By Ellen Fern, Managing Director at Washington Partners
On Tuesday, February 7, the House of Representatives voted to overturn Obama administration regulations regarding accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as well as regulations relating to teacher-preparation programs.
H.J.Res.57, which would overturn regulations regarding accountability under ESSA, passed by a vote of 234-190. A few more Democratic members signed on to pass the resolution overturning teacher-preparation regulations, H.J.Res. 58, by a vote of 240 – 181. Both regulations were subject to the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows lawmakers to overturn regulations from the previous administration within a certain period of time.
The CRA has never been used on education regulations, so if the regulations are overturned via a similar vote in the Senate, it is unclear how the Department of Education would proceed as far as issuing guidance or new regulations. If the regulations are overturned, the Department will be barred from issuing "substantially similar" regulations on these two issues before lawmakers reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, respectively. At the very least, if the accountability regulations are overturned, the deadlines of April 3 or September 8 for states to submit ESSA plans for Education Department approval, with implementation to start in the 2018–19 school year, would most likely disappear, too.
The Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act of 2017 has been introduced in the 115th Congress by Senate co-sponsors Angus King (I-Maine) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). In a statement about the bill, the senators expressed concern that low-income families are now spending more than 30 percent of their incomes on child care costs.
The legislation (as explained in a summary of the act) would make important changes to the current Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) aimed at broadening supports for families with childcare needs. The bill includes provisions for:
- Refundability so that low-income families would be able to benefit even if their tax contribution would be too low to allow the benefit of a credit. The Tax Policy Center has a good explanation of the difference between a deduction, credit, and refund.
- Phased credit levels that begin as high as 50 percent and range down to 35 percent for higher income-families.
- Inflationary adjustments that consider the increasing costs of childcare.
The legislation would also make changes to Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) by:
- Increasing contributions from $5,000 to $7,500 annually that can be set aside pre-tax.
- Tying the new $7,500 cap to inflation to account for increasing costs.
The bill would help families with school-age children cover the cost of afterschool and summer learning programs for children up to the age of 13.
The bipartisan bill’s introduction in the Senate comes on the heels of President Trump’s child care proposal, unveiled last fall during the presidential campaign, and developed in partnership with his daughter Ivanka. In mid-January, before taking office, Trump’s transition staff met with the Ways and Means committee to discuss the proposal which, in combination with new maternity leave provisions, would have a $300 billion price tag according to CNN reports.
Trump’s proposal would alter the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit so that any couple earning up to $500,000 (or individual earning up to $250,000) would be able to deduct up to the average cost of child care in their state. Additionally, low-income families that benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit would be eligible for rebates of up to $1,200. The New York Times reports that families would choose between the new rebate for low-income families or the old CDCTC, so that additional benefits to these low-income families would be slight.
Trump’s modifications to Dependent Care Savings Accounts, according to a CNBC article, would match at 50 percent a low income family’s saving up to $1000 for these tax-deductible accounts. The accounts could be saved and withdrawn tax free so long as they were spent on eligible expenditures such as “traditional child care, afterschool programs, and school tuition.” Tax analysts reported that this provision would also have greater effects for higher income tax-payers.
The White House “Issues” webpage does not currently list child care as a policy issue.
On February 7, the Senate voted to confirm Elisabeth (Betsy) DeVos as the new U.S. Secretary of Education (learn more about Secretary DeVos). Trump’s controversial nominee for the cabinet position received 50 votes in favor of her confirmation and 50 against. The vote that ran along party lines, with the exception of Sens. Lisa Murkoswki (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who broke from their party to vote “no.” The tie was broken in favor of DeVos by Vice President Mike Pence, marking the first time a cabinet nominee has been confirmed as a result of the vice president’s vote.
The confirmation caps off a contentious process that began soon after Trump announced his nominee. DeVos provided oral testimony in a Senate hearing on January 17. She then submitted responses to a reported 1,400 additional written questions submitted by members of the Senate.
