Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Health and Human Services Bill moves ahead in U.S. Senate

After five days of debate, the Senate passed the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill last night by a vote of 75-19. Both Senators Coleman and Klobuchar voted for the bill. There was a motion to send the bill back to committee to bring the number closer to the president's level to avoid a veto, however it was voted down. Both Senators Coleman and Klobuchar voted against this motion, in order to not reduce the education funding level.

Amendments to the bill include; halting a long-term evaluation of the Upward Bound program until Congress completes its work to renew the Higher Education Act; and a requirement that the Dept. of Education provide college administrators with better guidance on when they may share information about potentially dangerous students.

Another amendment provides $10 million in grants to colleges and universities to prepare schoolteachers in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. This is a small amount in comparison to the $276 million authorized by the America Competes Act for 2008 for preparing schoolteachers.

Spending for all federal student-aid programs would remain flat, with two exceptions; TRIO programs for disadvantaged students would increase spending by 3.6 percent, to $858.2 million; and the Gear Up program, which helps financially needy middle-school students prepare for college, would get an increase of 3.3 percent, to $313.4 million.

The bill now heads to conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions (the House passed their version back in July). After the compromise bill clears both chambers, it will be sent to President Bush who is threatening a veto. It would take a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House to override a veto. Staff tells us that they are hoping to have a conference report out of committee and back to the floor by next week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Federal Legislative Update-October 23

Movement on the Labor, Health and Human Services,
Education Appropriations bill in the Senate- vote likely today

The fiscal year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill is currently on the Senate floor with final passage of the bill likely today. Last night, the Senate rejected, by a vote of 68-24, an amendment to the bill proposed by Senator Allard, R-CO, that would cut all programs rated "ineffective" under President Bush's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) program by 10 percent. The Senate is voting on remaining amendments to the bill today, including one that would provide a $25 million increase to Career and Technical Education Basic State Grants.

Late last week, the Senate accepted an amendment to the bill by voice vote relating to the Upward Bound Program. The amendment would halt an evaluation of the Upward Bound program until Congress completes a reauthorization, or renewal, of the Higher Education Act, the law governing most federal student-aid programs.

In 2006 the Department of Education announced an evaluation rule which mandates Upward Bound programs to recruit twice as many students than they will be able to serve and use half of the students as a "control group" that will not receive the services provided under the Upward Bound program. The Education Department says the study is necessary to determine whether Upward Bound is serving the right students, however many claim the study is unethical because it denies services to some students. Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH, with Senators Lincoln, D-AR, Obama, D-IL, Feingold, D-WI, Collins, R-ME, Wyden, D-OR, Kerry, D-MA, and Menendez, D-NJ, introduced the amendment that would prohibit the use of funds to promulgate, implement, or enforce the evaluation for the Upward Bound Program.

Just a reminder, that the full House approved its version of the fiscal year 2008 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill in July. President Bush has threatened to veto any spending measures that exceed his budget request for fiscal year 2008, including the Labor, HHS, Education bill.

DREAM Act to be taken up tomorrow
The Senate is also expected to vote on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, S.2205, tomorrow. In order to have a chance of obtaining the 60 votes that will be necessary for the bill to pass, the DREAM Act's sponsors have been forced to drop a provision that repeals the federal ban on in-state tuition for undocumented students. As a reminder, the DREAM Act provides a path to citizenship for undocumented students who are long-term residents of the United States and were initially brought to the country before the age of 16. Eligible students gain legal status through two years of higher education or military service.

Federal Budget Update
Now that it is mid-October and budget bills have not yet been passed, Congress must settle down and move forward on twelve appropriation bills before the end of the year, including the Labor,HHS,Education bill. Even with early year promises of earmark reform, earmarks (the measures inserted by members of Congress into the various appropriations bills that direct funds to a specific project or recipient) continue to be part of the budgeting process, including several identified for colleges and universities within the system. The following web resources are available to track bill progress:

View the Thomas legislative Web site

THOMAS was launched in January of 1995, at the inception of the 104th Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. Since that time THOMAS has expanded the scope of its offerings to include the features and content listed below.
• Bills, Resolutions
• Activity in Congress
• Congressional Record
• Schedules, Calendars
• Committee Information
• Presidential Nominations
• Treaties
• Government Resources
• For Teachers

Taxpayers for Common Sense
View TCS Web site

Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is an independent voice for American taxpayers. TCS is dedicated to cutting wasteful government spending and subsidies in order to achieve a responsible and efficient government that lives within its means.

