House Education & Workforce Committee
I want to thank our colleagues for being here today. It’s not every day that the House and Senate come together in a formal conference committee to address an important issue facing our country. The fact that we are here reflects a commitment to follow regular order where members on both sides of the aisle – and on both sides of the Capitol – can participate in an open legislative process and help make a difference in the lives of the American people.
This week, we have an opportunity to take the next step in a long process to improve K-12 education. We are continuing an effort to replace the old, failed approach to education with a new approach that will help more children receive the excellent education they deserve.
Addressing the problems with federal education policies is something we have neglected for far too long. No Child Left Behind has been the law of the land for nearly 14 years, and it expired eight years ago. The law was based on good intentions, but it was also based on the flawed premise that Washington should decide what students need to excel in school.
Parents, teachers, and superintendents have been telling us for years that this approach isn’t working. Everyone here knows it isn’t working. Children from across the country are trapped in failing schools. The nation’s report card recently revealed achievement in reading and math declined for the first time in 25 years. And in many neighborhoods, students are more likely to drop out than to earn a diploma.
Rather than step up and change the law, Congress stepped back and let the administration set national policy through conditional waivers. Instead of providing states and schools relief from the law, these controversial waivers have led to greater confusion and uncertainty. Parents and state and local leaders are more frustrated than ever with the federal government trying to micromanage schools in their communities.
The American people have waited long enough for Congress to do its job and replace No Child Left Behind. Fortunately, both the House and Senate have finally passed proposals intended to do just that. Now it is up to us to resolve the differences between those two proposals and work to send a final bill to the president’s desk.
Toward that end, staff and members have discussed where we might find areas of common ground and developed a framework I believe will result in a successful conference. I am very pleased that the framework advances the three basic principles House Republicans have long championed.
First, the framework reduces the federal role in K-12 education. One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated. Dozens of ineffective and duplicative programs are repealed. New and unprecedented restrictions are placed on the secretary’s authority. This proposal will significantly reduce the size of the federal footprint in our nation’s schools.
Second, the framework restores local control by returning to state and local leaders the primary responsibility for accountability and school improvement. The framework protects the right of states to opt out of federal education programs, as well as provides new funding flexibility so federal resources are better spent on priorities set at the local level.
Third and finally, the framework empowers parents. We continue to promote transparency about school performance, so parents have the information they need to do what’s best for their children. We also strengthen the charter school program and magnet school program to offer parents greater school choice.
These are just a few ways the framework advances the principles House Republicans have long supported, and no doubt additional details will be discussed during today’s meeting. We compromised on the details, but we did not compromise our principles.
That is why I urge my colleagues to support this agreement and help us move one step closer to replacing a flawed law. It is time to end the Washington-knows-best-approach to K-12 education. It is time to give parents and state and local leaders the authority and flexibility they need to deliver an excellent education to every student in every school. This agreement will help do just that.
I’d like to end my remarks where they began. We are here because we are committed to regular order where members on both sides of the aisle can share their views and offer ideas. I look forward to hearing from all of our colleagues today and to moving this important process forward.
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We all know the current federal financial aid system is broken. National student loan debt is at an all-time high, and a complex patchwork of grant, loan, and repayment programs has become so difficult to navigate that it often discourages individuals from pursuing a higher education. Students, families, and taxpayers deserve better. That’s why simplifying and improving student aid remains a leading priority as Congress continues its work to strengthen higher education.
Addressing the challenges within the federal financial aid system is an important part of that effort – and one we have discussed extensively in our subcommittee – but that’s not why we are here today. Instead, we are here to examine the agency tasked with managing the system: the Office of Federal Student Aid, or FSA. The agency is responsible for administering every federal loan, grant, work-study, and repayment program under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
In other words, FSA is in charge of delivering billions of taxpayer dollars to millions of eligible students, as well as managing more than a trillion dollars of outstanding student loan debt. Additionally, the agency is expected to provide guidance about financial aid policies to thousands of colleges and universities and has the authority to revoke an institution’s ability to participate in the aid programs should they not comply with that guidance. Needless to say, FSA plays an enormous role in the higher education system and has the ability to help or disrupt the lives of students.
In the 1990s, the Government Accountability Office designated FSA as a “High Risk” agency with “long-standing management problems.” To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of FSA, and to mitigate the mishandling of limited resources moving forward, Congress in 1998 converted the agency to a performance-based organization that would have to meet specific objectives under the Higher Education Act. Nearly two decades and trillions of dollars later, many would argue FSA is not achieving the intended results. It’s our job to find out why and identify opportunities for reform to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent and students are well served.
