Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap-Up: February 19

Here’s a quick look at the news from last week ( February 11 – 15) in Washington.

The House Education & the Workforce Committee held a subcommittee hearing on Thursday titled “Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement.” Witnesses were Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education, John Bailey, Executive Director of Digital Learning Now, Preston Smith, CEO of Rocketship Education, and Holly Sagues, Chief Policy Officer for Florida Virtual School.

House Education and Workforce Committee Republicans sent a letter to President Obama last week asking for a long-term fix for the Stafford Loan interest rate problem. The interest rate is scheduled to go from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on June 30 of this year.

House Democrats, led by Representative Tierney along with Senior Democratic Member George Miller and Representative Hinojosa, introduced a WIA reauthorization bill.  It closely resembles the legislative effort House Democrats pushed last Congress.  House Republicans are also likely to introduce their WIA reauthorization bill soon.

House Democrats also introduced the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Education Act (ARPA-ED) bill. This bill would authorize an ARPA-ED as envisioned in Administration Budget and ESEA reauthorization proposals.

The Senate HELP Committee chose subcommittee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and announced subcommittee assignments. The Subcommittee on Children and Families Chairman is Senator Hagan (D-NC), and Ranking Member will be Senator Enzi (R-WY). The Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging Chairman is Senator Sanders (I-VT), and Ranking Member will be Senator Burr (R-NC). The Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety Chairman will be Senator Casey (D-PA), and Ranking Member will be Senator Isakson (R-GA).

The Senate Appropriations Committee released subcommittee assignments last week, including the Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations, which is chaired by Senator Harkin (D-IA); Ranking Member is Senator Moran (R-KS).

President Obama gave his State of the Union address on Tuesday (full text of the address here). Education issues came up several times in his address, including:

  • Early Childhood Education: The President proposed expanded access to preschool for all low-income four-year-olds (with additional support for a number of middle class four year olds), and his plan would offer support to states that want to expand their early childhood programs, as well as through Early Head Start. He expanded on this proposal after his speech in his “Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America.”  Details are still being fleshed out by Administration officials.
  • High Schools: He proposed a new program aimed at redesigning high schools and incentivizing them to adopt practices and curriculum that will prepare students for careers in STEM subjects that seems closely be modeled after the Race to the Top program.
  • Higher Education: The President announced a new focus on tying performance based outcomes to student financial aid.  As of yet, little in the way of details has been released by Administration on this proposal. Additionally, the President focused, as he did last year, on tying certain Federal student aid programs to the cost of college.  This proposal is likely to be similar to last year’s budget proposal where the Administration called for tying campus-based aid program awards to the cost of college at individual schools.  Lastly, the Administration released a new College Scorecard which will provide students and families with information on cost and value of institutions.

The Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the impacts of sequestration. Witnesses were Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Department of Defense Deputy Secretary  Ashton Carter, and Danny Werfel, Federal Controller from the Office of Management and Budget.

Senate Democrats released a sequester replacement plan, which proposes spending cuts and increased tax revenues to replace the across-the-board cuts that are scheduled to hit on March 1.