permits sequestration to effect FY 2013 funds.  Some programs received minor funding increases including an additional $33.5 million for Head Start.

Federal agencies are expected to provide additional information on their plans to implement sequestration cuts by the end of March.

The Senate over the weekend also passed a FY 2014 budget resolution from Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the House passed a budget resolution from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (D-WI).

Friday, March 15, 2013 – The House of Representatives passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act with a vote of 215 to 202, with only two Democrats supporting the legislation.  The SKILLS Act would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which last changed in 1998.  The Act would consolidate 35 WIA programs into a unified Workforce Investment Fund which would provide additional flexibility.  Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), were strong supporters of the proposal and had noted it is a priority.

House Democrats stated their opposition of the proposal for “being advanced for political reasons, not to make the workforce investment system work better.”  The legislation lacked bipartisan support which provides little chance for the legislation to move forward in the Democratic controlled Senate.

Friday March 8, 2013 – President Obama signed an executive order last Friday that required federal agencies to begin implementing automatic cuts through sequestration.   The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new estimates based on a 5% cut for non-defense discretionary programs including education.   OMB’s calculations only estimated cuts to federal spending accounts and not to individual grantees.   Federal agencies will have 30 days to develop their plans for implementing cuts.

Bifurcated funding programs like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will receive sequestration cuts for the 2013 fiscal year from the State’s July allocation.   The U.S. Department of Education has released some initial calculations of fiscal year 2013 grants.  Several factors may alter the funding levels including the continuing resolution, changes to poverty and census data, and funds may trigger “hold harmless” provisions.

The next congressional fiscal fight is the federal government’s budget which is funded through March 27th.  An extended continuing resolution could extend funding for the rest of fiscal year 13 and address the sequestration cuts.

Friday, March 1, 2013 – On Tuesday the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing titled “Putting America Back to Work: Reforming the Nation’s Workforce Investment System.”  The hearing examined the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803), Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx’s (R-NC) proposal to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  The SKILLS Act would eliminate “ineffective” federal workforce programs and consolidate many current funding streams into a new Workforce Investment Fund.

Ranking Member Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) said he also wanted to reauthorize WIA, but warned he was opposed to consolidating programs as proposed in the SKILLS Act.  Hinojosa suggested that the Subcommittee examine his legislation, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (H.R. 798).

The hearing included testimony from Chris Hart of Workforce Florida Inc., Scott Ralls of the North Carolina Community College System, Harry Holzer of the Georgetown Public Policy Initiative, and Todd Gustafson of Michigan Works.  Witness testimony and archived video of the hearing are available here.

Next week the Subcommittee is expected to markup the SKILLS Act and pass the legislation onto the full House Education and the Workforce Committee on a party line vote.

Friday, February 22, 2013 – A mandated report by Congress created a framework for providing education equity and excellence.  The Equity and Excellence Commission identified five components: improving school finance and efficiency; offering teaching, leadership and learning opportunities; ensuring access to high-quality early childhood education; meeting the needs of students in high-poverty communities; and ensuring governance accountability to improve equity and excellence.

In the first area of school finance and efficiency, the Commission identifies that States are exacerbating education inequities through the use of property taxes and other unstable and unequal funding sources.  The Commission recommends that Congress pass “equity and excellence” legislation that would promote increased funding for high-poverty school districts.  In the area of “teaching, leading and learning opportunities” the Commission urges ED to use its enforcement authority under Title I and II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for schools to provide equitable access to teachers.  The third recommendation was the expansion of early childhood education for all low-income children that is similar to the plan released in President Obama’s State of the Union address.  One area that the Commission focused on to improve access to education for students in low-income neighborhoods is to fully fund the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which provides funding for expanding learning time.  The final recommendation from the Commission urged States to promote racial and socioeconomic diversity in order to encourage equity.

The Commission’s report is available online.

Friday, February 15, 2013 – The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report that details the potential effects of sequestration.  The report identifies that at least a million jobs, plus many more workers could be furloughed, due to the across the board cuts implemented by sequestration.

The report details specifics cuts and layoffs to industries including nuclear security, food safety, social security claims, and education.