Citizens against Government Waste
View CAGW Web site

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is a private, non-partisan, non-profit organization. CAGW's mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government.

Legislative Update-October 10

Legislative Notes
October 10, 2007

Legislators learn of facility needs
Over the last three weeks, legislators have been learning about the current and future facility needs of our campuses, as they make their way through bonding tours across the state. The condition of campus facilities, along with emerging program needs, are being reviewed at system institutions as lawmakers and Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson, determine where the need is greatest. Both the House and Senate Capital Investment committees will be traveling through November and will then visit metro campuses in December and January. We will continue to update you as the metro dates become known.

Legislative funding for flood victims
Gov. Pawlenty called a special session September 11, 2007 to provide some relief for flood victims in Southeastern Minnesota. Included in the bill passed by legislators and signed by the governor was $3.7 million for the Department of Agriculture to allocate funding according to need to many programs and agencies, including grants to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees for mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators through farm business management programs.

Federal Update
When Congress returns next week from a brief recess, it is anticipated that they will be taking up the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, as well as the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations bill. The full House approved its fiscal year 2008 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill in July and the Senate committee approved its bill in June, but the bill has not gone to the Senate floor for a vote. President Bush has threatened to veto any spending bill that exceeds his proposed discretionary spending levels, so there is talk about a veto to the Labor, HHS, Education bill once it passes both bodies.

Two weeks ago, October 1, 2007, marked the beginning of fiscal year 2008 in Congress. A stopgap measure was passed that allows Congress to continue operating until November 16, 2007. While many appropriation bills passed one body or the other, fiscal year 2007 ended without agreement by both bodies on most appropriation bills. This continuing resolution allows government to be funded through mid-November until the spending bills for fiscal year 2008 are finalized.

College Cost Reduction and Access Act
Certainly not new news, but worth reporting is that Congress passed the Budget Reconciliation bill, or the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (HR 2669), by a vote of 292-97 in the House and 79-12 in the Senate. President Bush signed the bill into law on September 27, 2007. This legislation will amend the Higher Education Act (HEA), making major changes in federal expenditures for 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. Funding for provisions in the bill would come from the savings in lender subsidies. The bill provides new funding for the Pell Grant program to fund increases in the maximum Pell Grant award. The Pell Grant will increase by $490 for award years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, by $690 for award years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, and $1090 for award year 2012-2013. This increase will help the 81,816 Pell Grant recipients attending Minnesota post-secondary institutions (2004-2005 data).

Also included in the bill are newly created incentives to encourage teachers to teach in high-need schools. The TEACH Grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) program will provide scholarships of $4,000/year for high-achieving undergraduate and graduate students who commit to teaching a high-need subject in a high-need school.

The bill also lowers the student interest rate for new undergraduate subsidized loans beginning in July 2008 from 6.8 percent to 6 percent, in July 2009 to 5.6 percent, in July 2010 to 4.5 percent, and to 3.4 percent in July 2010. The bill also attempts to make student loan payments more manageable for borrowers by guaranteeing that borrowers will not have to pay more than 15 percent of their discretionary income in loan repayments, and allows borrowers to have their loans forgiven after 25 years. And the bill provides loan forgiveness after 10 years for public servants, including military service members, first responders, firefighters, nurses, public defenders, early childhood educators, librarians, and others.

According to a September 2007 report issued by the Institute for College Access and Success, Minnesota ranks fifth highest in the nation in student debt, with an average debt load of $23,375. You may view the complete report at This new legislation is an attempt to alleviate some of that pressure facing new graduates not just in Minnesota, but around the country.

