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5 Questions for Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday, May 21 to discuss the Department of Education’s priorities for Fiscal Year 2014. In advance of the hearing, the committee has compiled 5 key questions Secretary Duncan should address:

Question 1: Will the administration support the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, legislation that largely mirrors President Obama’s plan to address the upcoming student loan interest rate cliff?

The Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911), introduced by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), passed the committee with bipartisan support and is expected to come before the House of Representatives later this week. H.R. 1911 is similar to a proposal put forth in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget plan that would move all federal student loans (except Perkins loans) to a market-based rate. Will the administration endorse H.R. 1911, or turn a blind eye under pressure from congressional Democrats?

Question 2: Is the department willing to work with Congress to reauthorize No Child Left Behind?

The Department of Education in 2011 began issuing temporary and conditional waivers from provisions under No Child Left Behind to states that agreed to adopt the administration’s preferred education reforms. This unprecedented executive overreach continues to undermine congressional efforts to rewrite the nation’s K-12 law. Secretary Duncan has repeatedly said he wants Congress to reauthorize the law, but will he support the committee’s efforts to do so in the 113th Congress?

Question 3: How will the president’s new Preschool for All proposal work better than existing federal and state initiatives?

President Obama’s budget requests $1.3 billion (and $75 billion over the next 10 years) for an expansive new early childhood education program. Chairman Kline has raised serious questions about the wisdom of piling another preschool initiative on top of several existing early childhood education programs, many of which are not working as effectively as we’d hoped. Can Secretary Duncan explain why it’s more important to create a new program instead of reforming and improving current initiatives?

Question 4: Why is the Department of Education requesting additional funding for new programs instead of meeting its existing commitments to students with disabilities?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) stated the federal government would fund up to 40 percent of the additional costs of educating students with disabilities. However, President Obama’s budget does not even come close to that figure with contributions to IDEA set at 15 percent. How does the department justify billions in new spending without keeping its promise to special needs children?

Question 5: What efforts are being taken to evaluate the department’s initiatives to eliminate duplication and waste?

Since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal education spending has increased nearly every year. The Department of Education now administers more than 80 programs tied to K-12 classrooms. Yet despite this massive bureaucracy, studies show American students are falling behind their international peers – making it even more crucial to reevaluate the federal role in the nation’s classrooms. Will the secretary acknowledge that it’s time for a new way forward – one that doesn’t assume more federal dollars is the only way to improve student achievement and put kids on the path to success?

To learn more about tomorrow’s hearing, click here.

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