The sequestration cuts are planned for March 1st if Congress not does act to delay or repeal the cuts.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated that he expects the Senate to pass legislation prior to the House of Representatives addressing sequestration.  Both chambers are in recess until February 25th, leaving one week until the sequestration deadline.

The report is available here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013 – The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hosted a hearing called, “No Child Left Behind: Early Lessons from State Flexibility Waivers,” which focused on the challenges of the Elementary and Secondary and Education (ESEA) Act waivers.

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) emphasized several areas where the Committee planned to explore the ESEA waivers: “understand the status and scope of State waiver plans being implemented across the country; consider the conditions and activities of States that do not have approved waivers; and ensure that the policies and programs we support are effective in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students.”  Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was critical of the ESEA waivers including questioning the Secretary of Education’s waiver authority including offering “conditional waivers.”

The Senate HELP Committee heard testimony from Secretary Arne Duncan, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, New York Commissioner of Education John King, Andrew Smarick of Bellwether Education Partners, and Kati Haycock of The Education Trust.  The witnesses’ written testimonies, along with full video of the hearing, can be found here.

Concerns related to ESEA accountability were raised by Senators during the hearing.  In particular, the creation of “super-subgroups,” the aggregation of several minority student populations, for the purpose of accountability was questioned by Senators.  Harkin also criticized the waivers for not upholding accountability through high school graduation rates.

Many of the witnesses stated their preference for Congress to reauthorize ESEA rather than continue the waivers, the outlook for ESEA reauthorization in the 113th Congress is not good.  A full agenda of fiscal issues and other significant policy debates may make it difficult for the reauthorization of ESEA.

Resources:
Alyson Klein, “Waivers and ESEA Renewal Get Hard Look From Senators,” Education Week: Politics K-12, February 7, 2013.
Frank Wolfe, “Duncan: Super-subgroups increase accountability,” Education Daily, February 8, 2013.
Joy Resmovits, “No Child Left Behind Hearing Features Waiver Attack By Obama Ally,” Huffington Post, February 7, 2013.

Thursday, January 31, 2013 – The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its “Proposed OMB Uniform Guidance: Cost Principles, Audit, and Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards.”  The notice of proposed guidelines (NPG) proposed to consolidate several circulars covering cost principles (A-87, A-21, A-122), the federal administrative rules (A-110, A-102), and non-federal audits (A-33 and parts of A-50).

One of the most significant changes proposed in the NPG is the increase of the single cost audit threshold from $500,000 to $750,000.  The NPG also proposed additional changes that would provide uniformity to time and effort certification.  OMB also provides changes in risk-based monitoring and indirect cost negotiation.  The NPG also encourages the reduction of compliance violations in the A-133 compliance supplement.

Comments are accepted on the NPG until April 30th, when the OMB will publish its final guidance.

The full text of the NPG and the Summary are available here.

Friday, January 25, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released new guidance regarding existing legal obligations of school to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.  OCR’s guidance follows up from a Government Accountability Office report from 2010 which emphasizes the benefit of the participation of all students in extracurricular activities, including students with disabilities.

According to OCR, the guidance does not create new requirements but clarifies existing requirements.  The guidance clarifies that schools may not exclude students who have a disability from playing on a team if they are qualified to participate. The guidance also explains that schools must provide for reasonable accommodations to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunity and access to extracurricular activities as other students.

The new guidance document is available here.

Friday, January 18, 2013 – This week the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided new guidance to federal agencies on how to budget amid the looming discussions over a default and government shutdown.

Deputy OMB Director Jeffrey Zients stated that federal agencies will face “confront significant uncertainty” over the next several months due to negotiations over the debt ceiling, sequestration, and expiration of the temporary budget resolution.

OMB urges federal agencies to preparing operating plans that provide flexibility to “minimize impacts on the agency’s core mission,” identify workforce reduction options including furloughs, hiring freezes, and reviewing all pending grants and contracts.

The full OMB report is available here.

Friday, January 11, 2013 – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released the results of their three-year study on teacher quality this week.  The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study recorded the teaching practices of 3,000 teachers nationwide and researchers from several universities analyzed the results. The study concluded that a teacher evaluation system that includes multiple measures including student test scores, classroom observations, and student feedback would be the most effective in promoting student learning.

The researchers identified the composition of these measures should be 81% for student test scores, 17% for student surveys, and 2% for observations.  The Gates Foundation recommends that States and school districts utilize the results from the MET study to reform their teacher evaluation systems.

The full Gates Foundation study is available on their website.

Friday, January 4, 2013 – The House and Senate passed legislation addressing the nation’s “fiscal cliff” on New Year’s Day that would have caused an economic downturn due to expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts.  The legislation, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, was signed by President Obama this week, includes a permanent extension of “middle class” tax cuts but allowed payroll tax cuts to expire.

The Act increases the tax rate on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $450,000.  The legislation also provided a nine month extension of the Farm Bill which prevented a spike in the cost of agricultural products including milk.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act also delays sequestration for two months until March 1, 2013.  The delay is paid for by new taxes on Roth IRAs and reductions to Congressional appropriations spending caps for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014.  The $12 billion in spending cuts will be distributed evenly between Defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Due to the delay of sequestration, it is anticipated that the cuts to education programs will be lower than the previously estimated 8.2% across-the-board cut.

Despite the avoidance of the fiscal cliff, several fiscal issues will need to be addressed by Congress in 2013. The first issue is reaching the nation’s debt ceiling in February 2013.  President Obama has warned Congress about the necessity to increase the debt ceiling and the potential economic consequences of failing to do so.  The second fiscal issue is sequestration which will go into effect March 1, 2013 without action by Congress.  The third fiscal issue in 2013 is the expiration of the federal government’s funding under a Continuing Resolution on March 27, 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012 – Negotiations over the fiscal cliff, a term that includes sequestration and expiring Bush-era tax cuts are ongoing between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).  No solution or agreement has emerged from the discussions between the White House and Congressional leaders.

Both sides have stuck to their talking points this week including Speaker Boehner accusing the President for “pretending spending isn’t the problem.”  Congressional Republicans have begun to admit that tax increases on the wealthy are likely to emerge in a compromise, but are expected to use entitlement reform and the debt ceiling as leverage.  Meanwhile, Democrats point to recent polls that have shown the fallout over the fiscal cliff on Republicans.

Lines of communication remain open between Speaker Boehner and President Obama.  There is growing belief that no deal will be reached prior to Christmas and a possibility that the fiscal cliff may not be averted.

Friday, December 7, 2012 – Leaders in Washington continue to negotiate over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” that includes automatic across-the-board cuts through sequestration and expiring Bush-era tax cuts. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have both presented their proposals for deficit reduction targets in a fiscal cliff deal.  Those targets would be reached through cuts to federal spending, changes to entitlement programs, and in Obama’s plan, through increases in tax rates for individuals making over $250,000.

If a fiscal cliff deal is achieved, one of the routes expected is through two separate bills, one setting deficit reduction targets and solving short-term fiscal issues, and the other laying out specific changes in order to reach these goals.  This kind of fiscal cliff deal would allow Congress to avert sequestration, but would also put all government programs on the negotiating table for cuts including Pell Grants which would have been exempt under sequestration.

Friday, November 16, 2012 – President Obama and Congressional leaders met today to begin talks over routes to avoid the fiscal cliff that is expected in January.  If congressional action is not taken, automatic spending cuts through sequestration and tax increases will go into effect.  Both sides of the aisle remain divided on how to address the issue but post election speeches and press releases show that all parties may be open to a deal during the lame duck session of Congress.

President Obama on Wednesday offered some hopeful signs for worried States and school districts.  In his first press conference since winning reelection, the President signified his support for K-12 and college aid as an important federal investment. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has also signaled he is willing to discuss revenue increases, a topic that was considered off the table by GOP leadership earlier this year.

On Friday, during a meeting with President Obama, Boehner proposed a framework for deficit reduction that includes revenue includes “consistent with the President’s call for a balanced approach.”

Steven Dennis, “GOP Moves Toward Obama on Taxes in Fiscal Cliff Talks,” CQ Online News, November 16, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012 – As President Obama begins his second term, higher education is expected to be a top priority for him and the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  ED offered States waivers from some of the most burdensome requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Thirty-four States and the District of Columbia have received waivers and are implementing new accountability systems.  The Administration is expected to focus on higher education issues including the Pell Grant shortfall and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

The Obama Administration is expected to push for the implementation of revised gainful employment regulations over the next four years.  President Obama is also expected to advocate for the continued funding of Pell Grants as Congress looks to avoid the upcoming “fiscal cliff.”