Secretary DeVos has applauded the benefits of afterschool and STEM in her written responses, some of which were posted on The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. A question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) referred to his work on reauthorizing the 21st Century Community Learning Center initiative in the Every Student Succeeds Act and asked DeVos how she planned to “support rich high quality learning experiences for students.” DeVos responded:
After-school programs are critical to the safety and continued learning for many students. There are many programs offered by wonderful local community groups and schools that offer valuable opportunities for learning. As you noted, the Every Student Succeeds Act included the reauthorization of the 21 Century Community Learning Centers, a program that helps to provide after-school services to many children. If confirmed, I will implement the law as intended and funded by Congress, including the 21 Century Community Learning Centers program.
On January 19th, the National School Boards Association and the National School Boards Action Center hosted the Public Education Agenda for America's Success forum. Representatives from both conservative and liberal policy and research institutes came together in Washington, DC to discuss what to expect under a new administration and Congress.
The 2016 presidential campaign did not focus much on education issues, aside from a few conversations around child care and school choice. However, Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) mentioned that while education has not been a direct focus of President Trump’s attention, many of his priority issues—including safety, the economy and the military—are, in truth, education issues.
Based on what we know so far about the Trump Administration's education agenda and how it relates to out-of-school time, a couple of key themes emerged.
Federal government expected to pass the baton to the states
Many on the panel assumed the Trump Administration will look to return as much decision-making on data, performance, and implementation as possible to states, which resonates with the theme of the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015.
All panelists expected a return to local control—but as AEI's Andy Smarick hypothesized, the very concept of local control may be changing. In the past, local control meant the ultimate decision makers on education issues should be local school boards and districts rather than the state or federal government, but Smarick now believes local control is reaching down to the level of the parent and family.
However, other panelists pointed out that with federal and state money flowing to districts and students, accountability in education will always have to be twofold: at the school and parent level with regard to student achievement, but also at the federal, state, and local level when considering how public tax dollars are being spent in the public interest.
|Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate HELP Committee on January 17.|
On Tuesday evening, January 17, 2017, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee convened a hearing to consider President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Michigan philanthropist and education activist Betsy DeVos. During the course of the nominee’s three hour confirmation hearing, Senators’ questions addressed a wide range of issues from guns in schools to access to career and technical education.
DeVos’ background includes having served as chairwoman of the board of the Alliance for School Choice and directed the All Children Matter Political Action Committee, which she and her husband founded in 2003 to promote school vouchers, tax credits to businesses that give private school scholarships, and candidates who support these causes. She also served as chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which describes itself as "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs."
In 1989, Betsy DeVos and her husband founded the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. The Foundation's giving, according to its website, is motivated by faith, and "is centered in cultivating leadership, accelerating transformation and leveraging support in five areas," namely education, community, arts, justice, and leadership. In addition to a wide range of other programs, the Foundation has supported afterschool programs and providers in Michigan, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids.
The subject of afterschool programs did not come up during the hearing. Questions from senators largely focused on DeVos’ background as an education activist, higher education, accountability, assessment, and protecting the rights of students with disabilities and LGBTQ youth.
Democrats took aim at her large financial donations to anti-union organizations, among others. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations, wrote in an opposition letter to Senate HELP Committee members that it "cannot support a nominee who has demonstrated that she seeks to undermine bedrock American principles of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and public education itself." Similar opposition came from other organizations including both national teachers unions as well as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League and the American Association of University Women.
Republicans largely focused on the value of an outside perspective leading the Department. In a letter of support for her confirmation, 18 Republican governors praised DeVos as someone who “will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom." Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been particularly vocal in support of DeVos, who sat on the board of Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush penned an op-ed praising her passion in advocating for local control of education.
Likewise, former Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat turned Independent who serves on the board of the American Federation for Children, which DeVos previously chaired, introduced the nominee to the HELP Committee prior to her testimony. Lieberman, who is a long-standing supporter of charter schools and voucher programs such as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, spoke in support of her nomination.
The next step in the confirmation process comes later this week when Senators will submit questions to the nominee for her written response. The full Senate is expected to vote on DeVos later this month or early next month.
|President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.|
In the New Year, states are busy getting ready for the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to go into full effect with the start of the new 2017-18 school year.
In these final months of preparation, states are finishing first and second rounds of stakeholder engagement, releasing first and second drafts of their state ESSA plans, and finalizing plans and submitting to the federal Department of Education for review. Arizona already has submitted a plan—far ahead of the required April and September deadlines for plan submission.
