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As Congress Heads Home, Unfinished Business Remains

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.  

Build Back Better

Congress Looks to Head Home for the Holidays Leaving Unfinished Business for Next Year 

With the temporary fix to fund the government completed (until February 18) and the debt ceiling extension completed, the one big item left on the agenda for this week for Congress was passing President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.  With the House already having passed the bill, the ball was in the Senate court where Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) had promised a vote before the holidays.  That promise evaporated this week as it became clear that it would be impossible to corral all Senate Democrats to vote yes—a requirement for passage. Even after multiple conversations with President Biden and other Senators, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was unwilling to offer his support for the $1.7 trillion bill.  So reluctantly, Senators turned their attention to other matters, such as confirming Biden nominations and considering strategies for securing support for voting rights reform.

The Senate HELP Committee did release the text of their portion of the Build Back Better Act this week.  The provisions in the Senate bill are the same as those in the House bill, with a few minor tweaks.  The funds included for the educator workforce are eagerly supported by education advocates, as the shortage continues to expand. The parliamentarian is continuing to review portions of the massive bill, determining whether they can be included according to the rules related to the reconciliation process. It is highly unlikely that the parliamentarian would rule the educator workforce provisions to be out of order. 

The House has already left town for the holidays, and the Senate will follow suit next week. Build Back Better will await until the Congress reconvenes in January 2022. 

Department of Education Negotiated Rule Making Committee Concludes its Work

The Department of Education is undergoing a massive review of higher education regulations.  Last week, the first step in that process was completed as the negotiated-rulemaking committee concluded its work after months of debate over a range of proposals. The panel reached agreement on four of the 12 proposals but ultimately failed to reach consensus on the remaining, more contentious plans. Regulatory language agreed upon by the panel includes: making it easier for borrowers with a severe disability to have their loans forgiven; streamlining loan discharges for borrowers whose school falsely certified that they were eligible for the loan; and eliminating interest capitalization on federal student loans in some events. In addition, the panel agreed to new regulations that will carry out Congress’ restoration of Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated students.

The committee failed to reach agreement over how to structure the Biden Administration’s new income-driven repayment plan and how to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The Administration has scheduled the next round of negotiated rulemaking to begin in January. 

Addressing the Educator Shortage

Data about the impact of the educator shortage crisis continues to proliferate. A recent report reveals that schools in 11 states have had to close temporarily because of staffing shortages and 1 in 4 teachers report they plan to leave the profession at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote a letter wrote a letter  urging district leaders to use their American Rescue Plan Act funding to support rebuilding the educator pipeline, while the  American Federation of Teachers announced a new task force aimed at addressing the critical shortage of educators and school staff  across the nation. The AFT “Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force” has more than 20 members who will “examine causes and propose solutions for districts experiencing extreme shortages.”  In a statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said:

Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” said Weingarten. “Even before COVID, nurses, guidance counselors, teachers, support staff and bus drivers were facing daunting workloads and a lack of respect. And layoffs at the start of the pandemic, the virus’ malaise, political brawling over the teaching of honest history, and the challenge of this school year have made the current situation even worse.”

 The task force will hold virtual and in-person meetings and will host listening sessions around the country with its members. A report on the task force’s findings will be released at AFT’s biennial convention in Boston in July 2022.

Long Time Special Education Leader Valerie Williams Sworn in as the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education

Education advocates were thrilled with Monday’s news that longtime ally and leader Valerie Williams was chosen by the Biden Administration as Director in the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education. In this role, Williams is responsible for overseeing administration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Williams has been active in special education and education policy for years in Washington.  She most recently served for six years as senior director of Government Relations and External Affairs at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. She has served as the Chair of the Committee for Education Funding and has been an active member of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ Education Task Force. She also served as the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Public Policy Fellow, on the U.S. Senate HELP Committee advancing disability policy and civil rights.  Williams joins other Biden appointees who are well known to the special education advocacy community, including Katy Beh Neas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of OSERS, and Kim Knackstedt, Disability Policy Advisor for the Domestic Policy Council in the White House.   

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.


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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant

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