Friday, November 2, 2012 – The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now released a report that examined and compared the strengths of teacher unions.  Hawaii was considered the State with the strongest teachers union while Arizona was given the lowest ranking.  Some States were ranked high in the report despite not having collective bargaining rights due to their involvement in politics and perceived influence.

The report ranked the State’s teachers unions based on the following criteria: the Union’s financial resources and membership numbers; its involvement in politics; the scope of collective bargaining; the degree of alignment between its traditional positions on teacher workforce rules and charter schools; and its perceived influence.

The full report is available here.

Friday, October 26, 2012 – During the third and final presidential debate on Monday, President Barack Obama told viewers that automatic budget cuts through sequestration “will not happen.”  This statement surprised many stakeholders in Washington where proposals to the cuts have not been found but there is general agreement to find an alternative path to deficit reduction.  The White House attempted to clarify the President’s remarks by stating that “everyone in Washington agrees the sequester should not happen.”

Congressional action is required to avoid the automatic across-the-board budget cuts that would take effect on January 2nd, including education programs by 8.2%.  Many advocated have pushed the Administration for exemptions including defense cuts but the President has stated that he would not support exemptions, and would veto an alternative to the sequester that doesn’t include plans for deficit reduction.

Friday, October 19, 2012 – This week, education advisors for Governor Romney’s and President Obama’s campaigns debated at Columbia University.  Romney advisor Phil Handy provided insight into Romney’s position on the waivers to provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).   Handy claimed that Romney could propose eliminating the waivers if he is elected President in the November elections.  The waivers are intended to increase flexibility for States in order to bypass some of the burdensome requirements of ESEA.  The waivers according to Handy do not provide States with flexibility but instead are “very prescriptive.”  Handy suggested that a Romney administration would prefer a re-write of the ESEA instead of relying on State waivers.

Handy also defended Governor Romney’s proposal to allow parents to claim federal education funds including ESEA and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so the money can “follow the student” and provide school choice options.  The debate also included insight into Romney’s view of the federal role in education to focus on providing choice and data on school quality.

The official Presidential debates have not included much discussion of education from Romney or Obama.  There has been a limited reference to the connection between the importance of education and improving the economy.

Friday, October 12, 2012 – Several members of Congress have recently written letters recommending action to avoid the across-the–board sequestration cuts that are scheduled to go into effect on January 2nd.   Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) wrote a letter to his colleagues detailing some of the consequences of sequestration cuts to public safety, health care, defense, and education.  Representative Dicks estimated that $1 billion would be cut from grants to States under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Representative Dicks urged Congress to “replace sequestration with a balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction that focuses on economic growth and job creation.”

A September 2012 letter from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided a clarification that warnings by employers required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act were not required under sequestration.  In response to the letter, several members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, including Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Phil Roe (R-TN), wrote a letter to OMB Direct Jeffrey Zients requesting additional information on OMB’s decision including detailed documentation on the WARN Act.

Friday, October 5, 2012 -The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last week sent guidance urging federal agencies to follow normal procedures for the first half of the fiscal year (FY) 2013, despite the threat of across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration.  The guidance recommended that agencies should “continue normal spending and operations” for the first few months of FY 2013.   The CR signed by the President last week only covers the first six months of the fiscal year, so federal funding levels are yet to be determined for the remainder of FY 2013.  If sequestration is not avoided, federal agencies would face a significant impact for their normal operations along with the availability of grants to States.

The guidance from OMB is available here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012 – On Saturday morning, the Senate passed a six-month continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through March 2013.   The CR will maintain all funding levels at the fiscal year (FY) 2012 with a small across-the-board increase of 0.612%.

Both political parties were unlikely to cause a funding fight or a potential government shutdown so close to the November elections.  The passage of the CR allows members to focus on other fiscal issues like sequestration and the expiring Bush-area tax cuts.  President Obama signed the CR on September 28, 2012.

