Government Relations Report: Year-end Wrap Up

On December 18th, the President signed the “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016,” (HR 2029) which funds the entire federal government for all of fiscal year (FY) 2016. Passage of the bill followed on an agreement between the Administration and Congressional leaders to raise the caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending by approximately $80 billion over the next two years.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the agreement “effectively eliminates about 90 percent of the sequestration cuts for non-defense discretionary programs in fiscal year 2016, and about 60 percent of them in 2017, while also easing sequestration for defense by equal dollar amounts in both years – and thereby providing more substantial relief from sequestration than the Murray-Ryan deal provided …” However, “NDD [non-defense discretionary] funding under this deal would still be low in historical terms. … NDD funding for 2016 would be 12 percent below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation. By 2017, NDD spending would fall to its lowest level on record as a share of the economy, with data back to 1962.”

The agreement puts in place new caps for fiscal year 2017. This means that Congress now knows exactly how much money it will have to appropriate next fiscal year. The Appropriations Committees still need to divide that money across the various subcommittees and the subcommittees need to decide how much to allocate to each individual program.

The Budget agreement gave the Appropriators the opportunity to revisit their earlier decisions regarding FY 2016 funding. As we noted when the bill was released, the Consolidated Appropriations Act included more funds for adult education than both the House or Senate originally provided, and more funding for state grants than the President requested in his FY 2016 budget. In its bill the House proposed $568.9 million for Adult Basic and Literacy Education and $10.2 million for National Leadership Activities. The Senate proposed $540 million and $7.7 million, respectively. The final package funded Adult Basic Education State grants at $581.9 million and National Leadership Activities at $13.7 million. This is an increase of $13 million or 2.2 percent over last year.

This activity is directly attributable to the sustained efforts of State Directors and other champions in the field to educate their elected representatives on the importance of Adult Education.

Please send letters to your Members of Congress and Senators thanking them for their support of Adult Education. It is important to let them know that we appreciate their efforts on our behalf.

Career Pathway Programs:

As we also noted previously, the Consolidated Appropriations Act amended the Higher Education Act to define a “Career Pathway Program” as it is defined under WIOA — as “a program that combines rigorous and high-quality education, training, and other services that:

(A) aligns with the skill needs of industries in the economy of the State or regional economy involved;
(B) prepares an individual to be successful in any of a full range of secondary or postsecondary education options, including apprenticeships registered under the Act of August 16, 1937 (commonly known as the ‘National Apprenticeship Act’; 50 Stat. 664, chapter 663; 29 U.S.C. 50 et. Seq.) (referred to individually in this Act as an ‘apprenticeship’, except in section 171);
(C) includes counseling to support an individual in achieving the individual’s education and career goals;
(D) includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster;
(E) organizes education, training, and other services to meet the particular needs of an individual in a manner that accelerates the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable;
(F) enables an individual to attain a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and at least 1 recognized postsecondary credential; and
(G) helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster.”
(HR 2029, pages 397-398)

Strengthening Education through Research Act (ESRA):

Among its last activities in 2015, the Senate passed a bill (S. 227) to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) of 2002, and sent it to the House. Unfortunately, the House did not take up the bill before it adjourned but we hope that it will do so early in 2016.

It has taken almost 18 months to get to this point: Back on April 8, 2014, the House Education and the Workforce Committee first considered an ESRA reauthorization bill of their own, HR 4366, (the Strengthening Education through Research Act). The bill, which had bipartisan support, was adopted by voice vote.

The House bill was silent on adult education, but we worked with Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to insert strengthened adult education language into the bill when the Senate considered it. In September 2014, the Senate HELP Committee, on a bi-partisan basis, adopted many pieces of the Reed proposal, supported by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

The Senate ESRA bill is substantively important because it adds adult education to the bill’s priorities:

  • The bill makes it clear that the Institute of Education Sciences‘ mission, which is to “provide national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education” includes adult education, and adds “improving access to, opportunities for, and completion of postsecondary education and adult education” to the list of the Institute’s priorities.
  • It also adds “State leaders in adult education” to the list of those who may serve on the National Board for Education Sciences, which advises and provides input to the Institute Director.
  • It adds adult literacy data to the list of types of statistical data to be collected, reported, analyzed, and disseminated by the National Center for Education Statistics, and adds “access to, and opportunity for, adult education and literacy activities” to the list of topics that the Center is supposed to collect data on.

The bill is important politically, also, because it validates our strategy of trying to more closely connect adult education to other, relevant education programs. We are looking to do similar things with the reauthorization of both the Perkins Act and the Higher Education Act.

In remarks on the Senate Floor, Senator Reed’s cited NCSDAE for helping to develop the Senate language. An email we received from Sen. Reed’s Education staff person at the time stated “On the whole, we have much more to hang our hats on than we had before. I see it as a victory. Thanks for all your work. Your mobilization made this possible.

The Year Ahead:

Because 2016 is an election year, time will be short.

It is important to note that Congress will again attempt to pass individual appropriations bills. Its task will be made easier because overall funding limits for FY 2017 have already been determined. On the other hand, those spending limits will also make it challenging for Congress to significantly increase funding for programs in FY 2017 unless they decrease funding for other programs, or find other savings. Nevertheless, we will take the opportunity this year to again make our case for additional funding for adult education programs.

Having demonstrated its capacity to enact contentious legislation like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorized No Child Left Behind, the Congress may well complete action on ESRA, which is decidedly less controversial. It may also take up Career and Technical Education and Higher Education. These will also present us with opportunities.

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