Congressional Update: IDEA Funding, Higher Education Act and School Infrastructure

Senate and House Ed to Focus on Updating the Higher Education Act
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) formally announced plans, on February 4, to restart discussions about updating the Higher Education Act (HEA).  Senator Alexander said the HELP Committee will hold HEA focused hearings this winter, ideally leading to a committee vote on bipartisan HEA reauthorization legislation in the spring. He noted that it will be difficult to move a HEA reauthorization bill through the Senate this year but expressed hope that early Senate action could lead to negotiations with the House over the summer and fall. The HEA is important to K-12 leaders, given the law’s focus on issues such as educator preparation and induction, college access programs, and better alignment with secondary education. On the other side of the Capitol, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Scott (D-VA) also plans to focus on the HEA, but he has suggested that it may take all of 2019 to move a bill through his committee and the full House, which would set negotiations with the Senate back by at least six-months. We plan to closely monitor the committee’s work on the HEA and will provide updates on their progress, including our efforts to use HEA as a policy lever for preparing and recruiting additional special education teachers and other professionals.
House Education and Labor Committee Schedules School Infrastructure and Funding Hearing
Last week, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott and 153 cosponsors introduced legislation – the Rebuild America’s Schools Act (H.R.865) – to provide grants and tax credits to help school districts meet their infrastructure needs. The measure is similar to a bill that was introduced in 2017, of which NSBA wrote a qualified endorsement letter.. On February 12, the committee will hold a hearing that includes a focus on the need for Congress to pass H.R. 865. The hearing title is UnderpaidTeachers and Crumbling Schools: How Underfunding Public Education Shortchanges America’s Students. NSBA discussed the hearing with Chairman Scott’s senior staff and offered to provide data and other support for the panel discussion. The hearing will be live streamedonline beginning at 10:15 AM (EST).
House Budget Committee Begins Hearings for FY2020 
This week the House Budget Committee convened a hearing on the overall federal budget amount for the next fiscal year that begins October 1.
Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) stated that federal programs face $126 billion in cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary expenditures next year.  Without an agreement to adjust budgetary caps, education and other programs could face across-the-board cuts, similar to budget sequestration in FY2013.
“These caps were never supposed to take effect. They were deliberately set at destructively low levels to force an agreement on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan,” Chairman Yarmuth stated. “That effort failed, and we have dealt with this problem ever since. We reached bipartisan agreements to raise the caps in 2012, 2013, 2015, and again in 2018. If we do not act again, investments that are vital to our economic and national security will face devastating cuts.”
The Committee hearing addressed investments in special education through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in which Sarah Abernathy started that, “In 1975, Congress mandated that all students with disabilities have access to a free appropriate education, and in return pledged to cover up to 40 percent of the additional cost associated with educating children with disabilities. However, that pledge has never come close to being fulfilled, and the federal share of special education funding has declined to less than 15 percent of the additional costs – less than half of the 40 percent “full funding” percentage pledged. That means the vast majority of special education costs are borne by state and local education budgets.
“If Congress were to meet its obligation and provide more for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs, that additional investment would benefit all students, including those who do not directly receive special education services, because more of the state and local budgets could be used to meet other education needs, such as school construction and repair, teacher training, transportation, teacher pay, etc.”

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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