President Obama and Congress Agree to a Two-Year Budget Deal

Yesterday, President Obama signed a two-year agreement that would that would lift the spending caps imposed by sequestration, and provide $80 billion in new non-defense spending for FY 2016 and 2017.  The agreement also suspends the debt limit, which was set to expire today, until March 2017.  While this deal is designed to prevent further fiscal battles for the remainder of the Obama Administration, Congress still needs to pass a budget by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown.

With the authorized $80 billion increase ($50 billion is expected to be available in FY 2016), Obama-signs-budget-bill-averting-government-shutdownCongressional leaders have been discussing how to allocate the funding to critical domestic programs.  According to conversations with numerous Capitol Hill staffers, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill is expected to benefit from this deal, however, explicit details on how much of a funding increase it would receive will not be known until a draft Omnibus spending bill is published.  As a reminder, both the House and Senate proposed funding the LHHSE bill at roughly $3.5 billion less than what was provided in FY 2015.

At this time, it’s unknown how child care and early education programs, including CCDBG and Head Start, will fare with the boost in spending.  However, since President Obama has made child care a top priority over the last several years, including his $82 billion proposal in February, it’s possible a final FY 2016 deal could include funding levels closer to what the President asked from Congress in his budget request.

More details will be provided in the coming weeks, and we expect to see a draft FY 2016 Omnibus spending proposal around Thanksgiving.

Congress Approves Temporary Funding Measure, Continues to Work on Final FY 2016 Budget

Earlier today, Congress approved a short-term continuing resolution (CR) keeping the Federal government funded through December 11. The CR includes no spending cuts to any domestic programs and, instead, funds all programs at FY 2015 levels as leaders negotiate a final deal.

While the CR easily passed both chambers of Congress, it will be extremely difficult to pass a year-long bill before the end of the year. The most notable reason is the departure of House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), who announced his resignation late last week. Speaker Boehner’s last day in Congress is October 30.

Boehner’s replacement, who will likely be House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), will be under the same intense pressure from the base of the House Republican caucus to keep the discretionary spending caps in place for FY 2016. Additionally, the new speaker will have to hold another vote to raise DSC08585the debt ceiling in November, as well as address the extension of a number of tax breaks set to expire on December 31.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty in the House, there has been growing bi-partisan support in the Senate for raising the spending caps to allow for more discretionary funding for domestic, non-defense programs. In fact, Senator Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has publicly acknowledged that negotiations on lifting the caps will happen soon with the President and congressional Democrats.

There also have been ongoing discussions of the possibility of a “grand bargain,” where the FY 2016 budget would be rolled into a multi-year extension of the Highway Trust Fund, along with a tax bill addressing the current provisions set to expire at the end of the year.

President Obama has maintained his commitment to vetoing any spending bill that does not lift the current discretionary caps. However, if House and Senate leaders are nowhere near a deal in early December, the likelihood of a year-long CR being enacted increases dramatically. If that were to happen, it’s possible that a deal could be struck to lift the caps to add some new funding for discretionary.

It’s also possible we could have another government shutdown in December.

We will provide updates and opportunities to advocate for early childhood funding.

Senate Approves Bi-Partisan Overhaul of No Child Left Behind

Earlier today, the Senate approved the “Every Child Achieves Act” (S. 1177) with an 81-17 vote. S. 1177 would replace No Child Left Behind and would retain some features of the current law, including standardized testing, but overall S. 1177 would give more flexibility to states and reduce the Federal government’s role in the nation’s education policy.

The “Every Child Achieves Act” includes a proposal to authorize a new early education grant to states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access, and would specifically target resources for low- and moderate-income families.  Additionally, S. 117 creates a new literacy program that includes a set-aside for early learning initiatives.

Shortly before the Senate approved the bill, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) offered an amendment authorizing the Preschool Development Grants program, as well as the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act.”  The amendment failed on a 45-52 vote.

At this time, it’s unclear what the next steps are with regards to sending a final bill to President Obama.  boypaintingWhile the Senate bill represents a strong, bi-partisan agreement, the House bill, which barely passed last week, is much different and proposes far more drastic changes to the country’s K-12 education policy.  The House version, known as the “Student Success Act,” goes much further in eliminating the Federal government’s role in holding schools accountable, especially for low-income districts.

While President Obama has expressed concerns about the Senate-passed measure, he has threatened to veto the House version.  However, this should not be interpreted that the President would sign S. 1177.

Congressional leaders could reach a compromise between the House and Senate bills, but it seems very unlikely that a majority of House Republicans would support this.  Therefore, House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), would need the support of nearly the entire Democratic caucus and some Republicans to approve such a bill.  However, this would be a violation of the “Hastert Rule,” which is the legislating principle that any bill should be able to pass with a House Republican majority.  Even if a compromise bill clears the House, it could face the threat of a filibuster in the Senate.

