Midsummer Momentum in Congress on K-12 Issues

Funding, personnel get time on agenda

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Education hasn't been a top priority for Congress during the first 18 months of the Trump administration. But lawmakers have begun paying the issue somewhat more attention in recent weeks through the annual appropriations process, and through the consideration of proposals related to career and technical education, nominees to work under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and children's healthcare.

Below is a round-up of recent action on Capitol Hill that affects education.

Spending Bills Move Forward

The House and Senate both advanced bills funding the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal 2019. Both provide overall increases for the department and both reject several key proposals from President Donald Trump's budget blueprint.

The Senate bill would provide $71.6 billion for the department for the year, while the House legislation would provide $71 billion. Both would increase funding for a flexible block grant for districts under Title IV, charter schools, and special education grants to states.

Not all programs get the same level of funding in both bills. Title I for disadvantaged students would get flat-funded at $15.8 billion in the House legislation, while the Senate bill would provide it a $125 million increase.

The bills also include level funding— $2.1 billion—for professional-development grants for educators under Title II and $1.2 billion for after-school programs. The Trump administration wants to eliminate those two programs for fiscal 2019.

The House and Senate appropriations committees had approved their chambers' respective education funding bills as of last week, and they awaited action from the full chambers.

Momentum for CTE Overhaul

The Senate education committee addressed a top White House priority when it gave the thumbs-up for legislation to overhaul the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in late June.

The committee advanced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which would allow states to establish their own goals for CTE programs without getting them cleared by the secretary of education. However, the bill also requires states to make "meaningful progress" toward those goals.

Committee lawmakers passed the legislation unanimously. The vote followed lobbying efforts by the Trump administration to make progress on Perkins legislation that included Capitol Hill visits by Trump's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump. Business groups have also pushed hard for Congress to make progress on reauthorizing the law, last accomplished in 2006.

The House also passed legislation to reauthorize Perkins last summer, also on a bipartisan basis.

CHIP Funding Preserved

Meanwhile, a push by the Trump administration to claw back money from the Children's Health Insurance Program passed the House but fell short in the Senate.

Trump's budget-rescission package would have revoked about $7 billion in unobligated money for CHIP, which provides health insurance to children from low-income backgrounds. (The total Trump rescissions package totaled $15 billion.)

The rescissions would have come from a portion of CHIP that reimburses states for certain expenses and a separate fund that helps states deal with higher-than-expected enrollment in the program. Supporters of the plan said it would help rein in federal spending, but critics charged it could leave the CHIP program vulnerable to underfunding in the wake of an economic downturn.

DeVos Gets Top K-12 Deputy

DeVos chalked up a win when the Senate confirmed Frank Brogan to be the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, the top K-12 post at the Education Department.

Related Blog

Brogan served as Florida's education commissioner from 1994 to 1999 and then served as the state's lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush from 1999 to 2003. Previously, he served as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in Martin County, Fla., schools.

He championed school choice and higher academic standards, as well as cuts to Florida's education department staffing levels. Brogan had been serving as a senior aide under DeVos for several months while awaiting Senate confirmation.

The Senate confirmed Brogan a few weeks after giving the green light to Kenneth L. Marcus, Trump's nominee to serve as assistant secretary for civil rights under DeVos. However, the Senate still hasn't confirmed Jim Blew, Trump's nominee to serve as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at DeVos' department.

Vol. 37, Issue 37, Page 23

Published in Print: July 18, 2018, as Education Action in Congress: A Midsummer Roundup
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