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Sec. DeVos testifies in front of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee

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Sec. DeVos testifies in front of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee

 

On Tuesday, June 5, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) held a hearing on the US Department of Education (ED) FY 2019 budget proposal featuring testimony from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The president’s FY2019 budget requests proposes $63.5 billion for ED, which would be a $4.4 billion cut compared to the FY 2018 enacted level.

As was the case for the administration’s FY 2018 plan, no funds are requested for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). Also proposed for elimination in the budget: ESSA Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (investments in educator professional development programs), along with 27 other programs.

Chairman Blunt (R-Mo.) opened the hearing with complimentary remarks but noted that he and his colleagues are concerned that the FY 2019 budget request again proposes eliminations that the panel rejected. While he agreed that some of the proposed eliminations are worthy of discussion, he stated the following:

This subcommittee will not pass a bill eliminating large formula grant programs supporting afterschool programs and teacher professional development…. Similarly, while some small, targeted grant programs … may … not have widespread impacts, they can help leverage significant private funding and build the evidence base for what works to improve student outcomes. As we look to produce our third consecutive bipartisan Labor/HHS bill at the end of this month, I expect these proposals will face the same result this year.

Ranking Member Murray (D-Wash.) gave opening remarks and expressed many concerns with Secretary DeVos’ management of the Department and the ESSA plan review process. She went on to voice dismay that the secretary and her team continue to propose the elimination of programs that would help teachers, afterschool programs, and low-income undergraduates. She urged the secretary to testify before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on student safety and how to reduce violence in schools.

In her prepared remarks, Secretary DeVos thanked the subcommittee for inviting her and said the FY 2019 budget request for ED “sharpens and hones the focus of our mission.” She said she and the president believe that limited government, fiscal discipline, and reducing the federal footprint in education are tenets of their policies and spending plans. Programs receiving level funding in the budget plan are those that the White House feels are important to the ultimate goal of providing educational opportunities for all and returning decision-making power to those closest to students. Regarding this year’s tragic school shootings, she said that the nation must come together to address the issues that create a culture of violence, and cited Title IV, Part A (of ESSA) funds as “most useful” in helping districts and schools address these issues.

The secretary also highlighted the administration’s support for STEM education, noting that ED is requesting $200 million for STEM education and a continued commitment to competitive grant programs available to STEM and computer science education supporters and providers.

Afterschool highlighted four times

While topics of subcommittee member questions ranged from higher education to school safety and many areas in between, afterschool support was addressed directly by four members.

Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.) opened his questioning with the assertion that this budget proposal “doesn’t support all students,” but then turned to school safety and the tragic school shootings of recent months. Sen. Leahy then turned to afterschool and opioid abuse, saying, “I’ve learned from afterschool programs across Vermont that many participating families are suffering from the opioid crisis.” He asked if the budget proposal to gut the Community Learning Center program would “complicate” local recovery efforts. The secretary noted that the administration is concerned about the problem and that there is a $43 million investment in combating the issue in the request. She also said there are flexibilities in other programs that can address issues locally. In fact, the flexibility of afterschool programs and Community Learning Centers funding to both help students and families impacted by the opioid epidemic and help prevent substance abuse is well-documented and was the topic of a congressional briefing last month.

Sen. Shaheen (D-N.H.) highlighted the subject of guns in schools and school safety, but went on to ask why the budget request proposes eliminating programs so important to students and families, including afterschool investments, TRIO programs, and subsidized loans for undergraduates. Saying that the budget is focused on “ensuring that students that have the greatest need have also the greatest opportunity” within certain parameters, the secretary noted that many of the programs the senator referenced “are ones that have not been proven to be effective or have been spread too thinly.” When asked for reports that bear out the ineffectiveness, particularly with regard to the Community Learning Centers program, the secretary said she would share that research with the senator. In the past the secretary has pointed to the outdated 2004 evaluation of Community Learning Centers claiming it showed mixed results. However, current research and evaluation of Community Learning Centers makes clear that this program is effective and continues to achieve a wide variety of outcomes from improved student attendance, academic help, improved behavior and engagement in the classroom, and more.

Sen. Manchin (D-W.V.) noted his concern around proposals to eliminate funding for Community Learning Centers, Title II of ESSA and Title IV, Part A. Secretary DeVos noted that the budget was developed prior to the two-year budget deal, but Sen. Manchin said he is concerned about the repeated proposed eliminations. He is particularly concerned about funds available to help his state address their opioid issues and asked the secretary to get back to him on how they intend to help states like his.

Sen. Baldwin (D-Wis.) addressed career and technical education (CTE), noting her disappointment that the request includes FY 2017-level funding for the Perkins basic state grant program and cuts Community Learning Centers and Title IV, Part A. Further, she said the proposals don’t match the Administration’s stated commitment to CTE and STEM education. Secretary DeVos responded that the 2017-level funding for current year CTE indicates that the investment actually is a demonstration of priority; further, the proposal to support short-term programs with Pell Grants is congruent with a commitment to CTE and STEM education.

What’s next?

The subcommittee hearing is expected to be followed in two short weeks by a markup of the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) spending bill the last week in June. Now is the ideal time to reach out by phone, email, or in person to your representatives and senators to let them know how important federal afterschool funding is for your local community and school-based afterschool and summer learning programs.

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