Legislative Activity

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

It appears that Congress has finally reached an agreement on an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill. We expect House leadership to officially announce conferees this week. The Senate will also need to appoint its conferees and will meet with the House conferees for at least one conference committee meeting, the first of which is expected to take place this week. The legislation must then pass both chambers and be signed into law by the President. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has listed “Possible Consideration of a Motion to Go to Conference on ESEA Reauthorization” on the legislative schedule for this Tuesday. Sources have suggested that the conference may begin Tuesday night and finish by Thursday. The bill is expected to reach both the House and Senate floors after the Thanksgiving recess.

Leaders from both parties are optimistic about negotiations, as Democrats and Republicans appear to have preserved their top priorities: early childhood education and subgroup accountability for Democrats; and program consolidation and limitations on secretarial authority for Republicans. We have heard that the agreement maintains the Senate’s language allowing states to create their own opt-out laws but mandating the federal requirement for 95 percent test participation. Additionally, sources indicate that Title I portability – one of the most contentious issues – was left out of the conferenced bill.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

While the ESEA reauthorization appears to be back on track, the Higher Education Act (HEA) marked its 50th anniversary last week with no sign of tangible progress on its reauthorization. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) commented on the milestone and restated their key issues to be considered in the legislation but gave no indication of a timeline for a draft bill.

Committee Turnover

Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) announced last Friday that he will not seek reelection in 2016, after 20 years in office. He previously served as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has advocated for increased federal aid for Hispanic students as well as immigration reform.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, November 17: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “U.S. Department of Education: Information Security Review.”
  • Wednesday, November 18: House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittees on Government Relations and Higher Education and Workforce Training will hold a joint hearing on “Federal Student Aid: Performance-Based Organization Review.”
  • Wednesday, November 18: House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommitee on Economic Opportunity will hold a hearing on “Examining VA’s On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship Program.”
  • Wednesday, November 18: Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on legislation regarding American Indian education and language programs.

Regulatory Activity

Next Generation High Schools

Last Tuesday, the White House hosted the first Summit on Next Generation High Schools. This initiative was first announced as part of President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address that called for redesigning high schools to focus on more personalized and active learning, access to real-world learning experiences, stronger ties to institutions of higher education, and expanded opportunities for underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Students, educators, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs attended the summit to discuss ways to reinvent the high school experience and a number of foundations, non-profits, education leaders, and companies announced commitments to support next generation high schools. The White House released a fact sheet that details all of the public and private sector commitments made as part of the summit.

Veterans Education

The Obama Administration made several announcements related to student veterans education last week in honor of Veterans Day.  On November 11, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell wrote an open letter to veterans, renewing the Administration’s pledge to work with Congress to restore the Higher Education Act’s original 85/15 ratio (requiring that a for-profit college must derive at least 15 percent of its revenue from non-federal student aid funds to continue participating in Title IV programs) and close the GI Bill loophole (whereby servicemembers’ and veterans’ education aid is eligible to count toward non-federal student aid funds). In 1998, Congress changed the requirement to 10 percent, known as the 90/10 Rule. The letter endorses the Protecting Our Students and Taxpayers Act of 2015, legislation reintroduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on November 10 to reinstate the 85/15 ratio for proprietary institutions and to count educational benefits for veterans and servicemembers toward that federal limit.

President Obama also called on Congress to pass two bipartisan, bicameral legislative proposals related to student veteran education issues. The first – the Veterans Education Relief and Restoration Act (VERRA) (S. 2253/H.R. 3991) would expand the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) authority to restore the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits of veterans who are affected by the permanent closure of Corinthian or other institutions that close mid-term. The second proposal – the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015 (S. 1938/ H.R. 2360) – would strengthen requirements for preparing student veterans for employment by cracking down on the use of GI Bill benefits for non-accredited education programs.

The White House also announced a new agreement between the VA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to strengthen oversight and enforcement against schools that engage in deceptive marketing and recruitment practices towards veterans. Finally, the VA unveiled a re-designed GI Bill Comparison Tool that now provides veteran-specific outcome measures on graduation and retention rates. The tool now includes a warning flag on approximately 7 percent of schools on the site, cautioning users about institutional issues such as accreditation probation or heightened cash monitoring from the federal government.

Investing in Innovation Grants

Last Friday, the Department of Education announced $113 million to 13 awardees for the FY 2015 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition. These grants provide funding for innovative ideas to improve student achievement and attainment, closing achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase high school graduation rates, or increase college enrollment and completion. The awardees will focus their efforts on further developing best practices as well as sharing their demonstrated successes with other institutions, the private sector, and philanthropic community. The 13 awardees, however, must secure private sector matching funds by December to formalize their awards. Awards were announced in the Development, Validation, and Scale-up categories.