Friday, September 21, 2012 – Congress is set to recess until the November elections without reauthorizing the omnibus agricultural package known as the “farm bill.”  The current legislation will expire at the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30th if Congress does not act.

The Senate passed farm bill legislation early this summer and the House Agriculture Committee passed legislation by a slim majority, but no further action has taken place in the House of Representatives.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly had difficulty attracting Republican votes for the legislation and has recently stated that no legislative action on the farm bill will occur until after the November elections.

Friday, September 14, 2012– The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its report that laid out the Administration’s predictions on the cuts caused by sequestration that are planned to take effect January 2nd.   The report predicted that sequestration would cause an across the board cut of non-defense discretionary spending including programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).   OMB estimated that in Fiscal Year 2013, ED would receive a $4.113 billion cut.  OMB calls these cuts “devastating,” saying that “no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts.”

The sequestration report is available here.

Resources:
Austin Wright and Jonathan Allen, “White House: Sequester ‘deeply destructive’ to defense,” Politico, September 14, 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 – The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report that concluded that States have cut education funding in large sums over the past several years.  In thirty-five States, schools receive less State funding than they did in 2008.  In twenty-six States, local school districts are receiving less State funds for the current school year than the prior year.  Data included in the report found that in seventeen States education funding was cut by more than 10% since 2008 and three States cut funding my more than 20%.

The full report is available here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012 – Eight hundred and ninety three school districts submitted their intent to apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for the Race to the Top-District competition.  The $400 million competition includes large districts that can receive up to $40 million and smaller districts that can receive between $5 and $10 million.  ED expects to make between 15 and 25 awards.

Applications for the competition are due October 30th, and are expected to a plan for “personalized learning environments” and receive support from mayors, State officials, and union representatives.

The full list of districts who have indicated their intent to apply is available here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 – The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on the potential impacts of the “fiscal cliff” on the U.S. economy.  The CBO warned that the economy could shrink by 0.5% in 2013 if the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, if the spending cuts through sequestration go into effect, and the payroll tax holiday expires in January.

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf urged Congress to take action to address these looming fiscal issues by stating, “the stakes of fiscal policy are very high right now, economic growth right now is being held back by the anticipation of this fiscal tightening.”

Resources:
Erik Wasson, “CBO warns of deep recession if Congress fails to avert ‘fiscal cliff,” The Hill, August 22, 2012.

Saturday,  August 11, 2012 – Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) is his running mate in this November’s Presidential election.  Ryan, a seven-term Congressman representing Wisconsin’s first congressional district, currently serves as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Congressman Ryan is most known for his budget proposal called “The Path to Prosperity” which proposes large cuts to discretionary programs including Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Head Start, and Pell Grants.

Ryan voted to support the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, but has since shifted his views of the federal role in education.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 – President Barack Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act which requires the Administration to submit a report to Congress within thirty days that includes the estimate cuts of sequestration on the “program, project, and activity level.”  Despite the legislation, the Administration continues to call on Congress to pass legislation that avoid the cuts caused sequestration before the January 2, 2013 deadline.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that sequestration will cut 7.8%  of the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) budget.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 – The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jeffrey Zients sent a memorandum to federal agency heads to inform them of their intentions to communicate their plan to calculate the costs and cuts of sequestration. The memo includes information on OMB’s initial efforts to calculate which programs are exempt to cuts and provide guidance to federal agencies and Congress.

Zients’ memo is available here.

Friday, July 20, 2012 The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently shared new information on how sequestration cuts will be applied to some federal programs.  Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller in a memorandum said that programs which receive advance funds – including Titles I and II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act– would not be impacted by mid-year cuts.  Instead, Miller wrote, ED will allocate the full amount of October 2012 funds to the States, unaffected by cuts.  But if Congress does not act to repeal and replace the sequester, cuts that would have applied to the October 2012 pool of funds would be taken out of the July 2013 allocations.  Miller does note one exception where the sequester could impact 2012-2013 school year funds.  School districts that receive Impact Aid could be affected by short-term funding constraints due to sequestration, he says.

Miller’s letter is available here.

