It has been relatively quiet on the domestic front in Washington as Congress has finally closed the books on Fiscal 2018 spending and begun to turn its attention to FY 2019.
On May 22, Secretary DeVos testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee.
In her prepared testimony, the Secretary repeated her challenge to all parties to "rethink school." She reported on the progress made in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and reported that she has approved 46 plans. She also pointed to regulatory relief achieved in the K-12 space and noted that rulemaking had begun in the higher education area. She reported that work to draft new proposed regulations on sexual harassment and misconduct is well underway. She also pointed to changes being made to modernize Federal Student Aid (FSA) technology and customer service and promised further improvements in the future. She also said, "this Administration is committed to swift action to keep our nation's students and teachers safe at school," and reported that the Federal Commission on School Safety is interested in hearing from anyone "who is focused on identifying and elevating solutions."
While she did not refer specifically to adult education, she did say
"We must also rethink education after high school not to be a singular destination, but a journey with a multitude of possible and valid paths to take. We must embrace that a modern economy and society demands a model of lifelong learning, where education does not end with the movement of a tassel. We must put to rest the notion that a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success. Students have no shortage of dreams and aspirations, and there should be no shortage of educational pathways to help them get there."
Read the secretary's full statement
. You can view the webcast video of the full committee hearing
FY 2019 Appropriations
FY 2019 is the second year of a bipartisan budget agreement that substantially raised the caps on both non-defense discretionary and defense spending. The agreement will doubtless make the appropriations process go more smoothly, but there will be inevitable bumps in the road.
These bumps include the fact that this is an election year for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Even if there is relative agreement about funding levels, there will be arguments about issues like funding Planned Parenthood and building the border wall as members seek to use the process for political advantage.
Also, we are well into Fiscal Year 2018 and Congress is just starting the process. This will make finishing the bills by the end of the Fiscal Year (September 30) virtually impossible.
The conventional wisdom is that despite its best efforts to govern according to "regular order" in which each of the 12 appropriations bills is considered by its subcommittee, then at the full committee level, and then sent to the House or Senate floor for a vote, Congress will run out of time and must pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government past the election. Then there will be a "lame duck" session in which Congress will take up spending issues again and resolve funding for FY 2019.
Further complicating matters, three current appropriations subcommittee chairs are running to be chair of the full committee (or ranking member, if the Democrats take control of the House) in the next Congress. The election takes place at the Republican Conference, whose priorities traditionally are not in the Labor-HHS bill. This contest might well influence how the committee puts its bills together and how each subcommittee chair proceeds to consider this bill.
While the Senate is likely to allocate all of the non-defense spending allowed under the budget agreement, the House may choose to spend less than the caps permit, making negotiations between the two Houses more complicated.
Finally, the President has threatened to veto appropriations bills and shut down the government if the bills are not to his liking.
House appropriations subcommittees are beginning to consider FY19 bills. Traditionally, Congress begins with the easiest bills and leaves the most difficult ones until last. The Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds adult education, is inevitably one of the most controversial and will be among the last bills to be considered.
Historically, the appropriations committees publish the 12 subcommittee allocations at the beginning of the process. These allocations are effectively ceilings on what each subcommittee can spend.
You may recall that as a result of the budget agreement, the cap on non-defense discretionary spending increases by $18 billion above the FY 2018 level. But, because of some anomalies, there will be less than $18 billion more to spend. For example, the FY 2019 appropriation for Veterans health care has already been decided, meaning that there is $4.5 billion less to spend. Also, other policy changes have cost $2-3 billion. Thus, the effective cap is only about $11 or $12 billion above the FY 2018 cap. Also, we need to note that funding for the National Institutes of Health has increased by about $7 billion over the last three fiscal years and it is commonly assumed that this year's Labor-HHS bill will include a similar increase.
The House has indicated that the FY 2019 allocation to the Labor-HHS subcommittee will be $177 billion, the same as in FY 2018. Senator Blunt has indicated that the Senate subcommittee allocation will be $2 billion above the FY 2018 level.
Appropriations staff is tamping down expectations for increases and are instead talking about the committees' desires to maintain funding at current levels and to have "targeted increases."
We will need to continue to build on the progress we made to secure increased funding for adult education. Our Educate and Elevate campaign to reach elected officials had 77,000 contacts at last count.
Our goal for funding adult education is $664.5 million, the level authorized in WIOA for FY 2019. Please use the Ignite software at COABE.org to write your Senator or Member of Congress to urge that adult education be funded at $664.5 million, the level authorized for FY 2019 in WIOA.
It now appears that both the House and Senate subcommittees will meet to consider (or "mark-up") their bills next month. The Senate mark-up is scheduled for the week of June 25. The House date has not been announced.
Prospects for Funding Increases
We have been meeting with Senate and House staff to discuss adult education funding issues. It is interesting how many staff report hearing from constituents in the private sector about labor shortages in their states or districts and who see adult education as part of the solution to this problem. Virtually everyone has asked for success stories to help bolster the case for increased funding. Please send success stories to your Senators and Representatives.
You may have read that the President signed and criticized the omnibus appropriations bill, vowing never to sign another such bill.
Earlier this week, the Administration proposed a so-called "rescission" package of about $15 billion to capture funds that had been previously appropriated but have not yet been spent. None of the funds proposed for recapture are part of the FY 2018 appropriations package. All are from FY 2017 or earlier.
About half the funds come from the Children's Health Insurance Program. Other funds are from transportation accounts and AmeriCorps, among other programs. These accounts are frozen, pending Congressional consideration of the package.
This rather arcane process is intended to prevent Presidents from "impounding" money that Congress appropriated by having Congress vote on the proposals within 45 legislative days. If Congress does not approve, the funding is again available to be spent.
What is unusual about this package is its size. Press reports suggest that the proposal is likely to pass the House but not the Senate (where passage requires only 51 votes). Leadership in the Senate, as well as House appropriators, does not support the idea.
There are persistent rumors that the Administration will send up additional rescission packages in the future, which would have the effect of freezing spending on those accounts, at least temporarily.
There are rumors that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Committee's Ranking Democrat have begun to discuss a CTE reauthorization. You may recall that a CTE bill passed the House but has been stuck in the Senate because Murray and Alexander disagreed about how much authority the Secretary of Education should have.
While Congress is capable of acting quickly when it decides to, it is beginning to look like such potentially controversial bills as the Higher Education Act reauthorization will not get done this year.
Finally, on Friday, May 18, the House failed to pass the Agriculture Committee's version of the Farm bill. This is relevant to us because the Farm bill funds the SNAP program and the bill proposed significant new work requirements for SNAP recipients. It is possible that the House Republican leadership will attempt to bring the Farm bill back next week for another vote. Experts believe that the House bill cannot pass the Senate and are awaiting a Senate bill.