WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 28, 2012 -
Welcome back, Secretary Duncan, to the Education and the Workforce Committee. We realize your time is valuable and we appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about the president’s budget proposal.
When we met this time last year, we discussed the importance of using taxpayer dollars wisely, particularly in these times of economic instability. We identified areas of education spending that have failed to show results, and stressed the need for an education system that is more accountable, transparent, and flexible. Most notably, my colleagues and I reiterated our support for a less costly, less intrusive federal role in the nation’s classrooms.
The committee has since worked to eliminate unnecessary programs and reduce federal intervention in schools and colleges. As you know, we recently approved two pieces of legislation to rewrite elementary and secondary education law, and also secured bipartisan House passage of a bill that will get rid of unnecessarily burdensome federal regulations affecting institutions of higher education.
Regrettably, the administration has taken a markedly different course, advancing several programs and initiatives that make the federal role in education more costly and more intrusive. In his Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal, the president requests nearly $70 billion for the Department of Education plus an additional $13 billion in mandatory spending for Pell Grants, bringing the total to roughly $83 billion – a 40 percent increase in the department’s budget from the time the president took office. Furthermore, the president requests another $65 billion in funds for new community college, teacher, and school construction programs as part of his American Jobs Act.
Despite ramping up funding for pet projects and unauthorized programs, such as Race to the Top, school improvement grants, Investing in Innovation, and others, I am disappointed the president’s budget proposal once again neglects to increase support for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Mr. Secretary, you and I have previously discussed the importance of this program, which helps states and school districts improve services and education access for students with special needs. The administration couldn’t be bothered to put even one additional dollar toward the IDEA Part B program, which benefits students in virtually every school in America, yet the president can find billions of dollars to put toward school construction and teacher union bailouts. It is unacceptable to continue defaulting on this obligation. We must stop wasting taxpayer dollars on new and ineffective programs, reassess our priorities, and make the tough choices necessary to uphold our commitment to all students.
I am also troubled by the department’s newfound penchant for advancing programs and initiatives that further expand the federal role in education – without any Congressional input or engagement. The conditional waivers plan presents a clear example of this trend. Not only does the plan empower the Secretary of Education to unilaterally dictate federal education policy – with questionable legal standing – but the obscure process for granting these quid pro quo waivers leads me to question whether states are being pressured to adopt the administration’s preferred reforms.
Furthermore, this waivers initiative distracts from House and Senate progress to rewrite K-12 law, which should be our shared goal. While areas of disagreement must still be addressed, both chambers have produced legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. To cease working with us at this point signals a dearth of leadership in the executive branch.
The higher education proposals outlined in the president’s budget represent another expansion of federal authority that I fear will ultimately lead to more headaches for students, parents, and institutions. We all want to help more students realize the dream of a college degree. However, we must be extremely cautious about polices that manipulate student loan interest rates and use need-based student aid subsidies such as the Perkins Loan and Work Study programs as bargaining chips to impose federal price controls.
Addressing the challenge of rising college costs merits thoughtful discussion among leaders in Washington as well as state and higher education officials. We must expose and resolve the underlying factors that are fueling this trend. Students and their families need lasting solutions – not empty promises and short-term initiatives that kick the can down the road.
One area in which I believe we can forge agreement is the president’s proposal to make higher education data more transparent and accessible for students and their parents. According to recent reports, a majority of student loan borrowers admit they didn’t fully understand what they were getting into when they took out student loans. Republicans have long fought to help families and students access clear, comparable information about the real bottom-line cost of a college education. I am interested in discussing this issue with you, Mr. Secretary, as part of a larger dialogue regarding responsible initiatives that meet the needs of students and taxpayers.
Improving education in America is a priority for everyone in this room. However, we cannot make progress in this endeavor if the administration continues to bypass Congress and promote its own costly education agenda. I look forward to your testimony, Secretary Duncan, and hope we can find a way to move past what has become an increasingly bumpy road.
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