Congress Passes Three Month Extension of Transportation Programs

CONGRESS PASSES THREE MONTH EXTENSION OF TRANSPORTATION PROGRAMS

On Wednesday, the House passed a 3-month extension of transportation programs by a vote of 385 to 34 until October 29th just days before funding expires. The House then adjourned for the August recess, forcing the Senate to accept the 3-month extension so as not to interrupt funding for transportation projects. Today, the Senate passed the House’s 3-month extension by a vote of 91 to 4. However, the Senate also passed H.R. 22 today, the legislative vehicle for the DRIVE Act, by a vote of 65 to 34, which would reauthorize transportation programs for 6 years although only 3 years are currently funded. The 3-month extension sets up another deadline for Congress to act on transportation funding this fall. Given the limited number of legislative working days in September and October and the many other issues that Congress will have to deal with including Appropriations, there will be limited time to work out an agreement between the House and Senate on a long-term reauthorization before funding expires again.

The Senate Transportation Bill (H.R. 22) did address some of the provisions from Chairman Barrasso’s Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act). HR 22 significantly increases funding for the Tribal Transportation Program, including an increase of $15M for FY 16 and $10M increases in subsequent years for a total of $515M in FY 2021. In addition, the administrative fees cap was lowered from 6 percent to 5 percent. The bill also increases the tribal bridges funding set aside from 2 percent to 3 percent. Lastly, the bill creates a Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program that would provide funding for large projects that exceed $25M with preference for projects that exceed $50M.

Senate and House Begin Consideration of Education Reform Bills

Senate and House Begin Consideration of Education Reform Bills

Both the Senate and House will take up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act – NCLB) this week. Reauthorization of the ESEA has proved difficult over the years since the NCLB was signed into law in 2002 and technically expired 8 years ago. The Senate will begin consideration of S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), today (July 7th) and debate is expected on the bill through the rest of the week. While the bill was unanimously supported in the Committee markup, it is expected that both Democrat and Republican Senators will be filing a significant number of amendments.

Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee will meet today to pass a new rule to resume consideration of H.R. 5 the Student Success Act which had been pulled from the floor in February due to a lack of support. On Wednesday, it is expected that the House will resume consideration of pending amendments that were not considered in February while also potentially considering some new amendments to H.R. 5 before voting on final passage.

Currently, it is expected that both the House and Senate will pass their respective versions of the ESEA Reauthorization this week or early next week setting up a need for a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two bills. On the whole the Senate Bill provides a number of policy changes sought by tribal education advocates, while the House bill largely preserves the existing tribal education provisions.

SENATE BILL
The Senate is expected to begin consideration of the ECAA today to reauthorize the ESEA with a number of amendments expected to be filed by both Democrat and Republican Senators. Overall, the bill places the responsibility for academic standards and accountability with the states. The federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards, and the federal government cannot mandate or incentivize states to adopt any particular set of standards, such as the Common Core, but the accountability systems must still meet basic federal “parameters”. The bill does maintain the existing federal requirements on testing, however states have the responsibility to determine how the tests are used for accountability, and “Average Yearly Progress” (AYP) is eliminated. The bill also provides federal grants for states and school districts for low-performing schools and for professional development opportunities for educators.

Specifically for tribes, the ECAA provides a number of policy provisions in Title VII of the bill, including:

  • Native Language Immersion Grant Program – The bill establishes a grant program at the Department of Education to fund native language immersion programs, which has been a key priority of tribal advocates in order to focus more resources into native language programs.
  • Consultation – The bill requires State Education Agencies and Local Education Agencies to meaningfully consult with tribes in the development of their education plans in order to receive their Title I funding.
  • Indian Child Determination – Once a child is determined to be Indian for the purposes of Title VII grants, this determination need not be made in subsequent years.
  • Impact Aid – The Impact Aid formula is updated and streamlined to provide a more objective calculation with the intent that this will speed up payments to school districts across the country.

In addition, there is expected to be a few amendments offered that specifically address tribal programs including:

  • BIE Funding Eligibility – Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) will offer an amendment to ensure that the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) has a set aside for all formula grant funding and is eligible for all competitive and technical assistance grants in the ESEA.
  • Native Language Standards, Assessments, and Accountability Systems – Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) will offer an amendment to allow for the development of standards, assessments, and accountability through native languages of instruction. Current standards require standards and assessments to be conducted in English, disadvantaging many native language students.

Here is a link to the S. 1177: https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s1177/BILLS-114s1177pcs.pdf

HOUSE BILL
The House Rules Committee is expected to approve a rule this evening to begin reconsideration of H.R. 5. Similar to the Senate Bill, the House Bill removes the federal government from prescribing standards and places accountability at the state level. However, the House Bill contains a provision linking Title I funding to individual students as opposed to school districts that is not found in the Senate Bill. This “portability” provision would enable funding to move with individual students if they change schools. The President has already threatened that he would veto a bill with this provision because it could result in schools serving low-income students to lose considerable funding to higher-income districts. The House Bill largely preserves the Indian Education Title (was Title VII of ESEA, now is Title V of the Student Success Act) through a provision inserted by a bipartisan group led by Rep. Young (R-AK), but the bill does not have any new specific provisions for tribal education programs.

Here is a link to the H.R. 5: http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20150223/CPRT-114-HPRT-RU00-HR5.pdf