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Education Funding and HEA Reauthorization in Play on Capitol Hill

Capitol hill building in the morning with colorful cloud , Washington DC.

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

The coronavirus outbreak has left us all a bit flummoxed this week.  Higher education, school districts and all of our communities are working to provide informed leadership, but not be alarmist—a tall order when so much is unknown. 

Meanwhile, Congress continues to make progress with education matters and political campaigns continue to unfold.

House and Senate Kick Off FY 2021 Appropriations Season with DeVos Hearings

In the last two weeks Sec. Betsy DeVos has appeared before both the House and Senate Subcommittees on Labor/HHS/Education to defend the Trump education budget proposal for FY 2021. The controversial budget calls for almost a $9 billion cut from last year, a block grant for virtually all elementary and secondary education programs and a familiar $5 billion voucher program (“Education Freedom Scholarships”).

Sec. DeVos repeatedly defended her budget by touting flexibility—the opportunity for state and local officials to have maximal decision-making discretion with a block grant.  She was challenged by Sen. Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), who argued that more decision-making authority with so much less money is hardly a win for state and local districts.  No Republicans on either subcommittee expressed support for the budget overall. 

The House plans to markup its Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill as soon as April 29, with the full House Appropriations Committee taking it up May 13.  The goal in the House is to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June.  The Senate has not yet announced a schedule for appropriations markups. 

Read more about the House hearing and the Senate hearing.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization: Still in Play?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate HELP Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the HELP Committee, have issued somewhat dueling statements about the likelihood of a long-awaited bipartisan deal on a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill.  Sen. Alexander said he hopes to have a bipartisan bill passed by the HELP Committee by the end of March (yikes, that’s three weeks away!) The goal would be to give the Senate time to pass a bill that could be signed into law by President Trump before the end of the year. 

A major hurdle continues to be Title IX, which addresses how institutions deal with sexual assault and harassment allegations. Sec. DeVos is poised to issue regulations on Title IX before the end of March—regulations that will likely require those who are accused be able to cross-examine accusers, something Sen. Murray strongly opposes. 

Sen. Alexander retires at the end of the year and he is motivated to accomplish this reauthorization as a finale to his years of Senate service.  Sen. Murray will be dealing with a different Republican leader next year; Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is in line to take Sen. Alexander’s spot.  Whether or not she would have a better shot at negotiating with a new Republican leader is hard to know. 

Read Inside Higher Ed articles: “Higher Ed Deal in the Works?” and “Murray: March Deal on HEA Will Be Difficult.”

 New Resources for Educators

Continue reading the full Washington update on my website for more information.

Remember, to follow me on Twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant