Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations: After heated debate on both the House and Senate floor overnight, Congressional leaders have finally reached a long-sought agreement on topline spending that will pave the way to complete the FY 2018 federal appropriations and budget process. The bipartisan agreement establishes new spending levels for FY2018 and 2019, and temporarily extends federal funding until March 23 to avoid an additional federal government shutdown. Congress must now put together a larger omnibus spending package that will spell out allocation of funds for the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies through the remainder of the fiscal year.
Overall, the budget agreement will increase defense and domestic spending by roughly $300 billion for two years. The increase in the mandatory spending caps required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 will be split evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary programs. The agreement also fully repeals the 2011 sequestration caps over the next two years and secures an additional $57 billion in new non-defense spending above the caps. The compromise, however, includes specific spending commitments for disaster relief, including: support for schools serving displaced students ($90 billion); the opioid crisis ($6 billion); the Child Care and Development Block Grant ($5.8 billion); veterans hospitals and clinics ($4 billion); NIH research ($2 billion); infrastructure ($20 billion); and college affordability ($4 billion).
Again, despite the specific investments listed above that are part of the broader compromise, the current budget agreement does not complete the FY 2018 appropriations process or provide additional clarity around funding levels for key education programs. It does, however, provide appropriators with the information they need to complete the broader spending package over the coming weeks. NSBA will provide additional information as the omnibus is negotiated.
Senate HELP Committee Holds Third Higher Education Act Hearing of 2018: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met on February 6 to consider “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Improving College Affordability” as the Senate moves forward to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). The hearing witnesses included Dr. Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute; Zakiya Smith of the Lumina Foundation; Dr. Jenna Robinson from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal; Dr. Robert Anderson of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association; and Dr. DeRionne Pollard of Montgomery College. The witnesses written testimony can be accessed at https://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/reauthorizing-the-higher-education-act-improving-college-affordability.
The HELP Committee Chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), noted Congress can help students afford college by looking more closely at the $28 billion in grants and $92 billion in loans the federal government currently spends annually. This will likely mean simplifying student aid, redirecting existing dollars for additional Pell grants, helping students complete college more rapidly, and holding colleges more accountable for students repaying loans.
The Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), described four areas that Democrats would like to see addressed in a comprehensive HEA reauthorization: college affordability; increased access for underrepresented students; holding colleges and universities accountable for student success and outcomes; and addressing the growing amount of discrimination, harassment, and assault occurring on college campuses.
Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray are expected to negotiate a comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill over the coming months.
Secretary DeVos Announces ESSA Funding Flexibility Pilot: Up to 50 school districts can now apply to participate in a pilot program established by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to “design and implement a student-centered funding system that meets all statutory requirements of the pilot program, including the use of weights that allocate substantially more funding to students from low-income families, to English language learners and to any other educationally disadvantaged student group identified by the school district.” For applicants intending to use this flexibility during the 2018-2019 school year, the application is due by March 12, 2018. For applicants intending to use the flexibility during the 2019-2020 school year, the application is due by July 15, 2018.
Thanks to everyone for making the 2018 NSBA Advocacy Institute a success! Your voice was heard — NSBA continues to hear from Congressional staff about the importance of local control. Please let the advocacy team know any of any follow up to ensure we can continue to have an impactful advocacy agenda.