At this stage, things are moving quickly—luckily, it's easy to keep up with what your state is doing with our new interactive map tool! This new resource puts links to state webpages and ESSA plans at your fingertips.
What are states working to accomplish?
The new law is an opportunity to re-envision education within the state. Unlike the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA provides more flexibility to states to decide what they want to track and measure beyond the familiar requirement of student proficiency on statewide English language arts (ELA) and math tests.
Guided by stakeholder engagement, states are determining the outcomes they want to see for their students and creating a system of reporting, interventions and support to ensure that districts and schools help students make progress toward those goals.
By Rachel Clark
|New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit.|
On Monday, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $35 million expansion that would offer 22,000 additional students access to state-funded afterschool programs. This pilot program would significantly expand afterschool programs in 16 cities that were indentified in 2016 as Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative Areas.*
To put this proposal into context, New York State currently invests approximately $62 million directly into afterschool programs—the new pilot program will increase this investment by more than 50 percent.
Still, 22,000 new afterschool spaces will only go a small way toward meeting the needs of the estimated 1.1 million students across the state who still want access to a program. However, this investment is still significant in two ways.
First, if this proposal is included in the final state budget, which must be passed by April 1 according to state law, it will give 22,000 more New York students in high-poverty areas an opportunity to participate in an afterschool program as early as next school year.
Second, this would be the first large-scale state investment in afterschool since the 2008 recession, when funding was cut from $93 million in 2007-2008 to $57.4 million in 2014-2015. We’ve had some recent success over the past two years with getting smaller funding increases from the Legislature ($5 million in 2016), but Governor Cuomo’s proposal shows a clear recognition of the important role that afterschool programs play in helping combat poverty in low-income communities and in closing the achievement gap.
After years of advocacy by the Network and field on the importance of afterschool programs in keeping kids safe, helping working families, and supporting academic achievement, among other benefits, this is a welcome proposal and one that is much needed in New York. This was also proposed as a pilot program, so there is interest in expanding it if deemed successful.
Over the next week, advocates in New York and across the country will be paying close attention to the release of the Governor’s Executive Budget Proposal. In it we should learn more about what the program will look like and the specific language laying out how it will be implemented.
In the meantime, the Network for Youth Success and our partners across the state will be gearing up to make sure this proposal becomes a reality on April 1, 2017.
*Those cities are Albany, the Bronx, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Hempstead, Jamestown, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Oneonta, Oswego, Rochester, Syracuse, Troy, Utica, and Watertown.
As 2016 comes to a close, so too does the 114th Congress. The 115th Congress will be called into session at noon on January 3 and will mark the first time in six years that the United States is under a unified government, meaning that the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the Presidency, are all under the control of the same party, the Republicans. What might the 115th Congress mean for afterschool programs and the children and parents they support?
The new Congress will bring new leadership for several key committees that have jurisdiction over education policy and education spending. In the House of Representatives, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) has retired and the new Chairperson will be Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will stay on as Ranking Member. House Appropriations Committee leadership changed as well, with new Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) taking over for Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who was term-limited out of the chairmanship. Ranking Member (and Afterschool Caucus co-chair) Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will continue in her previous role in the 115th Congress.
On the Senate side, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) remain as leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP). Chairman Thad Cochran (R-TN) is staying on as Committee Chairman for the Senate Appropriations Committee with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) taking over for retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as Ranking Member.
New challenges within the appropriations process
Friends of afterschool should closely follow the FY 2017 and FY 2018 appropriations cycles beginning early in 2017. With the continuing resolution authorizing federal spending at current 2016 fiscal year spending levels set to expire on April 28, 2017, finalizing the FY 2017 spending bill will be a key priority early in the 115th Congress. Constraints on available funding include discretionary spending caps that limit available funds as well as competing priorities outside of the education arena in areas like infrastructure and health. In late spring, Congress will also have to initiate the FY 2018 spending process, which will be even more challenging given the return of the sequester cuts after a two-year negotiated hiatus.
Making your voice heard early and often next year will be critical to educating the new Congress on the many valuable outcomes of local afterschool and summer learning programs. Use our action center to share your thoughts on the appropriations process and its impact on afterschool with your member of Congress to ensure that no cuts are made late in the fiscal cycle next year.