We will continue to monitor this and keep you updated.

Senate to Begin Debating Bi-Partisan Overhaul of ESEA This Week

Tomorrow, the Senate will begin deliberating S. 1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), something Congress has not done since 2001. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved this bill on April 16.

ESEA oversees the nation’s K-12 policy, as well as promotes early learning initiatives. S. 1177 proposes significant changes to the current law, including the creation of a new early education grant to states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access, and would specifically target resources for low- and moderate-income families. In addition, the current bill creates a new literacy program with a set-aside for early learning, and clarifies existing use of early education funds under Title I.

During consideration of S. 1177 on the Senate floor, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) will offer an amendment to senate-vote-freedom-act.sithe bill that would authorize and fund the Preschool Development Grant program, and the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015” (H.R. 2411/ S. 1380).  Click here for more information on the Senator’s amendment, as well as here to see how each state would financially benefit from it. You can read more about the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015” here.

A final vote on S. 1177 may take several weeks due to the number of amendments that will be considered.  While the White House has not publicly weighed in on S. 1177, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education, “applauded” the Senate bill shortly after it was approved by the HELP Committee in April.  However, President Obama has threatened to veto the House version of this legislation, the “Student Success Act,” (H.R. 5), which was approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in February.

Child Care and ECD Update: A Major Fight Looms Over Funding for Next Year

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This week, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending measures, which is the legislation that provides annual funding for child care and early child development programs. As expected, both committees rejected the President’s major child care proposals.

The Senate bill includes a $150 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is to be dedicated towards costs associated with the new requirements under the 2014 law. The House version of this bill, which the Appropriations Committee approved on June 24, does not propose any increase in CCDBG funding for next year. However, both the House and Senate versions proposed increases for Head Start, including $192 million in the House and $100 million in the Senate. The increased funding would be dedicated towards expanding the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program.

While it may come as welcoming news that child care and early child development programs will likely receive an increase in funds next year, it’s important to point out that neither bill would end the sequester or raise the budget caps established in the FY 2016 Congressional Budget Resolution.  Therefore, a considerable number of children could lose access to these programs if Congress does not restore funding before completing a final bill. In addition, both chambers proposed deep cuts to critical health and education programs, and eliminated certain programs including Preschool Development Grants.

The next steps on this legislation is unclear, but with President Obama likely vetoing any bill that doesn’t restore at least some of the proposed spending cuts, it’s next to impossible that an agreement between Congress and the White House will be reached by October 1, 2015.

We will keep you updated, and you can view the House bill here, and the details of the Senate bill here.

Congress Introduces the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015”

The bi-partisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015, was introduced today by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Richard Hanna (R-NY).

Millions of young children from low-and moderate-income families lack access to high-quality, affordable preschool programs. Research has proven that children who attend these programs are more likely to graduate from high school and succeed in their adult lives. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act proposes a 10-year Federal-state partnership to increase access and expand quality early learning opportunities for children ages birth to five.

The legislation includes four key sections: Prekindergarten Access, Early Learning Quality Partnerships, Children with Disabilities, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

To help understand how the legislation would impact different areas of the early childhood landscape, the following summarizes each section and its implications.

Prekindergarten Access

The legislation would fund preschool for four-year old children from families earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and encourage states to spend their own funds to support preschool for young children with family incomes above that income level.

Some of the highlights include:DSC08585

    • Requiring alignment of early learning standards with the State’s K-12 system that are “developmentally-appropriate, and culturally and linguistically appropriate and address all the domains of school-readiness.”
    • Mixed-delivery eligibility for grants to ensure that states have the maximum flexibility in determining how the preschool grants could be administered to best fit their communities.
    • Requiring establishment of a State Early Childhood Education and Care Council, where it doesn’t currently exist.
    • Improving coordination and participation with other federally-funded early childhood programs including, CCDBG, IDEA part C, and MIECHV.
    • Implementing performance measures and targets designed to increase school readiness, quality programs available, and children in those programs.
    • 10-year Match requirement from states, transitioning from 10% in the first year, to an equal share of the federal amount in the program’s eighth and following years. States do have options to participate in a reduce match rate if they qualify.
    • Prekindergarten Development Grants – For states not currently eligible for the formulaic preschool grants (described above), states could receive grants to help increase their ability to build the infrastructure and workforce and instill quality measures necessary to qualify for the federal formulaic prekindergarten grants in future years.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with developing a process for converting Head Start programs (that currently serve four-year olds) to Early Head Start programs serving three-year olds and infants/toddlers.

Early Learning Quality Partnerships

The legislation would fund the establishment and/or expansion of partnerships between Early Head Start programs and child care providers to help raise the quality of “coordinated, comprehensive services for infants and toddlers and children through age three.”

