Legislative Activity

Impact of Speaker Boehner’s Resignation on Education Legislation

As we reported last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) recently announced that he will retire at the end of October. Speaker Boehner has indicated his interest in using his last month in office to move forward his priorities, including finalizing a budget deal, voting to raise the debt ceiling, trying to renew the Ex-Im Bank, and passing transportation reauthorization legislation. Some stakeholders have expressed their hope that Speaker Boehner also will try to pass a conference report for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill before he leaves, but most are skeptical that the conference committee is not far enough along to be able to produce a compromised bill this month.

Given his previous role as Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Speaker Boehner is one of the few members of the House leadership that has been focused on education issues and worked diligently with the current Committee leaders to pass the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) on the House floor earlier this year. It is unclear whether there is the political appetite to pass a bipartisan ESEA conference report later this year since many Tea Party members in the House do not believe H.R. 5 was conservative enough. In a speech this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that there was a 50 percent chance that ESEA legislation would be finalized this year prior to the Speaker’s announcement and noted that the odds have only worsened.

ESEA continues to remain the priority over the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) so it is becoming more unlikely that HEA will be considered this Congress, though Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continues to say that a draft HEA bill will be issued later this year.

Perkins Loan Program Expires

The Federal Perkins Loan program expired last Wednesday, despite bipartisan support from members in both chambers. Though the House passed legislation on September 29 to extend the program—through the Higher Education Extension Act (H.R. 3594)—the Senate failed to do so, largely due to the opposition voiced by Chairman Alexander. In objecting to the Perkins loan extension, Senator Alexander continues to maintain his stance on simplifying the federal student aid system through the consolidation of federal loans into one unsubsidized loan. He stated that the Perkins loan is “not as effective a loan…as the other loans that we have,” in making it easier for students to apply for grants and loans. The expiration of the program means students are no longer able to receive new Perkins loans, but any students currently enrolled in college who received a Perkins loan before June 30, 2015 will be “grandfathered in” to the program for up to five years. Senate Democrats may attempt to bring the Perkins Loan program up for discussion during HEA reauthorization discussions this fall.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, October 7: House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on “Strengthening Head Start for Current and Future Generations.”
  • Wednesday, October 7: House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing on “The Rising Costs of Higher Education and Tax Policy.”
  • Thursday, October 8: House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on “Reviewing the Juvenile Justice System and How It Serves At-Risk Youth.”Secretary Duncan Resigns

Last Friday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he will be stepping down from his role at the Department of Education in December. Secretary Duncan said in an email announcing his resignation that he does not have any immediate plans lined up after he leaves the Department.

Dr. John King, who has been serving in the role of Deputy Secretary of Education since January 2015, has been selected to replace Duncan as the next Secretary of Education. Prior to his time at the Department, Dr. King served as the Commissioner of Education for the State of New York since 2011. He also previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of the State Education Department and as President of the University System of New York.

Regulatory Activity

Secretary Duncan Gives Speech on Investing in Education

In continuing with President Obama’s mission to reform the criminal justice system, on Wednesday, Secretary Duncan called on states and localities to invest more in teachers instead of prisons. Secretary Duncan stated, “we, as a country, must do more to change the odds” for young people, especially for men of color who are more likely to end up in prison than receive a bachelor’s degree.

In his speech from the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Secretary Duncan described an idea for what he called a “long-range effort” to reverse these negative trends and save the country billions of dollars each year. Specifically, he mentioned, “if our states and localities took just half the people convicted of nonviolent crimes and found paths for them other than incarceration, they would save upwards of $15 billion a year.” Furthermore, he suggested this savings could provide 50 percent average salary increases to teachers serving the highest-need schools and students. He cited multiple statistics and studies describing the economic losses resulting from the country’s state and local correctional spending and the missed economic opportunities from the country’s education achievement gap behind other top-performing nations. Additionally, he highlighted the administration’s Second Chance Pell program, aimed at helping young people already involved in the criminal justice system.

Secretary Duncan acknowledged that local leaders and educators know what’s best for their own communities and understand that education is one of many factors to consider in eliminating the “school to prison pipeline.” The country’s attitudes towards race and class also are part of the equation, he said, noting that Ferguson, Baltimore and New York, are just a few examples of communities that face serious challenges.