Dr. John B. King, Jr., acting secretary of education, answered questions Wednesday about the education component of President Barack Obama's 2017 budget request and the Department of Education's (ED) priorities during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The overall discretionary request for the Department is $69.4 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion, or 2 percent, over 2016.
In his opening statement, King emphasized a commitment throughout the budget to promoting greater use of evidence and data to maximize results for students and taxpayers. He identified three major priorities in the budget request that span the entire range of education:
To attract talented educators, the administration proposes "to streamline and expand the current postsecondary assistance available to teachers into one program that will provide up to $25,000 in loan forgiveness for serving in a high-needs school."
The budget request would also increase funding for more vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws by ED’s Office for Civil Rights, including efforts to eliminate racial disparities in school disciplinary practices and procedures, and enforcing protections against bullying and harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.
Also in the arena of higher education, King addressed efforts "to make college more affordable and accessible while putting forward important new initiatives to promote college completion."
"We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just on access," he said. "Students who do not complete their degrees are less likely to succeed in the workforce and have student loan default rates that are, on average, three times higher than those who graduate. Further, we know that taking a full course load helps students finish on time, at a lower cost and likely with less student debt, saving them both time and money."
King emphasized the need to increase funding for programs "that provide additional resources for interventions that either are based on evidence of success, or help build evidence of what works in education."
The budget request, King asserted, supports InformED, which builds on the College Scorecard by making ED’s data and research across the education spectrum more available, and "will help build new infrastructure to manage the collection, quality, release, and analysis of these data in innovative and effective ways."
King called out a number of initiatives supported by the budget request:
In the question and answer period, a number of themes emerged. Some committee members, including Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the committee, objected to the introduction of new programs, especially competition-based grant programs, which he worried would jeopardize funding for foundational initiatives that address the needs of disabled students and career and technical education (CTE) programs. These initiatives are currently contained in the IDEA and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Other committee members also questioned the strength of the administration’s support for CTE. King’s response affirmed the administration’s commitment to those issues.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) focused her questions on ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), expressing frustration over the use of intimidating Dear Colleague Letters outside of the public review processes. She contended that their actions encroach on Congress’s authority to make laws, and that their current approach is costly and inefficient, and counterproductive to reaching a just resolution. She posed several questions regarding OCR practices, as well the accountability of Federal Student Aid (FSA) as a performance-based organization, for which she requested written responses. Other committee members also questioned how well FSA is fulfilling its obligations to partner with schools.
Other concerns and issues examined through committee member questions included:
In his responses, King repeatedly offered to work with committee members to address their expressed concerns. He emphasized increased incentives to facilitate student completion; support for expanding Pell Grants; innovation initiatives and experimental sites; provision of information to students (which included defending the College Scorecard) to help them make good decisions; and helping students manage and repay debt. He assured the committee that one of his priorities is to make ED more efficient and transparent. He also expressed strong support for the Federal Work-Study program, and praised the impact of the program on student preparation for employment and on community service.
Publication Date: 2/25/2016