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A well educated workforce is one of the key drivers of strong economic growth.  In the face of global and technological advances that have made the modern economy more complex and dynamic, it is imperative that Americans have access to a high-quality education.  Over the last 40 years, our nation’s elementary and secondary education system has seen a 300 percent increase in federal funding.  However, despite record taxpayer-funded investments in public education, academic achievement has not seen a commensurate improvement, and the state of the American education system is sobering.  Currently, only 38 percent of high school seniors read at grade level and a mere 26 percent are proficient in math.  Stagnant student achievement levels and exploding deficits have demonstrated that massive amounts of taxpayer funding and top-down bureaucratic interventions are not the way to provide America’s students with a high-quality education.  It is imperative, then, that we allocate our financial resources effectively and efficiently to improve education in this country and ensure the continued success of future generations of Americans.

Education in the House-passed Budget

Representative Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee in the 114th Congress, introduced the House Republicans’ Fiscal Year 2016 Budget, “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America,” on March 20, 2015. 

This budget places a strong emphasis on returning the power to make education-related decisions to state and local governments, families, and students, who oftentimes know what is best for our nation’s children, rather than distant federal bureaucrats.  It eliminates unsuccessful and duplicative K-12 programs in order to cut costs, increase efficiency, and ensure effectiveness.  And, it promotes educational choices that provide for greater flexibility and innovation. 

With regard to higher education, this resolution envisions a framework that uses federal dollars more resourcefully, accounts for student loans in a way that reflects their true costs, and invests in a sustainable higher education system that benefits students, institutions of higher education, and taxpayers.  As it stands, our nation’s current higher education system enables skyrocketing tuition and presents too many students with the difficult choice of taking on crippling debt or leaving school entirely.  

Additionally, it makes changes to the Pell Grant program to put it on a sustainable path.  Congressional Democrats and the President have pushed Pell Grant spending to unsustainable rates.  The Congressional Budget Office reports the program will face fiscal shortfalls starting in Fiscal Year 2017 and continuing through each year of the budget window.  We need to reform the program now so it can keep its promises to students. 

In an effort to do so, this budget does two things.  First, it targets Pell Grants to students who need the most assistance.  Second, it adopts a sustainable Pell Grant maximum-award level.  The Department of Education attributes 25 percent of recent program growth to the $619 increase in the maximum award done under the Obama administration’s stimulus bill that took effect in the 2009-2010 academic year.  This budget freezes the maximum award for the 2015-2016 award year throughout the budget window.  The Pell Grant program is critically important to our nation’s neediest students, and to ensure its continuation, reforms to the program must be made. 

This budget came before the House on March 26, 2015, and was passed with my support by a vote of 228 to 199.  I was encouraged that my colleagues chose to support a budget that would offer the American people a brighter future.  

Student Loan Rates

Decades of policies supported by both political parties have resulted in students racking up dangerous levels of student loan debt.  The goal of federal financial student aid is to make college more affordable; however, the federal government's policies are a contributing factor to the core structural challenge in higher-education financing.  While students continue to chase skyrocketing tuition with ever higher levels of borrowing, economists such as Richard Vedder have testified before Congress that the structure of the federal government's aid programs is a key driver of higher tuition costs.  In other words, some economists argue that the more funding Congress provides for student loans and grants, the more colleges and universities raise tuition.   Congress must make certain student financial assistance programs are sustainable, while also ensuring policies continue to help those most in need of assistance.

Keeping in mind the challenges currently facing American students, Representative John Kline introduced H.R. 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, on May 9, 2013, during the 113th Congress.  This legislation would amend Title IV of the Higher Education At of 1965 to set the annual interest rate on Direct Stafford loans and Direct Unsubsidized Stafford loans at the rate on high-yield 10-year Treasury notes plus 2.05 percent, while capping that rate at 8.25 percent.  It would also set the annual interest rate on Direct PLUS loans at the rate on high-yield 10-year Treasury notes plus 4.6 percent, while capping that rate at 10.5 percent.  In doing so, student loan interest rates would be tied to market-based interest rates and American students would finally have a long-term solution to Congress's ongoing interest rate brinkmanship.  H.R. 1911 was passed in the House by a vote of 221 to 198 – with my support – on May 23, 2013. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take up H.R. 1911 for a vote before the July 1, 2013 deadline.  As a result, the student loan interest rate jumped from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013.

However, on July 24, 2013, the Senate held a vote on H.R. 1911, which passed by a vote of 81 to 18.  Included in this version of the bill was a provision to retroactively lower the rates for those impacted by the interest rate hike.  On July 31, 2013, the House passed the updated version of H.R. 1911—with my support—by a vote of 392 to 31.  I am glad Congress was able to reach a compromise on this important issue and arrive at a long-term solution to help out our nation's students.  I remain committed to expanding educational opportunity and strengthening student loan programs to ensure that they are available for future generations of young Americans.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first enacted in 1965, is the primary source of federal funding for K-12 education programs.  That said, approximately 12 percent of elementary and secondary education funding comes from the federal government.  The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 reauthorized virtually all ESEA programs through Fiscal Year (FY) 2008.  Though ESEA has not be reauthorized, the Obama Administration and the Department of Education have continued to offer these benefits to states while waiving some of the requirements contained within NCLB, such as academic accountability standards and teacher qualifications.  In place of those NCLB standards, states must instead agree to meet a set of principles established by the Department of Education.  As a result, states are beholden to a set of federal requirements that were crafted without congressional approval.

