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Five Questions for the Secretary of Education

Today Education Secretary Arne Duncan will testify before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on the department’s budget and policy priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. Nearly one year has passed since the secretary last appeared before the committee, and members are eager to discuss the president’s latest education proposals. Here are five questions for the secretary that should help get the conversation started:
  1. Mr. Secretary, why do you want to spend billions of dollars on new programs instead of working to meet our commitment to students with disabilities?
    President Obama’s budget proposals have consistently and significantly underfunded the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The president’s latest budget would further reduce the federal contribution to special education for most school districts by shifting the funding to yet another competitive grant program. How does the department justify billions in new spending while ignoring its existing promise to special needs children?
  2. When will the administration pressure Senate leaders to complete the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act? Secretary Duncan has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of reauthorizing the nation’s K-12 education law, known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  However, the administration continues to focus its attention on a convoluted and temporary waiver scheme that is undermining congressional efforts to rewrite the law. The House has approved the Student Success Act; it’s time for the Senate to move forward with its education legislation so we can craft a final bicameral agreement for the president’s signature. Mr. Secretary, when will you urge Democratic leaders in the Senate to bring comprehensive education reform up for a vote?
  3. Will the administration shelve its punitive postsecondary regulatory agenda and instead work with Congress to strengthen our higher education system?
    The Obama administration continues to press forward with multiple new regulations, including upcoming teacher preparation program regulations announced just last week. Many of these proposals will disproportionately harm low-income students, and several have been widely rejected by Congress, institutions, and even the federal court system. Right now there is an effort underway in Congress to improve the nation’s postsecondary education system through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Mr. Secretary, isn’t it time you joined that effort rather than continue to push the administration’s education agenda through more executive actions, federal mandates, and new programs?
  4. Mr. Secretary, are you concerned about the negative consequences facing students, educators, and schools as a result of the fatally-flawed health care law? For more than three years, the nation has been grappling with the realities of President Obama’s health care law. We are learning more each day about how the resulting increase in health care costs, decrease in full-time jobs, and loss of existing health coverage harms families and workplaces. However, the repercussions of the health care law for the nation’s education system have received less attention. Mr. Secretary, are you aware of the higher costs facing many school districts as a result of this law? What steps is the administration taking to try to help students, school administrators, and higher education leaders manage the unexpected challenges resulting from the health care law?
  5. How will the president’s proposed Preschool for All initiative work better than existing federal and state early childhood initiatives? President Obama’s budget requests $1.3 billion (and a total of $75 billion over 10 years) for an expansive new early childhood education program. At a recent committee hearing, Chairman Kline joined his committee colleagues in questioning the wisdom of piling another preschool initiative on top of dozens of existing federal early childhood programs, many of which are not working as effectively as we’d hoped. Mr. Secretary, can you explain why it is more important to create a new program instead of reforming and strengthening current initiatives?

Tune in at 10am ET to see committee members discuss these and other critical education issues with Secretary Duncan. Click here to watch a live webcast, or click here to learn more about today’s hearing.

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