Congress Switches Tracks on Education Bills - November 2007

November 2007

Education Government Relations Office has as one of its primary goals working to integrate the research of psychologists and the knowledge from psychology into our federal education laws in an effort to improve educational opportunities for students and teachers.

Education GRO works in partnership with APA members, APA task forces, APA coalitions, other APA staff and Directorates as well as reaches out to members and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the Administration to deepen policy-makers understanding of psychology and what it has to offer the field of education and services to individuals.

There are currently two significant federal education bills up for renewal, or reauthorization, in this 110th Congress. These education laws inform our federal policy in K-12 and post-secondary education.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

In a recent turn of events, the Higher Education Act (HEA) has been put on the front burner for reauthorization by the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier in the year, HEA was a secondary concern, with primary focus being placed on the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as "No Child Left Behind." But last week, the tables turned, due to frustration and lack of consensus among key players in the House, Senate and the Administration.

The Higher Education Act (HEA), is authorizing legislation that provides the framework for the federal investment in post-secondary education. It is home to many important programs like Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grants (SEOG), support services for first generation college students like TRIO and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants for States and Partnerships, graduate assistance programs such as Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) and the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship program; and international education, to name just a few.

Last reauthorized in 1998 for a period of 5 years, HEA has been considered in a piece-meal way, with the Title IV programs being authorized as part of budget reconciliation. The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 (HR 2669/P.L.110-84), adopted as part of the budget reconciliation and signed into law on September 27, 2007, includes increases in the federal Pell Grant program and a new direct loan forgiveness program for individuals pursuing public service careers, which will provide opportunities for new psychologists and psychology graduate students. The loan forgiveness component of the bill ensures that individuals employed in a public service career for at least 10 years would have the remaining balance of their loans forgiven. The bill also includes a reduction in the interest rate of 3.4 percent over the next 7 years.

While the College Cost Reduction Act updated much of the student assistance or Title IV programs of the Higher Education Act, there is still much of the Higher Education Act left to consider and reauthorize.

The Senate's higher education reauthorization bill, the Higher Education Amendments of 2007, passed unanimously with a vote of 95 yeas and 5 who did not vote. The House Education and Labor Committee's HEA reauthorization is expected to make its debut the week of November 7th with a mark up scheduled for the following week. Floor action is likely to follow close on the heels of the Committee's action.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as "No Child Left Behind Act."

The 110th Congress started out with a razor focus on the reauthorization of the "No Child Left Behind Act," with the House and Senate holding a number of hearings each on this important law.

First authorized in 1965, ESEA supports a host of significant programs designed to improve academic achievement for all children with a focus on those most at risk. These include, Title I -- Improving Academic Achievement for the Disadvantaged, professional development for teachers and principals; language instruction for English language learners; 21st Century Schools program (which includes funds for school safety); and many others.

Education GRO and Public Interest GRO have worked hand in hand to develop association-wide recommendations for the reauthorization, drawing on the expertise of APA members from every Directorate. The APA recommendations touch on topics such as inclusion of a growth model option for states in the accountability system; inclusion of a definition for the term, "teaching skills" in teacher professional development; inclusion of anti-bullying language based on APA member research; adopting recommendations from APA Task Forces; promoting stronger collaborations between schools and parents, to name just a few.

In fact, many of the APA recommendations were included in both House and Senate draft ESEA reauthorization bills that were circulated over these past few months. Unfortunately, momentum on this bill has been stalled. It is likely that attention will again turn to the ESEA reauthorization next year. Unfortunately, the task of completing action on this reauthorization will be more difficult in that it will correspond with the Presidential election cycle.

Please check back on our website for additional updates and more comprehensive information about our policy recommendations.