Paul Ryan on Education Policy

By Congressman Paul Ryan

During the 111th Congress, the House Education and Labor Committee is working on many important issues, including the No Child Left Behind reauthorization and higher education access. Education serves an important role in both our lives and in our society. Indeed, the strong commitment to education has been reflected in the increases we have seen in spending at the Department of Education over the past ten years. For example, funding increased significantly from $23 billion in Fiscal Year 1996 (FY1996) to $59.2 billion in FY2008. Title I funding, which provides money to assist in student achievement, has seen a dramatic increase since the mid-1990s. In FY1995, it received $6.8 billion; in FY2008, Title I received $14.4 billion.

It is imperative that we allocate our resources in the most efficient manner possible and do not simply hope that spending more money on education without adequate planning will improve our educational system.

Update on the No Child Left Behind Act 

The 111th Congress is expected to actively consider legislation to amend and extend the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Enacted on January 8, 2002, NCLB contains some reforms I favor and others that I do not. It highlights greater parental involvement in education, targets more federal education resources to schools that need the most assistance, and increases accountability for our nation’s schools. During the implementation of this law, the Department of Education has responded to criticisms that it received from educators across the country and has modified certain provisions of the law.

Debates on reauthorization are likely to focus on the following issues: Annual Yearly Progress rates and whether they are appropriately focused on improving education for disadvantaged students; the impact of testing on students and whether it should be expanded; funding adequacy and authorization levels; the need for a greater emphasis on math, science, and foreign language; and the role of the federal government in public K-12 education. It is also expected that Congress will examine whether or not program improvements, restructuring, and corrective actions for failing schools have actually resulted in real progress.

A-PLUS Act

As Congress debates the policy changes in the NCLB Act, I believe we must continue to make fiscally responsible reforms while improving student achievement. Many educators and parents have expressed frustration with the numerous federal requirements that have come with NCLB funding. Furthermore, decisions in individual school districts’ curriculum should be left to those who know best: parents, teachers, the school districts, and states. To that end, I am planning on again signing on as a co-sponsor to the A-PLUS Act.

The A-PLUS Act allows states to implement their own, individual education plans by providing the Secretary of Education a ‘declaration of intent’ to assume full responsibility for the education of their students. While states would continue to receive federal aid, it would provide states freedom from one-size-fits-all mandates. Importantly, accountability would remain an integral part of this legislation. States that select the A-PLUS option would maintain their own state assessment systems, ensuring a high level of transparency to the consumers of education - parents and other taxpayers. This bill will be an important way to allow educators who are close to the students to decide upon policy, rather than forcing them to comply with burdensome federal program requirements.

I will continue to monitor the federal government’s role in NCLB and other education programs. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on NCLB and the state of education in Wisconsin so that Congress can make the most efficient use of taxpayer money without eliminating the programs that are making a major difference in the lives of our children.

Improving Access to Higher Education

The State of Wisconsin has some of the highest quality public and private universities in the nation. In a time of increasing globalization and competition from abroad, our universities provide an important comparative advantage. Recognizing this, H.R. 4137, which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), was signed into law on August 14, 2008.

The principal objective of the HEA is to expand postsecondary education opportunity, particularly for low-income individuals, and to increase affordability for moderate income families as well. There are seven titles of the HEA that authorize numerous programs and provisions designed to provide assistance to postsecondary students and institutions. The heart of the legislation is its student aid programs authorized under Title IV, which provide aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study assistance.

Just as I have concerns about NCLB mandates on states, I have similar concerns about this bill. While there were several important provisions in H.R. 4137, such as increased transparency, I could not support the final bill because of its numerous federal mandates. I have heard from many educators regarding the frustrations they have had with NCLB’s federal mandates into state education systems. Unfortunately, H.R. 4137 requires that states fund their higher education systems at a minimum of their previous 5 year average. This does not take into consideration the requirement that many states have to balance their budget. Additionally, it may end up with the unintended consequence that states spend less on higher education so that they do not have to make deep budget cuts in other areas, such as K-12 education, in order to meet this federal mandate.

H.R. 5715, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act

In recent months, turmoil in the credit markets has caused difficulty for some lenders in the federally guaranteed student loan program to acquire the capital needed to provide loans to college students. In fact, some lenders have dropped out of the student loan market altogether, citing the high cost of borrowing money and lower rates of return due to lowered government subsidies. In order to forestall growing fears that private lenders may not be able to provide the necessary amount of student loans, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5715 with my support on April 17, 2008. On May 7, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 5715.

H.R. 5715 ensures that college students attempting to receive loans are not denied due to the current credit market. First, it provides explicit authority for the Secretary of Education to advance funds under the Lender of Last Resort program. While the Secretary of Education had already claimed this authority, providing the authority permanently will clarify the situation and stop any future ambiguity.

Next, the bill provides the temporary authority for the Department of Education to purchase existing Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL). FFEL is a student loan program that leverages private sector capitol and is the largest source of student financial aid. Because many FFEL loans are securitized into what are called ‘asset backed securities’ (ABS) they are dependant upon auctions to raise additional capital. While a similar process in the mortgage market caused much of the credit problems in the subprime market, student loans have not seen a default rate comparable to subprime loans. However, some of the auctions that have previously sold these loans have failed, meaning that no investors wish to purchase the ABS. While this is a temporary situation, it falls during a time when most students are attempting to receive their student loans, and so a temporary injection of liquidity of the market is warranted. However, I do believe that this should not turn into a permanent authority, and will not support any such move. Unfortunately, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2010 (FY2010) budget proposes to effectively eliminate the FFEL. In its place, the budget finances the entire Federal student loan program with U.S. Treasury borrowing.

Stimulus Bill

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. While I agreed that an urgent an effective fiscal response was needed, I do not believe that this bill would help our economy recover. What’s worse, it will exacerbate our crisis with spending that is slow, wasteful, and leave us with a painful debt hangover for years to come. Regretfully, this bill is a disservice to the hard-working families in Southern Wisconsin.

However, the bill does include several provisions designed to assist schools by providing additional funding. Specifically for Wisconsin, the bill provides an estimated:

  • $139 million for Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies

  • $42 million for school improvement projects

  • $8 million for education technology improvements

  • $214 million for Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) funding

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 (FY2010) Budget

President Obama’s proposals for the FY2010 budget have several concerning elements. First, as stated earlier, it would effectively eliminate the FFEL program. Next, it would create two entitlement programs. First, it would convert the Pell Grant program into an entitlement program by making its spending mandatory and automatically increasing its funding by 1% more than inflation. Next, it creates a brand new College Access and Completion Fund and funds it for 5 years at a cost of $2.5 billion.

While education is becoming increasingly important in our globalized society, the current debts we are incurring will be imposed on the next generation. I do not believe now is the time to create new entitlement programs that are not regularly reviewed by Congress to determine their effect on student achievement.

Congressman Paul Ryan serves Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. To contact him by phone in Washington, D.C., call (202) 225-3031. Or visit Paul Ryan at www.house.gov/ryan

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