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What to expect from the budget & appropriations processes (and how to make an impact)

By Jillian Luchner

It’s February, which technically means it's time for the release of the president’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Under new administrations, the budget proposal release date is often pushed back to give the incoming president time to put together a cabinet first. Meanwhile, the budget and appropriations process hasn’t operated as it technically should for years. Adding to the confusion, Congress still needs to finalize FY2017 spending, which currently expires April 28. 

All of this brings us to where we are today. Here's what we know so far about how the fiscal year 2018 (FY2018) budget and appropriations process may roll out in the coming year. 

The president’s budget

With the president’s budget director nominee Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) narrowly confirmed this week, publications like The Hill and conversations around the halls of government suggest that the President is expected to release a “skinny budget”—a condensed list of major budget priorities—within the next month.

A complete budget request detailing the president’s desired expenditures and funding levels for all government departments and programs may be released late in the spring, but timing for the release is very much up in the air.

Congressional appropriations

Last September and again last December, Congress passed continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government operating because they could not complete a final FY17 budget. After the election in November, a decision was made to “kick the can down the road” to the new Congress to finalize spending levels for the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2016. These CRs have maintained federal spending at FY16 levels.

The CR passed last December is set to expire on April 28, when Congress will again decide whether to complete spending bills for FY17 by passing individual spending measures or passing an omnibus bill, or to simply continue the CR through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

If Congress does decide to extend the CR—which currently appears most likely—they will need to consider how to handle recently passed legislation that authorizes funding changes. For example, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December 2015, consolidates certain education programs that formerly had independent funding streams, and it creates new programs as well. As the law goes into full force in the FY18-19 school year, the government will allocate funding on July 1 and will need to know how much to allocate to which programs. For this reason, Congress must include in a full year CR a number of “anomalies” or changes that reallocate funds.

If Congress decides instead to pass individual appropriations bills, rather than a final CR, it will require reconciling the funding differences between House and Senate funding bills passed by the Appropriations Committees in last year’s 114th Congress. The House appropriations bill maintained the current funding level for 21st Century Community Learning Centers; however, the Senate bill appropriated only $1.050 billion for the programs, a potential cut that would eliminate programming for hundreds to thousands of students in each state and more than 100,000 students across the nation. The new Congress and reconstructed committees in each Chamber may also require additional compromises if new bills are to be passed and reconciled.

As it completes its work on funding for FY17, Congress is also tasked to begin its work on the FY18 budget and appropriations bills, a process that usually begins early in the spring after the president’s State of the Union address. Since there is no baseline yet for FY17, beginning a new process will be challenging. However, one key decision has taken place: the selection of new committee members for the House (R and D) and Senate (R and D) Appropriations subcommittees for Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS).

Recently, we have heard from advocates who have met with members of Congress that finding funding for the president’s expected priorities, such as increasing defense, building a border wall, and infrastructure, could make for a very tight funding landscape. In addition, sequestration will return in FY18 with about a three percent cut from FY17 in domestic discretionary spending caps. 

What will this mean for afterschool?

Because federal funding for afterschool programs is dispersed on July 1, prior CRs did not affect program funding levels. However, the competing priorities and uncertainty around the appropriations process this year make it an important time to reach out. Even those policy makers who have been avid supporters of afterschool in the past may feel stressed by other  funding priorities. Your work to thank supporters and garner new advocates will be essential to sustaining afterschool funding.

What can supporters do to help?

Friends of afterschool, advocates, program staff, parents, mayors, law enforcement officers, community members, and school board members can all let their members of Congress know how important these programs—and the federal supports for them—are to their students, families and communities.

Keeping afterschool at the front of your legislator’s mind and helping him or her understand the impact of this federal support in your community helps ensure they can’t easily make drastic funding cuts to programs when push comes to shove at the negotiating table. They will be able to envision your student, program, and story and the impact this funding has on their constituents and will be reluctant to cut funding—and be more likely to advocate for it to remain.

Write a letter to tell your story. Attend a town hall meeting scheduled to be led by your representative in your community. Make a phone call. Visit lawmakers' district offices or the Washington, D.C. offices of all your representatives. Invite them to visit an afterschool program. Then ask your friends and partners to do the same.

Keep the field and your community alert, too. Write to your local newspapers to showcase and highlight the benefits of afterschool programs in your area. Keep your networks strong and your voice heard. It is going to be a complicated year, but clear voices with a clear message will continue to be heard.



What will House resolutions of disapproval mean for ESSA implementation?

By Jillian Luchner

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. 



Senators King and Burr introduce PACE Child Care Act

By Jillian Luchner

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.  

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December surprise: Congress passes America COMPETES bill

By Anita Krishnamurthi

In a surprise move, Congress sent the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (formerly called America COMPETES) to the President for his signature late last week. The legislation authorizes research investments and the STEM education investments of various science mission agencies such as NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy.

The Afterschool Alliance has worked for several years to ensure that language supportive of afterschool is included in this bill as we recognize the importance of building bridges between STEM professionals and the afterschool field. We are delighted to report that the final bill includes several provisions that recognize the importance of out-of-school learning for STEM. 

Of specific interest is Title III, the section on STEM education, and the following items in that title.

Section 301

In the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, there is a discussion of innovative practices in STEM teacher recruitment and retention. This includes partnering with nonprofit or professional associations to provide the fellowship’s recipients with opportunities for professional development, as well as conducting pilot programs to improve teacher service and retention.

What it means for afterschool: This may provide an opening for afterschool providers to collaborate with schools of teacher education in innovative ways, including practicum placements for student teachers in afterschool STEM programs.  

Section 303

A STEM education advisory panel is to be set up jointly by the Secretary of Education, the Director of NSF, the NASA Administrator and the Administrator of NOAA to advise the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM).

This panel is required to have at least 11 members and include individuals from academic institutions, industry, and nonprofit organizations, including in-school, out-of-school, and informal education practitioners. The group will guide CoSTEM on “various aspects of federal investment in STEM education including ways to better vertically and horizontally integrate Federal STEM education programs and activities from pre-kindergarten through graduate study and the workforce, and from in-school to out-of-school in order to improve transitions for students moving through the STEM education and workforce pipelines.” 

What it means for afterschool: This provides an opening for afterschool advocates to nominate experts in informal STEM education who understand afterschool STEM programming deeply.  This perspective would be valuable and influential on the STEM education advisory panel.



Previewing the 115th Congress: What does it mean for afterschool?

By Erik Peterson

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?

New leadership

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.   



Update: Congress passes second stop-gap funding bill

By Erik Peterson

Update, December 13: Both chambers of Congress passed a short-term stopgap spending bill last week to avoid a government shutdown that would have occurred at midnight last Friday, December 9. The continuing resolution (CR) is the second such measure passed this year and will fund the government through April 28, 2017.

Original post, December 8:

This week, the House of Representatives released the text of a new short-term continuing resolution (CR) that Congress must pass by this Friday, December 9th to avoid a government shutdown. The CR will maintain the federal government’s current funding level through April 28, 2017. This second CR will pick up where the first one, passed in late September, left off.  This means that funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers will be maintained at the current level for another four months.

In April, lawmakers must negotiate a final spending bill in order to keep the government operating through the end of FY17 on September 30, 2017. This will likely take the form of either a third CR or an omnibus spending bill.

Some conservative Members of Congress are urging their leadership to enact cuts to domestic discretionary l spending levels in any final bill that is passed next year. If these efforts are successful and the final spending bill appropriates less money than FY16  spending levels, it will likely result in fewer children attending local afterschool and summer learning programs that leverage federal support through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative and the Child Care Development Block Grant.

Make your voice heard: 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.

The CR also includes provisions that will be of interest to summer learning programs operating the Summer Meals program—namely, it includes funding to maintain both the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer food program for low-income children who get meals at school during the academic year and the Child Nutrition Information Clearinghouse.   

Congress is expected to wind up much of their work by next week and will officially convene the 115th Congress on January 3rd.



Congress begins lame duck session to address spending bills and more

By Erik Peterson

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This week Congress resumed its 114th session a week after the Congressional and Presidential election. The so-called ‘lame duck’ session is expected to last through mid-December with a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. The exact agenda for the session is still somewhat unclear but a number of activities are expected to be addressed.

The top priority is ensuring the federal government remains funded after the current FY2017 continuing resolution expires on December 9, 2016. While previously it appeared Congress would pass an omnibus spending bill or mini-bus spending bills, it now looks like Congress will pass a second short-term continuing resolution instead, funding the government through March of 2017.