Numerous reports reveal FSA is rife with inefficiencies that have led to a lack of communication with students, institutions, and loan servicers; improper payments; inaccurate reporting of data; failure to ensure borrowers are aware of the repayment options available to them; mismanagement of contractors and vendors; and poor customer service.
After the last comprehensive review of the agency in 2008, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found FSA has failed to meet its responsibility as a performance-based organization, such as developing a five-year performance plan with external stakeholders and publishing annual performance reviews for the agency’s top executives. Due to these and other failures, the Inspector General noted that FSA “has been unable to realize the expected benefits of the initiatives and has hindered its progress in meeting the requirements of the [Higher Education Act].”
This is about more than checking boxes. When FSA fails to fulfill its responsibilities, it jeopardizes our investment in students. We need to demand better. As Congress works to strengthen higher education, we must ensure the Office of Federal Student Aid is serving the best interests of students, families, and taxpayers. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how to achieve just that. Thank you for joining us, and thank you, again, Chairman Meadows, for working with us on this important hearing.
Today, I rise to recognize the inaugural observance of National Apprenticeship Week. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of apprenticeship programs are helping to prepare workers for today’s high-skilled, in-demand jobs.
For far too long, there has been a discrepancy in what students are learning in the classroom and what employers say they need in the workplace.
Apprenticeships are key to narrowing that skills gap because they offer students a low-cost – and in many cases a no-cost – education that arms them with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today’s global economy. Apprentices often earn an average starting salary of $50,000 per year and go on to make $300,000 more than their non-apprentice peers over the course of their career.
Employers who invest in these work-based learning programs are attracting and retaining highly qualified employees. They’re also seeing results in the form of increased productivity and greater innovation.
Apprenticeships can change lives, and I look forward to seeing how these valuable programs continue to strengthen America’s workforce.
The White House recently hosted a summit on amplifying the voice of workers in our nation’s workplaces. We noted it was an interesting idea for an administration that has been tone deaf to the challenges facing workers and their families. Anyone who has been listening knows the president’s failed policies are wreaking havoc on the country.
An anemic economy, sluggish job growth, higher health care costs, and stagnant wages are the price working families continue to pay for the administration’s misguided priorities. The president has shown he would rather grow the size and power of the federal government than grow the economy and middle-class. That’s why so many families are struggling to make ends meet and are worried about the future.
It’s also why the bill before the committee is so important. The National Labor Relations Board has played a leading role in advancing the president’s flawed, top-down approach to the economy, and its effort to redefine what it means to be an employer is just the latest example.
For more than 30 years, federal labor policy held that two or more employers were “joint employers” if they shared direct and immediate control over essential terms and conditions of employment, such as hiring, wages, and work schedules. This commonsense policy protected workers and allowed countless individuals – including women, minorities, and first generation Americans – to realize the dream of owning a small business.
Their small businesses are located in neighborhoods across the country, employing millions of workers and providing invaluable support to local communities. Now the NLRB is threatening everything these men and women worked so hard to achieve. In its Browning Ferris decision, the board vastly expanded joint employer liability to include those who have indirect control – or even the potential to control – employment conditions. The consequences of this will be far reaching.
Larger businesses will begin exerting greater control over small businesses. If they are legally liable for the decisions of their smaller partners, they will have no choice but to demand a greater role in how those small businesses operate. Or they might stop doing business with local employers altogether. For many, the legal liability won’t be worth the trouble of franchising a business or working with a local subcontractor.
This is what we’ve learned in recent months from those directly affected by this unprecedented decision. They have shared how it will lead to higher costs for consumers and fewer jobs for workers, as well as threaten their livelihoods and the livelihoods of other small business owners. Ed Braddy, who owns a Burger King restaurant in Baltimore, warned this decision “will very likely cause me to go out of business.” He went on to say:
“I became a franchisee so that I could run my own business and help those in my community. The new joint employer standard will not only destroy that dream, but the dreams of other young men and women who hope to create a better future for themselves.”
I know there are some who would rather heed the advice of academics and so-called experts. But I think we should listen to Ed Braddy and others like him, because they are the ones who must face the costly consequences. And make no mistake, these men and women are urging us to stop the NLRB’s attack on their businesses and pass the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act.
