The ASCA Legislative Update
A weekly report of public policy issues in American Education from ASCA October 30, 2006
Budget and Appropriations Update
College Board Releases Annual Trends Reports on College Costs Education Sector Hosts Spirited Discussion of College Rankings In Brief In the News
1. Budget and Appropriations Update
As Election Day gets closer the tension in Washington grows and the ad campaigns around the country appear to get more outrageous. We all will be relieved on November 8 when the results are in and the decisions are made about who will be in charge of the 110th Congress. The ads will be off the air, the speculation game will be over, the lame duck session can begin and elected (or not) officials can get back to the job of governing. The first order of business will be completing work on the FY 2007 budget. That means working out the details of the omnibus bill funding the Department of Education and the majority of other federal agencies through November 17.
There has been little talk about how those issues ultimately will be resolved in recent weeks. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a significant figure in this drama, was interviewed this week on the topic of earmarks in future bills funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. One billion dollars in earmarked funding is included in this year's education budget alone. Specter made it clear that those earmarks will go forward. Though the bill hasn't been passed or enacted, Members of Congress have proudly announced these awards at campaign sites throughout the Nation. But next year is another story. Specter ruminated out loud in an interview in Roll Call about the pros and cons of special project funds for specific programs in specific states and congressional districts. He seemed to be leaning toward their elimination.
Other Senators and Representatives, in response to Specter's comments, drew different conclusions. Clearly, Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) is yet to be convinced that a no-earmark strategy is a good idea. And in the House of Representatives, Members are still angry about the last minute decision in FY 2006 to strip the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS and ED) bill of all earmarks at the 11th hour, making a no-earmark strategy there hard to put into practice.
And what do education advocates think of the earmark game? If these funds
benefit the programs you care most about you are at the very least silent on the issue. Knowing, however, that in a climate where the overall available funding for education is frozen or shrinking, the $1 billion price tag makes one take pause. Ironic that the shortfall facing the LHHS and ED bill this year, because of the funds transferred to Defense in late September, is approximately $900 million. But as Specter indicated, the simple solution is off the table.
2. College Board Releases Annual Trends Reports on College Costs
This week, the College Board released its reports on college pricing and financial aid. The reports suggest that at four-year public colleges, increases in average tuition and fees slowed for the third year in a row, although prices are still up an astonishing 35 percent compared to those of five years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Rates for two-year public colleges in 2006-07 were just slightly above the inflation rate. At all institutions, the net price-the average price students pay after grants and tax benefits are considered-is significantly lower than the published price.
Total student aid increased by 3.7 percent to $134.8 billion in 2005-06, but total federal grant aid failed to keep pace with inflation. Even without factoring in inflation, the average Pell Grant per recipient fell by $120.
Evidence of these trends, along with average 2006-07 college prices and
2005-06 student aid data, is documented in the reports, Trends in College Pricing 2006 and Trends in Student Aid 2006.
Related to the release of these reports, as well as a 2006 supplement to Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society, which documents the benefits of higher education and differences in participation and success across demographic groups, College Board President Gaston Capertson said, "The College Board continues to advocate for need-based aid, so that more students can have the opportunity to benefit from a college education. Though student aid makes it possible for many students from low- and middle-income families to afford college, we still face inequality in access to higher education across ethnic, racial, and economic lines."
These reports include additional information on the pricing of higher education, retention and completion rates, the need for and cost of remedial education, the benefits of postsecondary study, and information on the allocation of federal student aid programs, including tax incentives. For more information and copies of these reports, visit:
3. Education Sector Hosts Spirited Discussion of College Rankings
On October 25, Education Sector hosted a forum titled, "America's Best Colleges?" The event generated a spirited discussion of the practice of "ranking" colleges and universities in the United States; the recent recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education; accountability in higher education; and the pieces of information important to consumers during the college selection process, among other topics.
Paul Glastris of The Washington Monthly led the panel discussion. Panelists included Kevin Carey of Education Sector; David Dunn, Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education; Brian Kelly of US News & World Report; Patricia A. McGuire, President of Trinity University; Charles Miller, Chairman of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education; and David E, Shulenburger of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
Education Sector has recently released a report, authored by Kevin Carey, which calls for changes in the rankings of colleges and universities. The report concedes, "The US News rankings have become the nation's de facto higher education accountability system." However, it also suggests that this system is "deeply flawed." The report further asserts that the higher education community-in its entirety-is resistant to transparency and would not support a recommendation to create a database which would include key elements of interest to education consumers. Ultimately the authors of the report conclude that "the only plausible path to a rankings-based accountability system that would be truly valuable to students and parents lies with federal action."
More information on this event and the report is available at www.educationsector.org.
4. In Brief
Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee Holds Panel
On October 23, the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools hosted a meeting of
the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee. The
meeting consisted of three panels that discussed the implementation and
effectiveness of the Unsafe School Choice option. The Unsafe School Choice
option allows "students who are attending a persistently dangerous public
elementary school or secondary school or who becomes a victim of a violent
criminal offense while in or on school grounds, be allowed to attend a safe
public elementary school or secondary school within the local educational
agency, including a public charter school." Similar meetings of the Advisory
Committee will take place in January and March of 2007. The Committee has
also scheduled five conference calls to provide opportunities for Committee
discussion and analysis. The process will culminate in a final report,
scheduled to be presented to the Secretary on June 12, 2007. For more
information on the work of this group, contact Catherine Davis, Executive
Director, Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee,
(202) 205-4169, or OSDFSC@ed.gov.
Secretary Spellings Visits Ohio: Announces $5.5 Million Grant and Visits
Cincinnati Zoo Academy
The Ohio Department of Education received the first Teacher Incentive Fund
grant of $5.5 million to provide financial incentives to teachers and
principals. The Teacher Incentive Fund is a "federal initiative designed to
reward effective teachers by establishing merit pay in states." The grant
will span five years and total over $20 million. At the grant award event in
Columbus, Ohio, Secretary Spellings stated that, "nothing helps a child
learn as much as a great teacher-and research shows that rewarding teachers
for results can improve student performance." The Education Department will
be awarding a total of $42 million over the next few weeks. They will reward
the remaining $43.7 million in the spring. While in Ohio, Spellings also
visited the Cincinnati Zoo Academy to discuss and meet with teachers and
students about No Child Left Behind and the need for college preparatory
coursework, including rigorous math and science courses, to prepare students
for the 21st century economy. The Cincinnati Zoo Academy is an accredited
Cincinnati public school located at the Cincinnati Zoo. The school began as
a vocation school for those interested in careers at the zoo and has since
evolved into a college-prep program. For more information about the Teacher
Incentive Fund visit http://www.ed.gov/programs/teacherincentive/faq.html
5. In the News
The Washington Post (10/24/06). "In Quest for Speed, Books Are Lost on
The Washington Post (10/23/06). Political Backlash Builds Over High-Stakes
USA Today (10/22/06). "Pundit Armstrong Williams settles case over promoting
The Columbus Dispatch (10/22/06). "Cheating is up - among teachers."
The San Francisco Chronicle (10/22/06). "One for the books -- tutoring gets
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