House Republicans pushed the decision not enact full-year funding bills but to instead pass another continuing resolution (CR) through the end of March – half-way through the 2017 fiscal year.  President-elect Trump is reported to have favored this approach, which will let the Republican Congress and President finalize the remaining 11 appropriations bills, including the bill funding education programs. Senate Democrats and President Obama have reportedly signaled that they would accept a new CR if it was “clean” of policy riders. This second CR could include more changes in funding for specific programs (known as anomalies) and a different across-the-board cut to keep total funding under the defense and non-defense caps.  The final Labor-HHS-Education bill funding the second half of the year may look similar or very different from the ones approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees earlier this year. 

What does this mean for afterschool?

Funding for afterschool programs like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative and Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) would be subject to the across the board funding cut in the new CR. Funding levels for these programs in the final spending bill in March when Congress takes up spending again will be uncertain. 

Additional legislation relevant to afterschool programs that could be considered during the lame duck include reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. All three of these have bipartisan versions alive in the Senate or House but would need additional work and time to advance to the President’s desk. Currently it appears none of these measures have the momentum needed to pass.  

Also during first week of the lame duck session, newly elected members of Congress participated in new member orientation, and House and Senate leadership for the 115th Congress was elected. Some committee assignments and leadership posts have begun to be posted as well. Among the changes so far, the new Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee will be Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) replacing retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).  Sen. Patty Murray (D0WA) will continue as both Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member and LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member. 

You can make an impact by introducing yourself to officials who have just been elected in your community. Use the sample letter available in our election kit to begin cultivating these lawmakers as allies for your afterschool program and plant the seeds of a valuable partnership.



The four categories of changes made to the Child Care and Development Fund

By Erik Peterson

Photo by mokra.

The 2016 Child Care and Development Fund Final Rule was finalized late last month by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), updating regulations to incorporate and clarify changes made through the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. 

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary federal funding source devoted to improving the quality of care for all children and to helping low-income families who work or participate in education pay for child care. The federal program is also among the five largest funding streams that support local providers in offering quality afterschool programming for school-age children. CCDF provides child care financial assistance for 1.4 million children each month throughout the United States, U.S. Territories and Tribal Nations. CCDF investments in improving the quality of care also benefit millions more of the nation’s children who do not receive a child care subsidy, but who participate in child care programs that benefit from these quality investments, such as program staff and teacher training. 

On November 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law bipartisan legislation that comprehensively updated the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act for the first time in nearly twenty years. The law focused on strengthening child care to better support the success of both parents and children, while also providing a new emphasis on the importance of providing high-quality early education and care for children under the age of five. 

The final rule updates CCDF regulations for the first time since 1998 to make them consistent with the new law. The rule applies to states, territories and tribes administering CCDF and reflects more than 150 comments received on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in December 2015. The Afterschool Alliance provided comments on the proposed rule, several of which were incorporated into the final rule. 

The final rule recognizes the important role of school-age afterschool programs, stating:

"Research also confirms that consistent time spent in afterschool activities during the elementary school years is linked to narrowing the gap in math achievement, greater gains in academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduced school absences. (Auger, Pierce, and Vandell, Participation in Out-of-School Settings and Student Academic and Behavioral Outcomes, presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, 2013). An analysis of over 70 after-school program evaluations found that evidence-based programs designed to promote personal and social skills were successful in improving children's behavior and school performance. (Durlak, Weissberg, and Pachan, The Impact of Afterschool Programs that Seek to Promote Personal and Social Skills in Children and Adolescents, American Journal of Community Psychology, 2010). After-school programs also promote youth safety and family stability by providing supervised settings during hours when children are not in school. Parents with school-aged children in unsupervised arrangements face greater stress that can impact the family's well-being and successful participation in the workforce. (Barnett and Gareis, Parental After-School Stress and Psychological Well-Being, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2006)."

The Office of Child Care (OCC) at HHS summarized the major changes in the CCDBG Act and the CCDF final rule into categories. 

Here are the four categories of changes made:

      1)    Protecting the health and safety of children in child care;  

      2)    Helping parents make informed consumer choices and access information to support child development;  

      3)    Supporting equal access to stable, high quality child care for low-income children; and  

      4)    Enhancing the quality of child care and better support the workforce.