U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan Serving Wisconsin's 1st District

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan Serving Wisconsin's 1st District

U.S. House of Representatives

Education

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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.  Despite record taxpayer funded investment in public education by federal, state, and local governments over the past few decades, academic achievement has not seen a commensurate improvement, and the state of the American education system is sobering.  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 limited 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

The House-passed budget offers a sensible path forward to expand opportunity and chart a brighter future for the next generation. The current structure for K-12 programs at the Department of Education is fragmented and ineffective. Moreover, many programs are duplicative or are highly restricted, serving only a small number of students. Given the budget constraints, Congress must focus resources on programs that truly help students. The budget calls for reorganization and streamlining of K-12 programs and anticipates major reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was last reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act. The budget also recommends that the committees of jurisdiction terminate and reduce programs that are failing to improve student achievement and address the duplication among the 82 programs that are designed to improve teacher quality.

With regard to higher education, federal policy should increasingly be focused not solely on financial aid but on policies that maximize innovation and ensure a robust menu of institutional options from which students and their families are able to choose. Such policies should include reexamining the data made available to students to make certain they are armed with information that will assist them in making their postsecondary decisions. Additionally, the federal government should act to remove regulatory barriers in higher education that act to restrict flexibility and innovative teaching, particularly as it relates to non-traditional models such as online coursework.

This budget also puts the Pell Grant program 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 2016 and continuing through each year of the budget window. We need to reform the program so it can keep its promises. This budget brings Pell spending under control and makes sure aid helps the truly needy, not university administrators. At the same time, the proposed reforms ensure that we maintain the current maximum Pell award ($5,730) throughout each of the next ten years of the budget.

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.  Congress must make certain student financial assistance programs are sustainable, while also ensuring policies continue to help those most in need of assistance.

During the 112th Congress, the House passed H.R. 4348, MAP-21.  This bill, which provided funding for transportation infrastructure, included a one year freeze of the 3.4 percent rate for federally subsidized Stafford Loans, enabling students to keep their current student loan interest rate.  H.R. 4348 was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.  Without action by Congress, the interest rate on these loans would have risen to 6.8 percent.  Facing yet another interest rate hike on student loans on July 1, 2013, Representative John Kline introduced H.R. 1911 on May 9, 2013 during the 113th Congress.

Keeping in mind the challenges currently facing American students, H.R. 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, 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 – 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.  The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 reauthorized virtually all ESEA programs through Fiscal Year (FY) 2008.  Though the 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.  However, in place of those NCLB standards, states must instead agree to meet a set of principles established by the Department of Education, such as ensuring students are college- and career-ready upon leaving school and reducing duplicative and unnecessary efforts within schools, among others. 

On June 6, 2013, 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 bill would reauthorize the ESEA from FY 2014 through FY 2019.  Additionally, it would eliminate and consolidate more than 70 programs within the ESEA, would repeal federal-mandated school improvement programs and allow states to develop their own academic achievement standards, and continue support for the expansion and development of alternative school options, such as high quality charter schools, to ensure that families have additional choices for educating their children.  The House passed H.R. 5 on July 19, 2013, by a vote of 221 to 207.  I voted in support of this bill, which has now been referred to the Senate for further action.

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 the 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 charters 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 Bipartisan Budget Act and FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations

On October 15, 2013, Senator Patty Murray and I stood up in our respective chambers to offer a motion to create a bicameral conference committee to negotiate a federal budget by December 13, 2013.  Rather than continuing the trend of budgeting by brinkmanship with short-term spending bills, Senator Murray and I recognized the need for long-term bipartisan solutions to our nation’s most pressing fiscal problems.  On October 16, 2013, the motion to go to conference was adopted by unanimous consent in the House and Senate.

After nearly two months of deliberations among the members of the bicameral conference committee, Senator Patty Murray and I introduced the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 on December 10, 2013.  This is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a bipartisan budget resolution.  The Bipartisan Budget Act will provide $63 billion in sequester relief—split evenly between defense programs and other domestic priorities—in exchange for over $80 billion in savings elsewhere in the budget, resulting in over $20 billion in deficit reduction, all without raising taxes.  Additionally, it preserves 92 percent of the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) sequester cuts, or approximately $770 billion of the original BCA sequester savings, but does so by cutting spending in a smarter way.  It eliminates waste by ending the distribution of government checks to criminals and the deceased, puts an end to favoritism by cutting corporate welfare, and it makes real reforms to some of the true problems of autopilot spending.  And, it will also prevent another government shutdown next year.  

With the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed into law, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees introduced the Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill on January 14, 2014.  This legislation would combine the twelve individual spending bills that typically fund programs within the federal government at the level consistent with the Bipartisan Budget Act.  It would also ensure that medically retired armed forces personnel and survivor benefit plan recipients receive their full pensions.  Additionally, it provides no new or additional funding for the Affordable Care Act—commonly referred to as Obamacare.  It was passed in the House on January 15, 2014—with my support—by a vote of 359 to 67.  On January 16, 2014, it was passed by the Senate, and on January 17, 2014, President Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill into law.

H.R.803 – SKILLS Act

The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act, which passed the House with my support on March 15, 2013, consolidates duplicative job-training programs and provides states and local workforce investment boards with the necessary flexibility to put Americans in search of employment back to work. As the nation continues to face record levels of unemployment, the importance of a streamlined and accountable workforce-development system cannot be overstated. This legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions where it awaits debate.

The House-passed budget builds on the SKILLS Act by calling for consolidation of duplicative federal job-training programs into more targeted career scholarships. It also improves these programs’ accountability by tracking the type of training provided, the cost per trainee, employment after training, and whether the trainee secures a job in his or her preferred field. A streamlined approach with increased oversight and accountability will not only provide administrative savings, but improve access, choice and flexibility to enable workers and job-seekers to respond quickly and effectively to whatever specific career challenges they face. Moreover, the budget adopts a proposal from President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget to close chronically low-performing Job Corps centers. Such a reform will allow those funds to be better invested in centers with proven track records.

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 limits federal influence over state education programs and provides relief from the imposition of NCLB’s top-down reform policies.  I have signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Conclusion

As the 113th Congress begins to consider legislation that affects education, rest assured that I remain committed to ensuring we have an efficient educational system that makes appropriate use of taxpayer dollars as we aim to serve the individual needs of our children and students. Both Republicans and Democrats alike can and should share the bipartisan goal of ensuring that educational opportunities adequately prepare future generations of America to support not only themselves, but to contribute to the continued academic and economic success of our nation.

Additional Information

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