House Education & Workforce Committee
Opening Statement by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Examining First Amendment Rights on Campus.”
Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing. I thank our panel of witnesses and our members for being here today as we talk about freedom of expression on college campuses and how postsecondary institutions are and are not respecting individuals’ First Amendment rights.
Here at the Education and Workforce Committee, we talk a lot about the importance of all education. Education has the power to change lives, and every form of instruction that focuses on developing a student’s skills is valuable, whether that skill is physical or intellectual.
We’ve focused on the skills gap, and the skills gap is a major reason we have more than six million open jobs in this country. But there’s one skill that I believe is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace and in the classroom, and that skill is critical thinking.
All of education, but especially postsecondary institutions, have a duty to develop students’ problem-solving skills. By encouraging students to engage in civil discourse and challenge their own perceptions, they sharpen their analytical skills so that they are prepared to lead the workforce once they graduate. But many institutions are taking deliberate steps to curb speech, and are thus extinguishing students’ critical thinking at a vital stage in their professional — yes, professional — development.
University campuses should function as a marketplace of ideas for students to exchange knowledge and share their varied and distinctive viewpoints. When freedom of thought, expression, and association are stifled on campus, the basic rights of students and staff are irreparably undermined.
This is not a partisan issue. In a Gallup-Knight survey of students published earlier this year, every single demographic favored an open learning environment that permits what may be deemed as offensive speech by some over a campus environment that puts limits on speech deemed offensive. Furthermore, the majority of respondents reported they feel that speech is being stifled on campus.
So why are some institutions placing limits on freedom of expression? There has been no shortage of news stories about some speakers being turned away from college campuses, informal censorship occurring in classrooms, and the meteoric rise of the heckler’s veto. As a result, postsecondary institutions are functioning more and more like ideological echo chambers devoid of diverse thought.
We have seen the creation of so-called safe spaces at some campuses where students can feel “safe” from speech that upsets them. Conversely, we have seen the development of free speech zones and other schemes designed to limit free expression and shield students from ideas and concepts they may find uncomfortable or challenging.
The Bill of Rights affirms certain unalienable rights, chief among them the freedom of speech. The First Amendment sets the United States apart from other nations, and our incredible individual liberties are the envy of people across the world. The freedom of thought and expression are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it is crucial that we safeguard this power and privilege.
In the Gallup-Knight poll I referenced, the majority of college students (64 percent) still view their First Amendment rights as secure. However, that number has fallen by almost 10 points from 73 percent in the previous year’s survey. As the postsecondary landscape continues to evolve, it’s important that we take a close and hard look at how students’ rights and freedoms are upheld on campus and at the role of the First Amendment in postsecondary education.
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Opening Statement of Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chairman, Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development on “On-the-Job: Rebuilding the Workforce through Apprenticeships.”
Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for joining us today as we examine ways in which we can continue to strengthen our national workforce development efforts and help more Americans get the skills they need to land in-demand jobs.
In the last several years, we have seen an economic boom take place under Republican leadership in Congress and the White House. The job market is strong and unemployment is at near-historic lows. In fact, employers need more people to work for them. In May of this year, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) issued a report that for the first time in BLS’ history, the number of job openings in the United States exceeded the number of job seekers nationwide.
I have seen this firsthand in Kentucky’s Second District. This August, I visited construction sites, factories, shipping facilities, and more businesses throughout my congressional district, and the one thing I heard from all of them is how they need more skilled workers. These are good jobs that some people unfortunately are missing out on because they don’t have the necessary skills.
In a 2018 survey from the ManpowerGroup, 46 percent of employers in the United States reported that they struggle to hire employees with the necessary skills for the job, and for the 6th year in a row, skilled trade jobs are the hardest positions to fill across the globe.
The American workforce is presently facing a shortage of over six million skilled workers, and we need approaches at both the public and private levels to successfully bridge this skills gap.
When I grew up, my dad and many of the people in our town worked for the local Ford factory. Back then, if you got a job with Ford, you entered a pipeline that taught you necessary skills as you moved up the ladder. Sadly, many factories that provided that kind of job security have shut down – including the one in my hometown. We must find other ways to bridge the skills gap.
In 2014, after years of hard work from the Education and Workforce Committee, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law. WIOA made significant progress rebuilding our national workforce development system by promoting employer-led innovation in and access to work-based learning experiences like on-the-job education and apprenticeship programs.
By strengthening on-the-job technical education and apprenticeship programs, we can streamline the connection between education and the workforce and encourage more Americans to pursue in-demand jobs, improving their own earning potential and the national workforce as a whole.
I want to continue this progress we made in WIOA with a renewed focus on apprenticeships. That’s why I worked with my colleague, Ranking Member Susan Davis, to establish the Apprenticeship Caucus. We held our first event earlier this summer, where we brought a wide range of representatives together to talk about how Congress can support these programs. We also introduced the APPRENTICE Act, which would establish a grant program to expand apprenticeship programs.
