Some questions:

Will Congress complete a tax rewrite by the end of the year? What are the implications for education?
What does the House Republican Higher Education Act rewrite have to say about teachers?
Will Congress finish work on spending bill by Dec. 22, averting a government shutdown?

Washington Update, Dec. 15, 2017


Dear Colleagues:

Congress continues at a frenetic pace likely to finish a tax bill this year, but punting spending decisions into next year

1. Tax Overhaul on the Verge of Enactment

The House and the Senate appear to have come to agreement on a final package, which should be released later today with votes expected next week. While the details of the final agreement have not yet been made public, information leaking out indicates the following in relation to education:

Only 51 votes are needed in the Senate to pass the bill. Republicans can afford to lose two votes from their 52 members assuming VP Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote. Sen. Corker (R-TN) is likely to vote against the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been in the hospital all week so his presence to vote next week is not known. Republicans remain optimistic that they will have the votes needed to pass the bill before Christmas.

2. Budget/Appropriations Action to Prevent Dec. 22 Government Shutdown

Dec. 22 marks the deadline for Congress to extend government spending and avert a government shutdown. The deal currently in the works envisions the House passing a bill next week which would only expand defense spending and leave all other spending flat. The Senate would most likely reject that bill and change it so it simply extends funding as is for both defense and non-defense accounts through January 19. In the meantime negotiations continue over spending caps for defense and non-defense spending in the long term. It also appears that a fix for the DREAMERS will be kicked into next year as well. To be continued ...

3. House Education and Workforce Committee Adopts Higher Education Act Rewrite Eliminating Teacher Provisions

In a 15 hour marathon markup with consideration of 60 amendments, the House Education and the Workforce Committee adopted a bill (HR 4508- the PROSPER Act) to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Over strong objections of Democrats and multiple higher education organizations, who urged the Committee to delay the markup for more time to digest the 600 page bill, Republicans moved the bill forward anyway. The final vote on the bill - all 23 Republicans voting yes and all 17 Democrats voting no -- reflected the sharp divide among House Republicans and Democrats in terms of how to update the nation's system of higher education.

Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) described the bill as changing the status quo, providing more information to let students make choices about college and financial aid, ensuring a limited federal role while requiring accountability, and cutting through red tape. Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) criticized the bill for making college less affordable and accessible, and for relaxing requirements of for-profit institutions instead of increasing the maximum Pell grant, expanding better loan repayment and forgiveness options, and supporting students and institutions. (Thanks to the Committee for Education Funding for this summary!)

The following provisions were eliminated from the current version of the Higher Education Act, removing all support for teachers and teacher candidates:

Rep. Fredrica Wilson (D-FL) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to reinstate Title II programs, including the teacher quality partnership grants, as well as the TEACH grants. In addition to Reps. Wilson and Polis, the following Democratic representatives spoke in favor of the amendment: Rep. Takano (CA), Rep. Rochester (DE), Rep. Susan Davis (CA), Rep. Bonamici (OR) and Ranking Member Scott (VA). Many noted that removing these provisions in the midst of a teacher shortage is unwise. Chairwoman Foxx spoke against the amendment and it failed along party lines with a vote of 22-17.

Chairwoman Foxx intends to bring the bill to the House floor for consideration in early 2018. On the Senate side, Chair of the HELP Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has indicated he would like to prioritize a rewrite of the Higher Education bill in early 2018. It is anticipated that the Senate process will be more bi-partisan.

4. Federal Communications Commission Votes Down "Net Neutrality"

In a highly contested partisan vote, the FCC passed a provision to end "net neutrality," an Obama era requirement intended to ensure equal access to the internet. This is of grave concern to educators - in both K-12 and higher education sectors as they are so dependent upon fast and high quality internet access for instructional purposes. Twenty one Democratic Senators sent a letter to the FCC urging them to postpone the vote until the education concerns they raised were addressed. That did not occur. Multiple lawsuits are anticipated.

Letter from Democratic Senators:

5. Update on Nominees for the Department of Education

The following nominees for the Department of Education leadership positions have been confirmed by the Senate HELP Committee. They await final confirmation by all members of the Senate, after which they will begin their jobs.

These three nominations join that of Carlos G. Muniz, nominee for General Counsel, who also awaits floor action in the Senate.

6. Department of Education Seeks Comments on Delaying Special Education Disproportionality Rule; Plans New Policies on Title I ESSA and Charter Schools

The Education Department announced that it will seek comments on whether the Obama-era disproportionality regulation should be delayed by two years. The regulation provides a standardized way for states to determine over-representation of minority students in special education. It was developed on the heels of a GAO report in 2013 which indicated that states use a variety of methods to make the determination and only a few have been flagged for problems, data indicating that it is a widespread problem. The rule is scheduled to take effect in July 2018.

The Department also announced it would be altering regulations on Title I of ESSA and changing priorities and requirements for charter schools.


Statement of Rep. Bobby Scott:

Letter from civil rights and education groups:

7. Sec. DeVos Testifying Dec. 20 before House Education and the Workforce Committee

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has scheduled a hearing on Dec. 20 at 2 pm with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos titled "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education." This will be the first time the Secretary has testified before this Committee.

Watch livestreamed here:

8. Resources for Educators

Wishing you a relaxing weekend.

See you on twitter @janewestdc


Jane E. West Ph.D.
Education Policy Consultant
Cell: 202.812.9096
Twitter: @janewestdc

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