Thursday, June 15, 2012 – As States, local entities, businesses, and federal agencies work to put together their budgets for the coming fiscal year, more and more people are asking for clarity on sequestration.  This week, agencies and industry alike warned of the potential consequences from the automatic cuts, scheduled to take effect on January 2nd.

Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf told reporters during a breakfast meeting Wednesday that federal agencies, defense contractors, and others are starting to cut back in anticipation of sequestration cuts.  Without clear information on how much money they will have to spend – or even whether sequestration will happen – Elmendorf said that businesses are already feeling the impact of sequestration.  “Uncertainty about the resolution of fiscal policy early next year is weighing on the economy, we think, diminishing people’s and businesses’ spending this year,” he said.  “We think it’s an issue now and will be increasingly an issue in the second half of the year in terms of people’s decisions.”

Now businesses are threatening to send out hundreds of thousands of layoff notices right before the election, highlighting the uncertainly and turmoil created by sequestration and putting pressure on Congress to find an alternative to those cuts.  By federal law, the employees must receive 60 days’ notice of layoffs.  For those companies who anticipate having to let employees go when the sequester takes effect on January 2nd, that means sending out such notices on November 2nd – only four days before Election Day.  “I’ve been told by some of our major employers that layoff notices are going to come before the election,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), commenting on the announcements. “It’s dangerous and irresponsible for Congress to play with this.”

Friday June 01, 2012– The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced on Tuesday that it would grant waivers of some of the most onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to eight more States.  These States – Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island – join 11 others which received waivers in March of this year.  Now 19 of 50 States are no longer operating under the existing law; instead they are implementing individualized standards, assessments, and accountability plans.

Eighteen more States and the District of Columbia, which all applied for waivers in February, are still waiting to hear whether their applications will be approved.  ED officials indicated that they continue to work with these States to revise and modify their waiver plans to assist them in gaining final approval.  “We’re still working with everybody.  These were applications that were further ahead,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an interview Tuesday.  Though they did not provide a formal timeline, ED officials said they expect more approvals in the next few weeks.  Remaining States can apply for a third waiver deadline in September, though some State chiefs have been outspoken about their belief that this waiver will not work for their States and have indicated that they are unlikely to apply.

Notably, six of the eight States which were approved for waivers this week also received funds under the Race to the Top (RTT) grant program.  Though being a RTT State is not necessarily a guarantee that a State will receive a waiver, States which have received RTT money are more likely to have implemented the policy priorities and principles that ED has required as part of the waiver process.

Friday, May 18, 2012– In testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on the Budget this April, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Deputy General Counsel Susan Poling said the organization had concluded that agencies were not able to find ways to work around sequestration.

The process of sequestration – a schedule of automatic cuts set in motion by the Budget Control Act and the failure of the Congressional Debt Supercommittee last year – has been anticipated and dreaded in Congress and federal agencies as well as by State and local governments.  Many have been looking for ways to stave off – or work around – the cuts.  GAO’s testimony concludes, however, that federal agencies will not be able to avoid the impact of scheduled cuts by spending in advance of appropriations or appropriating amounts over and above those approved by Congress.  This decision is controlled, GAO said, by two laws – the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from “spending in excess or in advance of available appropriations,” and by the Impoundment Control Act, which “bars agencies from refusing to obligate the amounts that Congress has appropriated.”  Despite the potentially devastating impact of sequestration, GAO concludes, “[a]gencies must carry out their appropriations… regardless of the possibility of spending reductions beginning in the second quarter of fiscal year 2013.”

Friday, April 27, 2012 – The threat of rising student loan interest rates became a high-profile issue both on Capitol Hill and the 2012 presidential campaign trail as legislators debate proposals to avoid the increase.  While House and Senate lawmakers began offering their own proposals for avoiding the rate hike, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made news by seemingly siding with President Obama instead of his GOP colleagues in the House.  Both chambers have made significant progress in bringing their respective measures to a vote over the past week and the House passed their measure this afternoon despite the threat of a Presidential veto because of how the measure would pay for the fix.

Despite some initial hesitation by the GOP, both parties now support preventing the 3.4% interest rate on new federally subsidized student loans from doubling as scheduled on July 1, 2012, but they disagree on how to offset the cost.  The Senate Democratic measure, S. 2343, would pay for the current interest rate extension by ending a corporate tax loophole for “S corporations” (companies that pass their income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders for federal tax purposes).  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled a cloture vote on the bill for May 8th, giving lawmakers a little over a week to iron out the details.  Taking a slightly different approach, House Democrats would pay for the extension by ending tax subsidies to oil and gas companies.  That proposal seems dead on arrival in the House as the GOP plans to introduce its own bill.

Thursday, April 05, 2012 – In a June 16, 2011 letter to Dr. Bill East at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) stated that if a local educational agency (LEA) failed to meet maintenance of effort (MOE) under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that new lower spending threshold would be used to calculate the subsequent year’s required LEA MOE.

On April 4th, however, OSEP changed its tune.  OSEP officially rescinded the previous position:

After further review, we have determined that the level of effort that an LEA must meet in the year after it fails to maintain effort is the level of effort that it should have met in the prior year, and not the lDEA’s actual expenditures.  We are, therefore, withdrawing the letter to Dr. East.

OSEP’s initial letter provided two justifications for the earlier position.  The first was that although the statute and regulations were silent on this specific issue the law and regulations were clear that MOE at the LEA level is based on the level of prior year expenditures. OSEP also stated that when a State fails to meet MOE under IDEA, the law clearly requires that the next year’s threshold is based on the amount that should have been expended. OSEP contended that since this requirement was not articulated under the LEA MOE requirement, that a failure by the LEA to meet MOE would reduce the next year’s MOE threshold.

Friday, March 23, 2012 – On March 6th, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) proposed new regulations that would amend the current State application requirements for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to include more specific information related to Maintenance of State Financial Support.  The change would require States to compute how much they are spending each year on special education and related services.  According to the new proposal, States would not only have to monitor State spending for children with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) by other State agencies but would now have to come up with a grand total for the application.

Currently, States must simply affirm that they are in compliance in the application; however, OSEP no longer believes that is sufficient.  “A state’s annual assurance in its application for funds does not provide OSEP with the depth of information necessary to fully meet its monitoring and enforcement obligations under the law,” OSEP said in a statement on ED’s website.

Monday, March 19, 2012 – Lawmakers are likely going to get an earful over the next two weeks as education advocates descend on Washington to discuss policy and funding concerns with their Congressional delegations.  On Thursday and Friday of this week, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is holding its annual legislative conference bringing together members of the various State boards of education.  While the conference will provide State policymakers an opportunity to meet and share best practices with one another, the annual meeting also provides State board members with an opportunity to meet with members of their State’s Congressional delegation.  As board members head back home over the weekend, the State chiefs will be headed into town for the annual legislative conference hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which runs from next Sunday through next Tuesday.

Both conferences provide attendees at least one full afternoon to schedule meetings on Capitol Hill.  Likely topics will include reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), funding for various federal K-12 programs, and concerns or requests for support regarding State applications for waivers from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  Members of the House can expect discussions on the Education and the Workforce Committee’s recent approval of two ESEA bills, as well as the release of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 GOP budget.  The Senate, meanwhile, will likely meet with criticisms of its lack of movement on ESEA legislation, and well as requests for either support or complaints regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s recent NCLB Waiver package.

Friday, March 09, 2012 – U.S. Department of Education (ED) officials have recently stated that the agency will not be making any of its 16 planned Special Education “verification visits,” also called compliance reviews, to States during the 2012-2013 school year.  Instead, ED announced late last week, the agency’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is reworking its review strategy to better focus on the quality of education provided to students with disabilities.

OSEP visits a number of States each year to evaluate their compliance with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  However, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement released by ED, the current evaluations are too “compliance-driven.”  “Since the current process of conducting on-site state compliance reviews has not focused enough on improving student outcomes,” the statement continued, “the Department will not be carrying out the visits scheduled for the 2012-13 school year to allow it time to develop a new and more effective system.”

Even when a new system is developed, OSEP will not resume its regular rotation of visits.  While they will still conduct phone- and document-based reviews for the States scheduled for review in 2012-2013 school year, upcoming reviews will depend on how States are improving the quality of education for their students.  Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for ED, told reporters that “[o]n-site visits will no longer be calendar-driven, they’ll be results-driven.”

 

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