Public Policy Update
Democrats now hold all key leadership positions in Congress, including the chairmanships of all committees, and speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, held by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) respectively.
Gaining a majority in both the House and Senate gives Democrats the opportunity to set the congressional agenda. This may have drastic effects on the 110th Congress and to issues of importance to APA.
Congress is slated to tackle a number of important reauthorization bills, some of which are set to expire this year, and others that expired under the previous Congress. The following are education and public interest issues that are of significance to members of APA, and that APA's Education and Public Interest Public Policy Office (PPO) staff will work on accordingly. These reauthorizations will likely be addressed in the 110th Congress:
No Child Left Behind. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is set to expire during the 110th Congress. NCLB, signed into law in January 2002, is a bipartisan piece of legislation that reauthorized numerous federal programs aimed at improving the U.S. public elementary and secondary education system. NCLB requires states to meet standards of adequate yearly progress and holds schools accountable if these standards are not met. While the reauthorization of NCLB is scheduled for 2007, Congress might extend NCLB another year to provide more time for hearings and debate. Whatever the case, NCLB has generated a great deal of debate in Congress and throughout the country. Opponents of NCLB argue that it is greatly underfunded. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, both architects of the original NCLB legislation and leaders in Congress, continue to call for improvements in funding for NCLB and will be closely examining the law's implementation.
In preparation for the reauthorization of this very important federal education law, education policy staff, in partnership with public interest policy staff, spearheaded an effort to develop one set of comprehensive, association-wide recommendations for NCLB. The development of psychology-specific recommendations presents an opportunity for APA to emphasize the role that psychology plays in elementary and secondary education, as well as highlight and integrate the research and expertise of psychologists. Areas of priority include assessment issues related to adequate yearly progress and development of a growth model, English language learners, teacher professional development, character education, and the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. Education and Public Interest PPO staff aim to offer specific recommendations accompanied by legislative language early in the 110th Congress.
Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act (HEA), first passed in 1965, intends to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education. HEA increased federal money given to universities, created grants, scholarships and low-interest loans for students, and established a National Teachers Corps. Seen by many as a piece of unfinished business, HEA was last reauthorized in 1998 and originally set to expire in 2003. Congress has passed numerous extensions to HEA. Both Rep. Miller and Sen. Kennedy have argued in the past for making college education more affordable and accessible. APA has strong recommendations for improving HEA and will continue to promote the inclusions of an APA-developed definition for "teaching skills" under Title II as well as advocating for other important provisions.
In the past two Congresses, Education PPO has achieved legislative successes in both House and Senate reauthorization proposals. Broad areas of interest to the association include accessibility to higher education, funding for graduate education, and teacher quality. In general, APA is recommendations for improving HEA touch on a range of proposals to better integrate the role of psychology in education and expand opportunities for psychologists. They include extending Perkins loan cancellation to psychologists working in high-need areas, improving teacher quality, and including psychology as a science in the HEA science programs.
Mental health programs
As an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) oversees prevention and treatment services related to substance abuse and mental health. In recent years, SAMHSA's focus has turned to building resilience and facilitating recovery for those dealing with or at risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. Through funds appropriated annually, SAMHSA administers grant programs and contracts to support state efforts to improve community-based prevention and treatment services.
Public Interest and Education policy staff are taking the lead in preparing APA priorities to be included in 2007 legislation to reauthorize funding for SAMHSA. APA plans to request the continuation and enhancement of SAMHSA programs to address issues such as suicide prevention; child and school mental health; offender treatment; trauma; mental health disparities; workforce development; geropsychology; and prevention and early intervention.
As in the past, APA will advocate for the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP), the Minority AIDS Initiative, and programs funded under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, during this reauthorization. The purpose of the MFP is to facilitate the entry of ethnic-minority students into mental health careers and to increase the number of mental health providers trained to teach, administer and provide direct mental health and substance abuse services to ethnic minority groups. The Minority AIDS Initiative provides prevention, treatment and mental health services programs to minority populations at risk for HIV or living with HIV/AIDS. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act included provisions to support and further state work in the area of youth suicide prevention and early intervention, and it authorized SAMHSA's Campus Suicide Prevention grant program, which is designed to strengthen and enhance mental and behavioral health services on college campuses.
Another important piece of legislation that will be evaluated in the coming year is the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP). Established in 1997, SCHIP, in conjunction with Medicaid, provides health insurance to millions of children in the United States who would otherwise be without coverage. At the end of the last congressional session, legislation was passed to reduce federal funding gaps in SCHIP funding for fiscal year 2007. This year, Public Interest PPO staff will advocate for funding levels above those already assumed in the federal budget. By only maintaining the current funding level, states will be unable to continue coverage for the children already enrolled in the program. An increase in funds is crucial to ensure that children currently enrolled in SCHIP will remain covered and that more of the nine million children who remain uninsured may be covered.
While the partisan shift in Congress is important and will possibly allow for increased opportunities for discussion of issues important to APA and our colleagues in the mental health community, the significance this shift will hold for our legislative agenda is yet to be seen. As always, the APA policy staff works diligently in a bipartisan fashion on behalf of psychologists to influence federal lawmakers and agency officials to authorize and fund programs addressing the mental health and well-being of all Americans.
Emily Rath is the education legislative associate in APA's Public Policy Office, and Joslyn Smith is the office's legislative assistant for public interest policy.