Some questions:

Congress wraps up for 2017- but what is left unfinished?

How will the new tax bill impact Education?

Washington Update, Dec. 22, 2017


Dear Colleagues:

Congress passed the critical government spending bill tonight on the heels of the big tax package, but pushed many big decisions down the road as they headed to the airport for the Christmas holiday.

1. Tax Package Enacted

On December 20, the Congress completed action on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the first major tax overhaul since 1986. Passed largely along partisan lines in both the House and the Senate (though several Republican House members voted against it because of the SALT changes noted below and the impact that would have on high local and state tax areas such as CA and NY), the final legislation - which will be signed by the President in the coming days - includes a number of provisions of concern to educators.

While Sec. DeVos praised the K-12 private school deduction, she noted that it would not help low-income students. Rather it is likely to be a windfall to private schools by families who can already afford private school.

In a related Congressional moment, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce had a hearing schedule with Sec. DeVos for 2 pm on Dec. 20. That conflicted with a White House celebration of the new tax package, and next thing you know... the hearing was canceled thus enabling the Republican House members on the Committee to attend the White House event.



2. Congress Avoids Government Shutdown by Avoiding Decisions

In a predictable but always drama-filled end of year crunch, the Congress postponed decisions on many pressing issues on the policy agenda to enact what is called a "clean CR." This means there are minimal policy riders and anomalies and funding for all government agencies stayed pretty much the same... until January 19, when they will be back at it, looking at another potential government shutdown if they don't act.

Some key features of the CR include:

Congress will return on January 3 and face the continued need to address the budget caps. If they are not raised across the board cuts for most programs are likely to ensue. Republicans are eager to lift the cap for defense spending; but Democrats are insisting on similar increases for non-defense spending like education. This has caused a stalemate.


3. New Disaster Relief Aid Package Passes the House but Fails in the Senate

The House also passed a disaster relief bill before leaving town for recess; however the bill failed in the Senate where Democrats said it was insufficient, especially for Puerto Rico, and Conservatives held that it was too expensive.

The $81 billion package included $2.9 billion directed to schools and colleges affected. Most of the funding would be assistance to restart school operations and provide emergency aid for displaced students. The Federal Work Study Program (SEOG) and the Fund for the Improvement of Postesecondary Education would be awarded $200 million for distribution. In order to assist defraying the costs of colleges enrolling displaced students, the package would provide $120 million. School districts serving homeless children displace by the disasters would have a total of $25 million available. Finally, $35 million would be provided for the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant program. Additional funds would be set aside for the Inspector General to oversee the funding and for the Department's administrative costs.

This proposal would have been funded outside of the budget caps (emergency or supplemental funding) and would thus not have been a part of the funds subject to the budget cap.

The disaster relief bill will be revisited next year.


4. DOJ Guidance Addressing Employment of People with Disabilities Rescinded

Obama-era guidance that required states and local governments to better integrate employees with disabilities into workplaces was rescinded by the Department of Justice. The guidance was a part of the implementation of the Supreme Court's 1999 ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. that required states to protect people with disabilities against exclusion from public services.



5. New Resource for Educators


This will be my final update for 2017 as we are off to Jamaica tomorrow. Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season. Let's hope for a more productive Congress for education in 2018!

See you on twitter @janewestdc


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

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