Higher Education Act
The latest update on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, is that Congress has yet to reauthorize the bill. Last Thursday, House Republicans presented a 400-plus-page bill that mirrors legislation that the House passed in 2006, when the chamber was under Republican control. It also contains some new language, including repealing a provision of the budget reconciliation bill singed into law by President Bush late September, that would test the concept of using an auction to set rates on student-loan subsidies. House Democrats have yet to introduce their reauthorization bill, but are expected to do so in the next few weeks. You may recall, the Senate passed its version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation in July. Once the House passes its version, a conference committee will convene to iron out the differences. Stay tuned.

American Council on Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education accepting nominations for 2008 Leadership Awards

The Office of Women in Higher Education (OWHE) at the American Council on Education (ACE) is accepting nominations for its annual leadership awards, the Donna Shavlik Award and the ACE Network Award for the Advancement of Women in Higher Education. The nomination deadline is Nov. 16, 2007.

The Shavlik Award is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated, at both the state and national levels, sustained and continuing commitment to women’s advancement in higher education. Award recipients will have demonstrated leadership and commitment to the advancement of women through actions or initiatives enhancing leadership development, career development, campus climate and mentoring programs for women.

Discussion continues over No Child Left Behind

The Associated Press reports today that President Bush said he is open to new ideas for changing the "No Child Left Behind" education law but said he will not accept watered-down standards or rollbacks in accountability. Lawmakers in both parties want changes to the five-year-old law, which faces a tough renewal fight in Congress. In a statement yesterday he said, "There can be no compromise on the basic principle: Every child must learn to read and do math at, or above, grade level." He also added that “…there can be no compromise on the need to hold schools accountable to making sure we achieve that goal." Bush listed several ways for enhancing the law; give local leaders more flexibility and resources; offer other educational options to families of children in low-performing schools; increase access to tutoring programs; reward good teachers who improve student achievement in low-income schools; expand access to advanced placement courses and improve math and science instruction.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekly Update - May 11, 2007

Governor Vetoes Higher Education Omnibus Bill
Too much funding and not enough money, those were the reasons Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave for vetoing the higher education omnibus bill Wednesday.

First, the bill contained too much ongoing funding for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Meanwhile, he said the $4 million for the Achieve scholarship proposal was too little. The Achieve program was a new concept introduced last summer by Gov. Pawlenty. It awards scholarships to high school students if they take and pass such rigorous courses as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. The higher education conference committee changed Achieve to ASPIRE (Achieve Success and Persistence through Innovative, Rigorous Education). ASPIRE would provide more opportunities to deliver rigorous courses to rural high school students and provide opportunities for those typically underrepresented in the advanced studies. Gov. Pawlenty hoped for $21 million in ongoing funds.

A final concern was a change in the makeup of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. The conference committee altered the board to include two representatives from labor and two from business. Under the proposal, the board would still include a representative from each of the eight congressional districts and three students. The bill also calls for balancing the board with respect to racial, gender, geographic and ethnic composition.

Federal Update

Creating accountability
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings testified before the House Education and Labor committee on “Accountability for the Department of Education's Oversight of Student Loans” and the “Reading First Program” Thursday.

View Chairman Miller’s opening remarks (PDF)
View Margaret Spellings testimony (PDF)

New act in student loans
The U. S. House passed “The Student Loan Sunshine Act” by a 414-3 vote on Wednesday. The intent is to give students and families more information about various types of student loans. It also provides for more separation between institutions and lenders, specifically requiring institutions to disclose all relationships with lenders.

View summary from the Education and Labor Committee (PDF)

Local event focuses on creating innovations in the workforce
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) will hold a discussion on "Developing Minnesota’s 21st Century Workforce" on Monday, May 14, 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. The event will be held at the auditorium of Starkey Laboratories, Inc. 6425 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie. Panelists who will discuss workforce issues with Secretary Chao and Senator Coleman include: Jerry Ruzicka, president, Starkey Laboratories, Inc.; Erik Ajax, president, Ajax and Sons Metal Stamping; Steve Rothchild, founder & chair of the board, Twin Cities RISE!; and, James H. McCormick, chancellor, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Those planning to attend this event are asked to RSVP to (952) 947-4991.