Some of the highlights include:

  • $1.4 billion in competitive grants for Early Head Start programs to partner with center-based or family child care programs, particularly those that receive federal support through CCDBG and agree to meet Early Head Start program performance standards.
  • Priority of grants given to applicants that create “strong” alignment with MIECHV, CCDBG, and state-funded programs to develop comprehensive birth-to-school services for families.
  • Early Head Start programs receiving grants under this initiative would enter into a “contractual relationship” with child care providers to:
    • Expand center-based or family child care programs through financial support.
    • Provide training, technical assistance, and support to provider to meet higher quality measures.
    • Blend funds with CCDBG to develop “high-quality child care, for a full-day” that meets the Early Head Start standards.

Children With Disabilities

The bill amends the Individuals with Disabilities Act by increasing funding for infants and toddlers with disabilities and preschool grants for children with disabilities.

Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program

The legislation would provide a “Sense of the Senate” and a “Sense of the House of the Representatives” that the MIECHV program has shown significant progress in the improving the development of children from low-income families.  A “Sense of the Congress (or of each chamber)” is simply the formal expression of opinion about subjects of current national interest.  In other words, while the rest of the legislation would develop, implement, or expand existing programs, this section would clarify the belief of the respective chambers that the MIECHV program has seen significant success in its work and that the chambers believe that Congress should continue to provide the resources necessary for the program.

MIECHV is currently funded through March 31, 2017.

Click here to read more about the legislation.

Big Week for Early Education

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On April 16th, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law that oversees the nation’s K-12 policy.

During the three-day consideration of the bill, the HELP Committee debated and adopted over 20 amendments, including one sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Committee, Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), that authorizes a new early education grant to states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access, and would target resources for low- and moderate-income families. In addition, the Senate bill creates a new literacy program with a set-aside for early learning, 3and clarifies existing use of early education funds under Title I.

The Senate is expected to consider this legislation later this spring or during the summer.

Also, on April 14th, the Senate…

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House Passes Bipartisan Measure to Extend Health Insurance and Home Visiting Programs for Children

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would extend child care and early child development programs that support millions of families.

The extension of these programs was included in the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015,” (H.R. 2), which is legislation aimed at ending the sustainable growth rate, also known as the “doc-fix,” used for calculating doctor’s payments for Medicare.

H.R. 2 includes a two-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance coverage to nearly 8 million low-income children. Funding for CHIP was scheduled to expire this September if Congress did not act, which would have put many children at considerable risk of losing health care coverage. In addition to the extension of funding, H.R. 2 would also raise the Federal match to CHIP by 23% on October 1, 2015.175517670

H.R. 2 also includes a two-year extension ($400 million annually) for the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. MIECHV is a Federal-state partnership that provides critical support for pregnant women and families, as well as helps new, low-income parents access resources to help their children develop physically, socially, and emotionally to prepare them for kindergarten.

Congress will be in recess for the next two weeks. President Obama supports H.R. 2 and the Senate is expected to address the bill when it returns on April 13, 2015. Final passage is not certain but it’s likely, and since the current “doc-fix” Medicare cuts expire on March 31, the Senate will need to move quickly when it reconvenes.

The New Congress Releases its Budget Proposals

2016_budget_headerEarlier this week, the House and Senate Budget Committees approved their FY 2016 budget resolutions, and both proposed very deep cuts for many non-defense programs over the next ten years, including ones that millions of children and families depend on.

A congressional budget resolution serves as a blueprint for the appropriations process, which is expected to begin later this spring. The resolution includes various proposals on taxes, and both mandatory and discretionary spending, and offers projections and forecasts beyond the upcoming fiscal year (known as “out years”). The President does not sign a budget resolution, and while a completed resolution technically binds Congress, it’s not a law.

The House resolution, which was authored by Chairman Tom Price (R-GA), proposes to slash spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, while the Senate Budget Committee Chair, Mike Enzi (R-WY), included a $4.5 trillion reduction in his proposal.

Although not final, the House budget proposes cutting $140 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Senate would eliminate $137 billion in its proposal. Additionally, both the House and Senate budgets would convert SNAP to a block grant, where states would receive a fixed amount of funding every year for nutritional assistance needs, which would lead to a significant number of families losing benefits.

Both resolutions also repeal the Affordable Care Act and propose massive cuts to Medicaid, which could result in millions of children and families losing access to quality health insurance.

While both proposals have limited specifics at this time, the drastic cuts to domestic spending could significantly harm crucial child care and early education programs.

Both resolutions are expected to be voted on next week, followed by a possible House-Senate conference agreement by April 15th. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) intends to offer an amendment to the Senate budget resolution protecting early education programs on the Senate floor. We will make sure to provide details throughout the process.