Week Ending July 10, 2015
House Passes Education Bill
The House barely approved legislation (H.R. 5) to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in a 218 to 213 vote, with all Democrats in opposition. AFSCME strongly opposes this bill, and the President has pledged to veto it.
The bill shifts K-12 school oversight responsibility from the federal government to states, including accountability, improving failing schools, and teacher evaluations. The bill also eliminates 65 education programs, converts large portions of K-12 funding into unreliable block grants, and would let money designated for schools with a large low-income population to follow students to other public and charter schools.
The Senate bill (S. 1177) started as a bipartisan compromise with unanimous support in its committee of jurisdiction but more controversial amendments are expected on the Senate floor next week. Already, the Senate has rejected a school vouchers amendment that would have allowed diverting a portion of $24 billion in scholarships from low-income public school students to private schools. Additional voucher or “school choice” amendments are expected in the Senate next week along with other amendments. The Senate also approved an amendment offered by Sens. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that was a compromise effort to protect students from sexual predators. The compromise version, supported by AFSCME, dropped all previous efforts to impose additional requirements and limit employees’ dues process rights regarding states’ procedures of conducting background checks for school employees. Pending for next week is a new proposal for publicly-funded pre-kindergarten as an amendment sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). AFSCME supports this proposal. The House bill does not include it.
The House and Senate bills vary significantly and the differences will need to be worked out following the Senate’s final passage.
DOL Proposes to Make Millions More Workers Eligible for Overtime Pay
Last week, the Department of Labor announced a new proposed rule that raises the overtime salary threshold for eligibility to receive overtime pay for just the second time since 1975, from $23,660 to $50,440 per year by 2016. This will extend overtime protections to 15 million additional workers. The threshold will also be indexed, guaranteeing that the law’s important protections will not be diminished by inflation. This rule update is long overdue.
AFSCME applauds the new proposed rule and encourages all members to submit comments to the Department of Labor supporting the rule and request its immediate implementation. To show your support, go to: afscme.org/fix-overtime
Senate and House Introduce Free Community College Bill
The America’s College Promise Act (H.R. 2962; S. 1716) was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). This legislation would create a new federal grant program enabling nine million students to attend two years of community college for free. This initiative was originally proposed by President Obama in his budget earlier this year.
The grant program would allow states and Indian tribes to apply for funding to cover up to 75% of in-state tuition and fees for eligible students. States would be responsible for supplying the remaining 25%. This bill would allow these students to use their Pell grants for living expenses instead of tuition and fees. Students would have to be enrolled in an eligible program at a community college for the first time on at least a half-time basis. Eligible students must also maintain satisfactory progress in their course of study. These community college credits must be fully transferable to four-year institutions, or to occupational skills training programs that lead to a recognized postsecondary credential for in-demand industry sectors or occupations in their state. The bill also establishes two grant programs targeted to four-year historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. AFSCME strongly supports this legislation.
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