Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap Up – December 22, 2014

A quick look at the news from last week:


Congress approved and the President signed into law an FY2015 “cromnibus” appropriations bill – the House passed the bill by a vote of 219—206, and the Senate passed it by a vote of 56—40. The appropriations bill largely flat funds most education and workforce programs compared to FY2014, with a few notable exceptions: the Administration’s Race to the Top program was not funded, and funding for the Investing in Innovation and Teacher Incentive Fund programs was reduced. Under the U.S. Department of Labor, major job training programs funded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) received a slight increase. [Click here to see Penn Hill Group’s analysis of education and workforce funding in the appropriations bill.]


Senate leadership announced Republican committee assignments for the 114th Congress. The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions maintained its current Republican roster and picked up two new members as well: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

The Senate voted 76-16 to approve legislation to retroactively renew a number of tax breaks for individuals, businesses, and nonprofits through the end of 2014 – the House approved the bill several weeks ago. The legislation includes three education-related provisions: it extends qualified zone academy bonds that allow K-12 schools to borrow at lower interest rates for projects in partnership with private companies; it extends the allowable deduction for educators’ expenses such as classroom supplies; and it extends a deduction for qualified tuition for individuals with certain income levels. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The Senate confirmed the nomination of James Cole Jr. to the position of general counsel at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Cole was one of several ED nominees whose nomination process had been delayed in the Senate, and three of the nominees still await confirmation: Ericka M. Miller as Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, Robert Gordon for Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, and Michael Yudin as Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The House and Senate are now in recess, and the 114th Congress will begin its first session on Tuesday, January 6, 2015.


The U.S. Department of Education released a draft framework for a college ratings system that would rate colleges as high, middle or low-performing. The framework proposes 11 different metrics that the Department is considering using related to low-income enrollment, graduation and earnings outcomes of graduates. The system will group two-year schools with other two-year schools, and four-year schools with other four-year schools. Graduate-degree-only and non-degree granting institutions are not included in the initial version of the ratings. The Department is seeking public comment on the system – comments are due by February 17, 2015.

ED sent new guidance to chief state school officers on Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) state waiver renewals. The letter states that if state educational authorities are “looking ahead” to new college- and career-ready assessments, they can request to put a pause on their accountability system as they implement new assessments. The guidance also says that states can receive up to $1 million for four years for the purposes of evaluating aspects of their ESEA waiver proposals.

Federal agencies, including the Department of Education, published joint interim final regulations on “Federal Awarding Agency Regulatory Implementation of Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.” The notice incorporates into regulation the provisions of guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on December 26,2013 — the OMB guidance has been known as the “OMB Supercircular” —  and deals with such issues as allowable costs under federal grants, grantee time-and-effort certifications, grantee monitoring of funds that flow through to subgrantees and audits of federal grants. The regulations also include agency-specific provisions; for ED they would make technical and conforming amendments to the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) and other, program-specific regulations and delete obsolete ED regulations. As “interim final” regulations, these new rules will go into effect immediately (December 26); however, the Administration is requesting comments through February 17