I look forward to continuing the conversation about apprenticeships at today’s hearing. I am pleased to welcome today’s witnesses and I look forward to hearing their testimony as we discuss innovative ways we can develop our workforce and help more Americans learn valuable skills on the job.
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Opening Statement of Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Chairman, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions
Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for joining us today as we discuss H.R. 4219, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act.
The American workplace continues to evolve in many positive ways, reflecting changes in employer and employee needs, attitudes, and preferences. Traditionally, competitive salaries and pay raises have been the primary ways for employers to attract and retain quality employees. While these recruiting tools are still important, more and more Americans have begun demanding flexible paid leave policies (including telework and other work arrangements). In fact, a 2015 survey conducted by Harris Poll found that nearly four in five employees preferred new or additional benefits or other perks over a pay raise.
The vast majority of full-time private sector employees have access to paid vacation leave and paid sick leave (90 percent and 82 percent, respectively). Even so, many states and local governments are mandating their own paid leave requirements.
To date, 10 states and the District of Columbia have a paid sick leave law on the books, as well as more than 30 localities. This has unsurprisingly resulted in a confusing patchwork of paid leave mandates that has led to increased compliance, administrative, and litigation costs.
Small businesses are especially vulnerable as they struggle beneath the burden of understanding and implementing these requirements, and employers that operate across state lines and multiple jurisdictions must now work to satisfy widely varying requirements that differ from state to state.
In answer to both the changes in the workplace and workforce and the growing patchwork of paid leave mandates, Congresswoman Mimi Walters from California introduced H.R. 4219, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, this past November.
This legislation would encourage and allow companies and employers to voluntarily offer their employees a benefits plan that provides a generous paid leave policy as well as a flexible work arrangement option. In fact, the plans allowed by the bill would provide more paid leave to employees than all state paid leave laws and most local laws.
This legislation would accomplish a number of things: first, it would provide employers with a clear-cut solution to the growing confusion around state and local paid leave laws, while providing employees with a worker-friendly benefits package. Second, and maybe most notably, it would do so without resorting to the use of an overly burdensome and inflexible federal mandate. And third, if an employer chose to offer his or her employees a qualifying paid leave plan, then that employer and those employees would enjoy uniform and robust plans no matter where the employer is located, without the threat of state and local regulation.
The Workflex in the 21st Century Act is a win-win for businesses and their employees, and provides Americans with the flexibility they desire when it comes to striking the right work-life balance.
I am pleased to welcome our distinguished witnesses with us here today as we discuss this important and timely legislation, and I look forward to hearing from them as we explore the topic of paid leave in the 21st century workplace.
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Opening Statement of Rep. Todd Rokita (IN-4) Chairman, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Hearing on “Examining the Summer Food Service Program.”
Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for joining us today to examine the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program and discuss how we can responsibly ensure that the most disadvantaged children have access to nutritious meals during the summer months.
Last Congress, we considered legislation to reform this program by reinvesting funds from other child nutrition programs that were in many cases benefiting middle-class families earning multiples above the poverty line to the Summer Food Service Program. I hope this hearing will bring valuable insight that will help us continue our work.
In America today, nearly 1 in 4 children live in households below the poverty line. Of these kids, over one million are classified as food insecure, meaning their parents cannot or do not provide consistent access to enough nutritious food for the child to be healthy. As a result, during the school year, many kids over-rely on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) for their nutritional needs. But during the summer months, the routine of the school day is gone and they are vulnerable to hunger. That is where the Summer Food Service Program comes into play.
The summer program provides meals to children from qualified households during the summer months. In 2017, the program served over 152 million meals to over 2 million children. Like many government-created programs, it has its challenges.
Our proposed reforms last Congress included increasing flexibility for states and providers, ensuring that taxpayer dollars truly benefit the most vulnerable of children, and examining new ways to encourage business participation to help drive down cost. The Committee also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine participation trends and identify weaknesses within the program.
Today, we will hear what the GAO found, and also hear from the Inspector General on a report they conducted. They will highlight important findings regarding problems facing the USDA and the organizations that participate in the program.
These reports present an opportunity to examine the program as a whole and identify changes. I believe that our focus should be on helping those who truly need this program and in a temporary manner, and not handing out free meals to those whose families who otherwise have or should have the resources to do so.
Finally, I know that this program is very important to a number of members on this Committee. As the Committee continues its work on improving the Summer Food Service Program, we should do so with one thing in mind, how to care for the kids who need this program the most by focusing on investing our limited resources into the program effectively. While doing so, it is incumbent upon this Committee to identify other places where our resources are not as well spent, and use those resources to fund some of the top priorities for Members, like the Summer Food Service Program.
Today’s witnesses are well-suited to provide us with their invaluable insight into the summer program, and I look forward to hearing from them as well as from other members of the subcommittee as we dive deeper into the Summer Food Service Program.
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