House Ed and Workforce Hearing on U.S. Dept. of Education Budget

The House Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss the Administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request on February 27, 2016, where Acing Secretary of Education John King (King) testified about the education priorities for the year. The proposed budget includes $69.4 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, an increase of $1.3 billion for 2017, and includes $139.7 billion in new mandatory spending and reforms over the next decade. King explained that the entire budget was based on three priorities: (1) Increasing equity and excellence in education; (2) providing support for teachers and school leaders, and (3) expanding access, affordability, and completion in higher education. Since the hearing about specific programs in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is being held Thursday, the only specific mention of ESSA programs was Rep. Bonamici’s (D-OR) question about the $500 million request for Title IV, Part A––the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program. Big topics that came up during the question and answer portion of the hearing were the Administration’s funding requests for new programs, higher education, open educational resources, career and technical education, and teacher recruitment and support.


Witness List

  • Dr. John B. King, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Education


Opening Statements

Chairman Kline (R-MN) opened the hearing by congratulating King about his recent nomination to serve as the next Secretary of Education. He stated that the two things that the Committee had learned from their efforts to improve k-12 education was that Americans don’t want top-down, prescriptive approaches and that working together across the aisle produced practical results that reflect both parties’ principles. He went on to say that he was disappointed in the President’s budget because it includes new programs that “would provide the department with tens of billions of dollars in new spending to create and administer new entitlement programs, as well as numerous new competitive grant programs that put the Department in charge of picking winners and losers.” He further stated that these proposals “will ultimately divert limited taxpayer resources away from existing services that are vitally important to low- and middle-income families” and said there was a better way. Chairman Kline concluded his opening remarks by saying he looks forward to working with the King on priorities that deserve attention including “expanding access to an affordable college education, improving career and technical education, and the successful implementation of our recent reforms to K-12 education.”

Ranking Member Scott (D-VA) began by noting his displeasure that this year represented the first time in ten years that Congress refused to meet to discuss the President’s overall budget request. He quickly switched to a positive tone, stating he believes King’s year at the Department is going to be particularly impactful, given the recent passage of ESSA and the year of transition to the new law ahead. Scott said that this year’s budget proposal prioritizes early education, builds on the bipartisan success of ESSA, invests in teachers who are critical to the nation’s education outcomes, and expands access to free community college. However, he felt that more needs to be done to increase Pell awards. Scott wrapped up his remarks by comparing last year’s budget, which contained $103 billion in education cuts, with this year’s proposal, which he said “strikes the right balance by investing in crucial programs.”


Witness Testimony

Testifying for the first time in his official capacity as Acting Secretary of the Department of Education, King began his testimony talking about the 2017 budget request, which he said “builds on our progress and reflects key developments over the past year, most significantly, enactment of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).” He explained that the Administration “worked hard to align the 2017 Budget with the reauthorized ESEA and to allocate resources to support the new law’s focus on education equity, support for teachers, and well-rounded instruction” and that the budget contained robust funding for core components of ESSA.

As for the overall budget, King stated that it “builds on the progress of increased successes, builds on formula programs, ensures young learners get a strong start, capitalizes on effective teacher and school leadership, makes higher education more affordable, and drives innovations for Pell grants.” He said that despite this progress and because there are still places where schools, districts, and states are not living up to their promise to provide a high quality education, the budget needed to include extra supports for local and state efforts to boost education. While he did not go into the specific proposed funding levels for all of these programs in his oral testimony, King’s written testimony contains the Administration’s specific requests. Included in the written testimony is the $500 million for ESSA’s Title IV, Part A newly authorized Student Support and Academic Enrichment block grant, which King states is “nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2016 for the antecedent programs” but due to the cap on discretionary funds, the Department was not able to fully fund at the $1.65 authorized level.


