Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congress acts on appropriations

There was much activity in Washington over the weekend. Congress was working hard crafting a compromise bill to hold to the President's overall budget. A $517 billion appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008 was released late Sunday night and combines the remaining 11 appropriations bills that were not finished into one large omnibus appropriations bill.

Under the compromise bill, the Perkins Loans and LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership) would get roughly $1.1 million less than the FY2007 spending level, and spending on TRIO and Gear Up programs, which prepare low-income students for college, would be frozen at FY2007 levels.

Spending on the Pell Grant program would be cut by $69 million from the maximum Pell Grant amount of $4,310 to $4,241. However the actual award would rise to $4,731 once funds from the budget reconciliation bill enacted in September are included. The budget reconciliation bill provided enough money for a $490 increase to the maximum award contained in the new spending bill for 2008. The increase is cautioned with the fact that it might not be long-term. Many higher education advocates are concerned about what might happen in five years, when the mandatory money runs out.

Many folks have been wondering what would happen with the earmarks in the spending bills given the latest sentiment over the last couple years about members of Congress directing funding back to specific projects/programs in their districts. However, earmarks were largely contained in the omnibus bill and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system made it into the bill for six of the system’s 12 earmark requests. Here are the six earmarks that made it into the bill;

1. Baccalaureate Nursing Program - Bemidji State University - $243,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
2. Engineering Technology - Bemidji State University - $341,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
3. Minnesota Center for Renewable Energy - Minnesota State University, Mankato and Minnesota West Community and Technical College - $500,000 (Energy-Water)
4. Minnesota National Child Protection Training Center - Winona State University - $775,000 (Commerce-Justice-Science)
5. Veterans Re-entry Education Program - $1,119,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)
6. Workplace Diversity Needs in Urban Nursing - Metropolitan State University - $487,000 (Labor-HHS-Education)

Other provisions in the bill include $2 million for two new programs to help colleges train more graduates in math, science, and foreign languages to become schoolteachers. This falls far short of the $276 million that Congress authorized for those programs this summer in the America Competes Act. In addition, the bill would expand federal support for training health-care workers. The budget for nursing education would increase by 4.3 percent, to $156 million.

The National Science Foundation would receive $6.07 billion in FY2008, an increase of only 2.5 percent over last year's budget, or less than the projected rate of inflation.

The bill also contains a provision that would prohibit the Department of Education from issuing regulations on accreditation until after Congress passes a bill to renew the Higher Education Act. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who is hoping to introduce new measures of "student-learning outcomes" into accreditation, has agreed not to act until a reauthorization bill is enacted.

The House began debate yesterday evening and the Senate is expected to take it up shortly. The bill is expected to pass both the House and Senate. It remains to be seen whether the President will veto the bill. We will continue to keep you updated. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Federal Budget, Emergency Prepardness and High School Redesign

Here is a brief update on where things stand with the Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill. As you know, in November, Congress passed the bill which contained $3 billion worth of increases to education programs. President Bush vetoed it because it was over his budget request, and the House failed to override the President's veto by just two votes.

Currently, Congress is working on one large omnibus appropriations bill, combining the 11 unfinished spending bills (including Labor, HHS, Education), which would split the difference between the President’s budget request and the Congressional bills that were vetoed. Congressional staff has indicated that they will account for the difference by scaling back increases to programs such as No Child Left Behind, Pell Grants, IDEA, and other programs that received increases, in addition to removing some earmarks, but would not make cuts to programs from their FY2007 levels if they have not already done so.

The House is expected to start action on the bill today, with hopes of getting the bill to the Senate on Wednesday and having a final bill passed by the end of the year. Stay tuned.

State Update

Here in Minnesota, the Legislative Coordinating Commission, Preparedness for Terrorism and Disaster Working Group, is meeting today at 3:00 in Room 318 of the State Capitol to look at Minnesota's emergency and disaster-related programs and plans, areas of improvement, and opportunities for collaboration. Included on the agenda will be folks from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to talk about what we are doing in the area of emergency response.

Tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. in Room 200 of the State Office Building, representatives from the St. Cloud Technical College's Discovery Academy will present to the House E-12 Education Committee's High School Redesign Working Group. St. Cloud Technical College's initiative provides an opportunity for high school students to take college courses in a high school setting.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Legislative Update-December 3

Federal Update

With Congress approaching the end of the first session of the 110th Congress and gearing up for the second session convening in January, it's time to bring everyone up to speed on where things sit.

If you're keeping track of the 12 appropriation bills Congress needs to act on, your scorecard should now read one bill down (signed by the President) and only 11 more appropriation bills to go. Both the House and Senate passed the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill and it has been signed by the President. There has been work done on the other appropriations bills but nothing has else has earned the President's signature. Congress is about $20 billion in spending above the President's budget. As you know, the President vetoed the Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Bill that was $10 billion above the President's budget, and the House, while close, did not have enough votes to override the veto.

So what happens now? Options include one massive omnibus spending bill made up of the 11 remaining appropriations bills. Democrats have also talked about meeting the administration half-way and cutting $10 billion out of the spending bills. This would mean a $3.5 billion cut to the Labor, HHS, Education Bill. Also it is likely that we will see a continuing resolution for the remainder of fiscal year 2008 that will keep spending at current levels until bills are acted upon. It remains to be seen if the earmarks in the Labor, HHS, Education bill will survive. As a reminder, the following are earmarks in the bill;

- $1.15 million for the Veteran's Re-entry Education program
- $350,000 for the Engineering Technology center at Bemidji State University
- $500,000 for Metropolitan State University nursing education
- $250,000 for nurse training program at Bemidji State University

On a different note, we may see tax legislation enacted this month that affects higher education. A tax extenders package includes the extension of the student tuition tax deduction as well as the IRA charitable rollover. The House passed the bill with these one year extensions, so it is now in the Senate's hands.