The bill simply says that a joint employer relationship exists only when multiple employers share actual, direct, and immediate control over employment decisions. This is the same standard that served workers and employers well for decades. If a franchisor or contractor has significant control over a small business, this bill allows the NLRB to hold them responsible. What the bill does not allow is for three partisan bureaucrats to disrupt the lives of countless small business owners and the millions of workers they employ.
We have spent years trying a top-down approach to the economy, and it isn’t working. Policies that place more faith and control in politicians and bureaucrats will not deliver the growth and prosperity our nation desperately needs. It’s likely we will discuss a number of those policies today, including ideas that would allow Washington to micromanage work shifts or make it easier for trial lawyers to harass employers. These are just new twists on the same flawed approach that continues to fail working families.
A better approach is getting Washington out of the way and letting small businesses do what they do best: creating jobs and opportunity for workers and their families. Let’s ensure policies are in place to protect workers, but do so in a way that allows America’s job creators to succeed. That is why I urge my colleagues to help roll back the NLRB’s misguided joint employer decision by supporting the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act.
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Rokita Statement: Hearing on “Improving Career and Technical Education to Help Students Succeed in the Workforce”
This new reality has been painfully evident in the wake of the recent recession. We are more than six years into the so-called recovery, yet millions of Americans continue to struggle with finding a good-paying job. Meanwhile, industries critical to our economy – health care, engineering, and manufacturing, for example – have jobs to fill and not enough qualified applicants to fill them; a problem we have come to know as “the skills gap.”
Recognizing the urgent need to close the gap and put Americans back to work, Republicans and Democrats came together last Congress to fix a broken and outdated job training system. The bipartisan, bicameral effort resulted in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a commonsense solution to modernize and improve the federal workforce development system. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will help workers attain skills for 21st century jobs and cultivate the modern workforce that evolving American businesses need.
But we still have more work to do. By reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, we have an opportunity to help more Americans – especially younger Americans – enter the workforce with the tools and knowledge necessary to compete for the high-skilled, in-demand jobs in our economy. Last reauthorized in 2006, the law provides federal support for state and local programs focused on preparing high school and community college students for technical careers.
Unfortunately, many of these career and technical education programs have not kept pace with the changing workforce. In a report released by the Council for Chief State School
Officers, education leaders explained, “Career education in too many of our secondary schools reflects an outdated model that tolerates low expectations and is often misaligned with the evolving needs of the current labor market.”
With more than 14 percent of young adults unemployed and the highest level of unfilled jobs since 2001, it’s no wonder states have started to take action. My home state of Indiana, for example, is partnering with local businesses to develop a new high school curriculum that better meets the needs of local communities and ensures students are prepared to enter high-skilled jobs right after earning their diploma. As Governor Mike Pence testified at a hearing earlier this year, “For those students who are not bound for the traditional four-year college, we must still ensure that they can thrive in future careers, and one way to do this is to again make career and technical education a priority.”
By working with the private sector to develop resources for successful career and technical education programs, Indiana has made incredible gains over the last two years: The state has helped thousands of hardworking Hoosiers join the workforce and attracted more good-paying jobs for people in our communities. It is our hope the success we’ve experienced in Indiana can be replicated across the country.
The goal at the federal level, and what we are here to discuss today, is to ensure our investment in these state and local efforts is paying off for the students we aim to serve. To help reach that goal, we should consider reforms that encourage states to align high school and postsecondary coursework with the needs of the workforce. This will require a look at existing federal requirements, many of which are duplicative and can hinder state and local efforts to develop and implement successful programs.
Helping Americans compete and succeed in today’s workforce remains one of the committee’s leading priorities, and today’s discussion is an important part of that effort. I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses as we work to improve the Perkins Act and strengthen support for young Americans as they enter the workforce.
Before I recognize Ranking Member Fudge, I would like to note that one of our witnesses today, Dr. Douglas Major, is a resident of Stillwater, Oklahoma. On Saturday, the people of Stillwater and the surrounding communities were celebrating Oklahoma State University’s homecoming, when a driver crashed into the homecoming parade. This terrible tragedy injured more than 40 individuals and killed four others.
Dr. Major, on behalf of the committee, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to you, the people of Stillwater, and the entire Oklahoma State University community. We pray for the recovery of those who remain hospitalized and in critical condition, and we lift up in our thoughts and prayers the victims and their families. Thank you for being with us today.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is based on a simple notion: that every child deserves an excellent education – regardless of a family’s background, income, or zip code.