On February 3, 2015, Representative John Kline, who serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced H.R 5, the Student Success Act.  This legislation would replace the current national accountability scheme, which is based on high stakes tests, with state-led accountability systems.  And in doing so, would return responsibility for measuring student and school performance to states and school districts.  It would also ensure parents have the information they need to hold local schools accountable, consolidate more than 65 ineffective and duplicative programs into a Local Academic Flexible Grant, protect state and local autonomy by preventing the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other common assessments, strengthen existing efforts to improve student performance among targeted student populations, and empower parents with  more school choice options by continuing support for magnet schools and expanding charter school opportunities.  On July 8, 2015, the House passed H.R. 5 by a vote of 218 to 213 with my support.  On July 16, 2015, on a bipartisan basis, the Senate passed S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, an original piece of legislation which would also reauthorize ESEA, by a vote of 81 to 17.

Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act

On April 1, 2014, Chairman Kline introduced H.R. 10, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act.  This bill would streamline and modernize the existing charter school programs currently authorized under ESEA into one.  It would promote state efforts to develop and expand charter schools, improve the Charter School Program by authorizing the replication and expansion of successful charter models, support the sharing of best practices between charter and traditional public schools, and encourage charter schools to reach out to at-risk students and students with disabilities.  It was passed in the House with broad bipartisan support on May 9, 2014.  I voted in favor of final passage.  The Senate did not take up H.R. 10 for consideration during the 113th Congress.

Expanding Opportunity in America

While I was chairman of the House Budget Committee, I introduced a discussion draft entitled, “Expanding Opportunity in America” in August of 2014.  This draft is a set of ideas that are meant to start a conversation regarding what federal programs work to encourage economic opportunity, and what programs fail to accomplish their intended purposes.  A key tenet of this proposal was focused on improving access to high quality education. 

The federal government can expand opportunity by expanding access to education.  But far too often, it restricts that access through tuition inflation.  In regards to early education, this draft would incorporate the Child Care and Development Fund into an Opportunity Grant, convert Head Start into a block grant, and test competing models of early education.  For elementary and secondary education, it would recommend the portability of federal dollars, consolidate fragmented programs into a flexible block grant, and empower states to determine which schools need assistance and what kind of assistance they need.  In relation to higher education, this proposal would call for the simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, modernize and reform the Pell program, cap federal loans to graduate students and parents, expand funding for federal Work-Study programs, build stronger partnerships with post-secondary institutions, and reform the accreditation process.     

H.R.803 – SKILLS Act

Representative Virginia Foxx introduced H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act on February 25, 2013.  This bill would amend the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to revise requirements and reauthorize appropriations for workforce investment systems for job training, employment services, adult education, and family literacy education programs.  It would eliminate 35 ineffective and duplicative programs, including 26 identified in a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.  It would create a Workforce Investment Fund to serve as a single source of support for workers, employers, and job seekers, and would require that state and local leaders use a set of common performance measures for services offered to workers.  It was passed in the House—with my support—by a vote of 215 to 202 on March 15, 2013.  It was amended and passed in the Senate on June 25, 2014, and then was passed in the House—with my support—on July 9, 2014.  H.R. 803 was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, 2014.

A-PLUS

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) first passed in Congress in 1965. The most recent reauthorization – No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – increased federal funding for K-12 education and established new requirements for state and local school systems nationwide. Despite spending nearly $2 trillion on this initiative, there have been few demonstrable improvements to educational outcomes.

Reintroduced by Representative Bishop in the 113th Congress, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act would allow states to opt out of NCLB, giving them greater flexibility to appropriately meet state educational needs.  With the approval of at least two of three state entities (Governor, State Legislature, state education agency), states would enter into a five-year performance agreement with the Secretary of Education and would be required to demonstrate uniform increased academic achievement as well as provide detailed reports of performance results for students from all demographics.  A-PLUS would limit federal influence over state education programs and provide relief from the imposition of NCLB’s top-down reform policies.  During the 113th Congress, I was a co-sponsor of this legislation. 

Conclusion

As the 114th Congress begins to consider legislation that affects education, rest assured that I remain committed to ensuring we have an efficient educational system that makes intelligent use of taxpayer dollars as we aim to serve the individual needs of our students.  Both Republicans and Democrats can and should share the bipartisan goal of ensuring that educational opportunities adequately prepare future generations of America to support not only themselves, but also to contribute to the continued academic and economic success of our nation.

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