Budget Reconciliation - College Cost Reduction and Access Act

The budget reconciliation process is used to find savings in mandatory spending, and higher education was a big recipient of those redirected savings. As you know, Congress passed the Budget Reconciliation bill, or the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (HR 2669), and it was signed by the President into law late September. This legislation amends Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA), using funding from the savings in lender subsidies and redirecting those savings toward the Pell Grant program, as well as making significant changes in other parts of the HEA that impact federal costs, student benefits, and institutional aid. For more detail on this bill, please refer to the October 10, 2007 update by clicking here.

Higher Education Act

The Higher Education Act reauthorization bill includes program authorizations for Pell Grants, student loans, TRIO, GEAR UP, Strengthening Institutions, international education, and more. The House passed their version of the Higher Education Act (HEA), H.R. 4137, out of committee on November 15. You may recall, the Senate passed its version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation back in July. The bill now needs to be taken up on the House floor which could happen anytime, and once passed it will head to conference committee to iron out the differences. After an agreement is reached, the bill then needs to be signed by the President.

Just a reminder that Congress has passed yet another extension of the HEA reauthorization that will expire on March 31, 2008. It is expected that this extension will give Congress enough time to finalize a reauthorization.

I think it is important to note, that while things are moving slowly and the Labor, HHS, Education bill was vetoed, higher education has received more attention in Congress than it has in a very long time. It will be important to watch what the 2008 presidential candidates say about higher education as we head into an election year and prioritize higher education to be as big a campaign issue as it was for the congressional election in 2006.

State Update

At the state level, 49 of 50 states are headed into a budget deficit, and Minnesota is not the lone state standing. On Friday, the Department of Finance announced a $373 million deficit projected for FY2008-09. Expectations of further weakening in the housing sector, higher oil prices, and tighter credit standards are being sited as the reason for the deficit. If you look further into out-years, there is a projected $211 million shortfall for the 2010-11 biennium (this number is not adjusted for inflation). So how does the economic forecast affect the upcoming 2008 session, in particular a bonding bill? In a press conference on Friday, it was stated that the bonding bill, while once projected at $1.2 billion, should be reduced to $965 million with the deficit.

Here's what's happening around the state:

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development invites you to attend a briefing to learn more about Governor Tim Pawlenty's new proposal for rural economic development, Strategic
Entrepreneurial Economic Development (SEED).

Regional briefings are scheduled for the following dates. No
registration is necessary to attend.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Albert Lea
9 to10:30 a.m.
Albert Lea Senior Center
1739 W Main Street (Skyline Plaza)

1:30 to 3 p.m.
South Central College - Cafeteria
1225 Third Street SW

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

9 to 10:30 a.m.
Southwest State University
1501 State Street

New Ulm
2 to 3:30 p.m.
Old Junior High School - Auditorium
15 North State

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

1 to 2:30 p.m.
Minnesota West Community and Technical College
1450 Collegeway

The Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota High Tech Association will be hosting eight STEM summits across the state in January and February. The events will address student engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Similar to the STEM Forums that were held in fall 2006, the STEM Summits are designed to bring together K-12 students, teachers and administrators with representatives from business and industry. However, rather than featuring speakers, this year’s summits will focus on the delivery of hands-on STEM activities. Locations and dates of the events may be found at http://www.mhta.org/ittrium/visit?path=A1x66x1y1xa70x1y1xb76x1x73

Here's what's happening at the legislature:

Monday, December 3

10:00 AM
Education - Subcommittee on Achievement Gap
Room 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Patricia Torres Ray
Agenda: Achievement Gap Issues

11:00 AM
House Ways and Means
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Loren Solberg,
Agenda: Budget Forecast by Mr. Tom Hanson, Commissioner, Department of Finance, Dr. Tom Stinson, Assistant Commissioner/State Economist Department of Finance and James Schowalter, Assistant Commissioner/State Budget Director.

2:30 PM
Joint Meeting: Education - Subcommittee on Expectations and Accountability
Chair: Sen. Sandy Rummel
Room: 200 State Office Bldg.
Agenda: Recommendations for the Minnesota School Report Card

Thursday, December 6

2:45 PM
Joint House Biosciences and Emerging Technologies Committee and Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee
Room: St. Paul RiverCentre Room 9
Chairs: Rep. Tim Mahoney, Sen. James Metzen
Agenda: Presentation from bioscience industry leaders regarding barriers to growth and potential solutions.

5:30 PM
E-12 Education Alternative Schools Work Group
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. David Bly
Agenda: TBA

Tuesday, December 18

9:00 AM
Subcommittee on Employee Relations
Room: 112 Capitol
Agenda: TBA

Wednesday, December 19

9:00 AM
Education - Subcommittee on Technology and Learning
Chair: Sen. Michael J. Jungbauer
Room: Oak Land Junior High School, 820 Manning Avenue North, Lake
Agenda: To be announced

Monday, January 8

8:30 AM
Senate Committee on Education
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Charles W. Wiger
Agenda: Subcommittee Recommendations

Monday, January 14

10:30 AM
Joint Meeting: Agriculture and Veterans Budget and Policy Division and House Veterans Finance and Policy
Room: 5 State Office Building
Chair: Sen. Jim Vickerman
Agenda: Veterans Long Term Care Advisory Committee Report, Veterans Mental Health and Psychological Support Services Report.
*will break for lunch