Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap-Up: November 21

Here’s a quick look at the news from last week (November 14-18) in Washington.

On November 14, 11 States (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee) applied to the U.S. Department of Education to receive ESEA waivers.  On Friday the Department announced the 21 peer reviewers.

The Department of Education released guidelines for Race to the Top Round 3, in which the 9 state finalists from Round Two can apply for a share of $200 million. Winning states can use the money for a selected portion of their second-round proposal, and applications must also include a “meaningful investment in advancing” STEM education. Winners will be announced in late December.

The House Education & the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood and Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on Wednesday titled “Education Research: Identifying Effective Programs to Support Students and Teachers.”  Witnesses included: Dr. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst,  Senior Fellow & Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution; Dr. Caroline Hoxby, Professor of Economics at Stanford University; Mr. Steve Fleischman, Deputy Executive Officer at Education Northwest; and, Dr. Eric Smith, Former Florida Commissioner of Education.   For the most part, both the witnesses and the Members of the Committee at the hearing highlighted their support for a strong Federal role in supporting education research, while at the same time pointing out some of the difficulties of specifying a specific school reform approach from the Federal level.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Harkin gave a speech on the Senate floor last week on ESEA and urged the House to produce a bipartisan bill to ease the way for Senate passage of the Harkin/Enzi bill. The Senator also told the Des Moines Register that he does not anticipate the bill reaching the Senate floor before 2012.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) entered into a colloquy on the Senate floor Wednesday stating their concern over rising student debt and advocating in support of the continuation of Pell Grant funding.

Senate and House Leaders continue their discussions about how best to complete the 2012 appropriations process, including bundling together appropriations bills in a series of “minibuses.”  The first minibus passed the House and Senate on Thursday, and was signed by the President on Friday. It included Agriculture; Commerce, Justice and Science; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, as well as a continuing resolution through December 16.

With the Super Committee’s deadline to produce a report looming next week, budget issues are likely to dominate the remaining days of this year’s Congressional calendar.   Discussions continue on several major education issues that must be resolved as Congress finalizes the budget before the end of the year, including the Pell shortfall and other key education policy riders.