The program provides scholarships to students in low-income families so they can escape underperforming schools and receive the quality education they need to excel both in the classroom and later in life. And our investment in this effort is paying off.
Last year, 90 percent of 12th graders who received a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship graduated from a high-quality school, and 88 percent went on to pursue a college degree. What’s more, when asked if they were satisfied with their child’s education, 85 percent of parents responded “yes.”
It’s no wonder every year the demand for scholarships far exceeds the number of scholarships available. These positive results also explain why this important program has long enjoyed bipartisan support.
Of course, there are some who don’t believe these vulnerable families deserve the opportunity to do what is best for their children’s education.
At a time when the Obama administration has spent billions of dollars pushing its own pet projects and priorities, it has routinely put this modest, successful program on the chopping block.
Fortunately, a bipartisan majority in Congress has continued to stand by these students and families by continuing to support the program, and Speaker John Boehner has always stood at the forefront of those efforts. Few have fought harder or longer for the educational opportunities of D.C. students than Speaker Boehner.
In fact, throughout his more than 20 years in public office, Speaker Boehner has been a tireless champion for families who simply want the opportunity – any opportunity – for their children to receive a quality education.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program began under his leadership while he served as chairman of the House education committee. Thanks to his efforts, this initiative has made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of students across the District.
The Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act reflects his continued commitment to these families. More importantly, it reaffirms a bipartisan commitment to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and the D.C. school children it serves.
I urge my colleagues to help more low-income students in our nation’s capital receive the quality education they deserve by supporting this important legislation, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Walberg Statement: Hearing on “Protecting America’s Workers: Reviewing Mine Safety Policies with Stakeholders”
Two weeks ago, we discussed the important role the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plays in providing American workers the safe workplaces they deserve. And earlier this year, we heard from Assistant Secretary Joe Main, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, who discussed the work his agency is doing to help keep miners safe.
On each occasion, we urged the administration to hold bad actors accountable, as well as to work with employers and other stakeholders to identify gaps in safety and to implement responsible solutions. The goal is to prevent injuries and fatalities before they occur, and this responsible approach is the best way to achieve that goal.
Today, we will hear from a number of stakeholders in the mining industry, including operators, labor, and safety experts. There has been significant change in the mining industry over the last several years, including the way health and safety policies are enforced. This hearing is an opportunity to hear what’s working and what isn’t.
As we all know, thousands of miners are employed by an industry that is vitally important to our nation’s homes and businesses. We also know that these men and women work in an environment that is extremely dangerous, where some of the most basic tasks can be life-threatening. It’s hard to imagine working in a place where the very air you breathe is hazardous to your health, but that’s just one of the many hazards miners face.
We have witnessed the deadly consequences that ensue when mine safety and health rules are not followed. Upper Big Branch is a painful reminder of what happens when bad actors put profit before safety, and a trial currently underway in West Virginia demonstrates the role our criminal justice system can play.
Upper Big Branch is also a painful reminder of what happens when mine safety and health rules are not properly enforced. As an independent report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health noted, “If [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of – and possibly could have prevented – the UBB explosion.”
In response, the agency has taken steps intended to improve safety, such as requiring the use of continuous personal dust monitors and proximity detectors, launching an “impact inspection” initiative, and changing the pattern of violations process. We have repeatedly called on MSHA to do better, and while we haven’t agreed with each action it has taken, we are pleased the agency is showing more of a commitment to using the tools it has to keep miners safe.
Unfortunately, along with reports of effective enforcement, I have also heard reports of inspectors being overly aggressive in their citation policy. With one inspector, the majority of citations were found to be in error by a court. We agree that oversight of mine safety is imperative to worker safety, but we also want to ensure mines can continue to successfully operate and provide good jobs for its workers.
We look forward to hearing from our witnesses on these and other actions MSHA has taken in recent years. Understanding the state of the industry, seeing how current rules are or are not working, and discussing what we can do differently are vital to worker safety, and that is why we asked you all to join us today.
Each of you offers a different and important perspective on the policies in place to protect America’s miners. Your views and expertise will help us answer a number of important questions: Are the policies that have been put in place in recent years working? If not, why not? Is enforcement more effective or less effective? Are there additional steps MSHA can take to strengthen protections?Your testimony will help us ensure enforcement and regulatory policies serve the best interests of miners and their families. Again, thank you for joining us. We look forward to your testimony and to continuing this important conversation on worker safety.