Question and Answer Portion

Republican members, including Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee Chairman Rokita (R-IN) expressed concern with the funding requests for new programs and increased mandatory spending. Kline (R-MN) said he was concerned about the fact that “while the budget is filled with new program funding requests and increases to mandatory spending,” it contains little to no increased funding for IDEA, which the government has promised to provide 40% of funds but has only provided 14% for the last several years. King explained that the budget focuses on the three aforementioned priorities, which the Department felt would best serve all students given the budget cap restraints, including those with disabilities. Rep. Rokita (R-IN), who also serves on the budget committee, drilled King about the increased discretionary and mandatory spending levels, asking: “Did you or did you not help write a budget that claims to be within the spending caps, yet includes $6 billion in discretionary requests and over $127 billion in mandatory spending requests?” King explained that the entire Administration was involved in putting together a responsible budget that provides a return on investment by enhancing education.

Specific to funding for ESSA programs, Rep. Bonamici (D-OR) asked King about the Department’s $500 million request for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program despite the $1.65 billion authorized level. She explained that this program was designed to protect the many programs that were folded into the block grant and wanted to know what the potential harms will be if the formula grant program as authorized is made competitive through appropriations language. Bonamici noted that her office, along with Reps. Clark (D-MA), Curbelo (R-FL), and Stefanik (R-NY) are circulating a Dear Colleague letter asking for a full $1.65 billion appropriation for the block grant. Rep. Wilson (D-FL) echoed the concerns by explaining that dropout prevention programs are folded into this block grant. King responded that while the Department fully supports the programs in the block grant meant to serve schools––whether its making students safe or providing a well-rounded education––he noted the Department was under funding constraints and a competitive grant program could better target funds. His written testimony states: “Within the discretionary caps, we were unable to fund this new block grant at the fully authorized level, and thus have proposed that States have broader flexibility in how to target these funds to ensure that the funds provided to LEAs are robust enough to make a meaningful impact on students.”

There were a multitude of concerns raised about higher education, including ranking member Scott’s (D-VA), Rep. Fudge’s (D-OH), and Rep. Adams’ (D-NC) concerns about funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). In addition Reps. Roe (R-TN), Walberg (R-MI), Foxx (R-VA) and Stefanik (R-NY) expressed concerns about the college scorecards, high interest rates, and federal overreach when it comes to higher education regulations. King repeatedly stated that there were a number of higher education initiatives that support HBCUs and offered to provide written answers to Foxx’s more specific questions regarding federal overreach in regulating higher education. Rep. Polis (D-CO) stated that he knows the Department has said that open educational resources were a priority and asked that the Department plans to do to make college and k-12 textbooks more affordable. King explained that there is an opportunity for savings and sharing with the wide range and multiple efforts around the country to lower the cost of college textbooks and cited the regulation that just closed, which would require federal grantees to make their resources free.

A handful of members inquired into funding for very specific programs. Reps Thompson (R-PA), Heck (R-NV), and Fudge (D-OH) all asked about CTE program funding. Thompson’s main concern was that the budget proposed $75 million for a new competitive grant program rather than increasing funding for the state grant program. Fudge suggested that this new program might not meet the needs of the entire workforce because of its competitive nature. King explained that this program is meant to “cultivate innovation and be able to respond to the demands of the new modern workforce.” He also said that these conversations point to the need for a reauthorization of CTE, which Rep. Heck said he hoped to see soon.

Representatives Wilson (D-FL) and Davis (D-CA) had specific questions about how the budget supports teachers and recruits diverse teachers desperately needed in schools. King explained that there are multiple programs in the budget to recruit diverse and well-trained teachers including the teacher incentive program and the use of Title II funds to enhance the teacher workforce. Addressing the concerns about teacher shortages and lack of respect for the teaching profession, King said that we must change our attitudes about teachers, as they are critical to student success. As for the how the budget request supported these efforts, he cited the $2.8 billion RESPECT: Best Job in the World program to attract and retain effective teachers, the $125 million for the teacher pathways program to create and expand high-quality pathways into the teaching profession, and the $10 million Teach to Lead competitive grant that provides funds to develop innovative reforms.

Kline concluded the hearing by stating he looks forward to working with him on ESSA implementation and diving into the issues at the Committee’s next scheduled ESSA implementation hearing.

Source: Bernstein Strategy Group

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