Federal Flash: Congressional Shutdown Shuffle; Update on Higher Education

Hello and welcome to Federal Flash. I’m Nikki McKinney and I’m joined by Monica
Almond. The House mark-up of the GOP proposal to reauthorize
the Higher Education Act (or HEA), efforts to fund the federal government, and the tax
reform bill nearing the finish line are all hot topics this week. For more on the HEA reauthorization, let’s
turn to Monica. Thanks, Nikki. As we reported a few weeks back, Republican
lawmakers in the House introduced the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity
Through Education Reform or PROSPER Act. The bill is an overhaul of the HEA which was
last reauthorized in 2008. On Tuesday, the House Education Committee
held a mark-up of the proposal. Representative Virginia Foxx, who chairs the
Committee, said Americans can’t afford just a reauthorization of HEA but need real reform
of the law. Democrats, led by Ranking Member Bobby Scott,
agree that the law needs to be re-worked. However, they expressed frustration with the
partisan process through which the bill was developed and argued that the time between
introduction of the bill and the mark-up was too short. After nearly twelve hours of debate and consideration
of more than 60 amendments, the Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration. Thanks, Monica. As many of you know, funding for the federal
government was set to expire on December 8th. Fortunately, Congress was able to avert a
shutdown with one day to spare passing a two-week spending bill that will expire on December
22nd. But getting consensus around a longer-term
spending bill has proven difficult. Democrats want parity for any defense and
non-defense spending boost, while Republicans want to see the Pentagon get the bulk of any
spending increase. Congressional leaders must agree to raise
spending levels in the next few weeks to avoid the triggering of automatic cuts to both domestic
and defense programs. It is expected that Congress will pass ANOTHER
short-term funding measure from December 22nd to January 19th giving them more time to work
out a deal. The shuffle to avoid a shutdown is happening
at the same time as Republican leaders are pushing to finish work on the one trillion-dollar
tax plan being hashed out by House and Senate conferees. That’s right, Nikki. And GOP tax writers announced they reached
an agreement in principle on a compromise measure that could be voted on next week. With Senate Democrats united in their opposition
to the legislation, final passage in that chamber is still uncertain. You may remember that the original Senate
version narrowly passed on a 51-49 vote, with Republican Bob Corker opposing the bill. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes,
with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie. If the vote slips into the new year when Alabama
Senator-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, is sworn in, that margin for error gets even slimmer Finally, in other news, the National Center
for Education Statistics released data indicating that the national high school graduation rate
has reached a new all-time high at 84.1 percent for the 2015-16 school year, up from 83.2
percent the previous year. Graduation rates also were up across the board
for student subgroups. For example, the graduation rate
for Latino students increased from 77.8 percent to 79.3 percent
for African American students, it increased from 74.6 percent to 76.4 percent; and
for low-income students, it increased from 76.1 percent to 77.6 percent. However, challenges persist. There is a 12 percentage-point graduation
rate gap between White students and their African American peers. More, although the graduation rate is increasing,
many students are not graduating from high school with the requisite knowledge and skills
to be ready for college and a career, as explained in our recent report, Paper Thin. To access graduation rate data for the Class
of 2016, visit the link below. That’s all for now. For an alert when the next episode of federal
flash is available, email us at [email protected] Thanks for watching.

Stephen Childs

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