August 16, 2018

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Senate Begins Mark Up of 2018 LHHS Bill

Late yesterday, the Senate began debate of HR 6157, a minibus appropriations funding bill that includes federal funds for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education. This is the first time in nearly a decade the Senate has brought the LHHS bill to the floor. It has been partnered with defense in part to hopefully garner funding votes for the bill, anticipating that members of Congress (and the President?) would be hard pressed to deny funding to defense as a consequence of their preference to cut funding for USED.

When it comes to annual appropriations, AASA belongs to the Committee for Education Funding (CEF), a coalition of more than 115 organizations and institutions committed to increasing federal investment in education programs. CEF sent a letter to both the House and Senate in advance of their FY19 LHHS votes, thanking Congress for the important vote they took to raise the federal funding caps in FY19 and to urge the highest possible 302(b) allocation when the LHHS bill goes to conference.

Background: You'll recall that in early 2018, Congress voted to raise the funding caps for both FY18 and FY19. The post-sequester, pre-recession funding caps had been voted into place by the Budget Control Act of 2010. Congress has now voted three times to raise the funding caps (to revert the cuts of sequester): 2013, 2015, and 2018. The funding cap increase in 2018 was the largest of the three cap raises. It resulted in a funding increase of $3.9 billion for USED in FY18, a funding amount that feels like a windfall. (Let's keep it real, though: it in large part only feels like a windfall because federal policy and budget cuts had significantly reduced federal investment. If Congress had not increased the cap for FY18, the projected funding levels at USED would have been at or below where they were in FY08, meaning that this year's seniors would find federal support for their culminating education year at or below that which they had when they were in first grade. In fact, even with the sizeable increase for FY18, USED allocations remain below where they would be if Congress had done nothing  since FY12, just level funding USED and adjusting for inflation. So, this year's seniors experience their final K12 year at a funding level below what they felt in their final year of elementary school.) 

Back to the Update: For FY19, the non-defense discretionary (NDD) portion of the budget--which funds LHHS--increases just over $18 billion compared to FY18. If Congress were to extend the concept of parity it exercised in providing increases in both defense and non-defense discretionary funding to the smaller slices of NDD, then the LHHS slice of the bill would receive an increase of more than $5 billion, a mark missed by both the initial House and Senate proposals. The House bill levels funds LHHS, and the Senate committee--even with a $2 billion increase to NDD--still has a net cut in funding available to USED when they fully account for rescissions related to higher education Pell Grant funding. In short, both the House and Senate FY19 LHHS bills fail to provide a merely proportional increase to NDD in relation to the overall FY19 increase, and in turn set the stage for continued room for improvement in education funding. The CEF letter urges both the House and Senate to provide additional investments in education, increasing the allocation to the NDD and LHHS portions of the appropriations 'pie'.

Complicating matters further? Political pressure and posturing from the White House. President Trump issued a statement of administration policy (SAP). Though the SAP is non-committal--indicating neither support nor opposition for the Senate bill--it includes a long list of concerns specific to education funding. You'll recall that AASA was no fan of Trump's FY19 budget proposal, premised on the priority of privatization. His proposal would cut USED by 5% and eliminate/consolidate nearly 40 programs. His budget proposal was dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, with neither the House nor the Senate taking any serious or substantive cues from the President's draconian proposal when crafting their FY19 LHHS bills. The President's SAP harkens back to this already-resoundly rejected FY19 proposal, stating concern with 28 programs the Senate bill funds (That the President wants to cut, totaling $6 billion), as well as opposing a proposed increase for the Public Loan Service Forgiveness program. (For context, President Trump wants to completely eliminate the program, a move mirrored in the House proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; AASA opposes this proposal, as the funding programs in HEA are crucial supports for teacher candidates pursuing education certification being able to afford their degrees. The President's continued focus on gutting this program is a commitment to exacerbating wide-spread teacher shortages.) Predictably, the SAP expresses frustration for the lack of funding for privation and voucher schemas. 

We'll be monitoring the LHHS vote as it moves forward, though the real 'meat and potatoes' of the effort won't come until next week, when we see the full detail and scope of the filed amendments, which ones will get floor time, and which ones will be adopted. Stay tuned!

And in the meantime, should you need a talking point on FY19 to relay to your Congressional delegation:

 

  • Education cuts don't heal.
  • Thank your member of Congress for the funding cap increases for FY18 and FY19. Urge them to ensure that final allocations fund all the way to the cap, and to make sure that NDD and LHHS funding receive proportional increases in relation to overall allocations between FY18 and FY19.
  • Public dollars stay in public schools. Thank both your Representative and your Senators for their respective chambers' work to reject the privatization agenda and to instead focus available federal dollars on those equity driven formula programs that support students in public schools.

 

 

 

 

 


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