Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Testifies Before Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees

June 3, 2009—Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee to address "The Administration's FY2010 Budget Request for the Department of Education."

Duncan told the Senate that "this budget makes important choices to continue and expand education for our children from cradle to career."

The Department of Education has submitted an FY2010 budget for an overall $46.7 billion of discretionary funding, an increase of $1.3 billion over FY2009. One of the goals of the budget, Duncan said, is to assure that students have the financial aid and student loans they need not just to enter college, but to complete their college educations.

"The Recovery Act made an important down payment in our effort to expand student aid," said Duncan. "In addition to more aid, we want to make sure that students are not just attending college, but graduating. The stimulus bill provided $17.1 billion so that we would increase the maximum Pell award from $4,850 to $5,350. In our fiscal year 2010 budget, we propose important and permanent changes to assure students have access to federal grants, aid, and loans. The first is to move the Pell program from discretionary to a mandatory appropriated entitlement. The second, we propose to link the grant increase in the maximum grant to the consumer price index, plus one percent every year, which will allow the maximum grant to grow at a rate higher than inflation so that students can keep up with the rising cost of college."

The Education Department would pay for this by improving and streamlining the federal student loan program. All loans would be moved over time from the Federal Family Education Loan Program to the direct-loan program. Duncan stressed that doing this would improve the loan program without creating a burden for tax payers.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressed concern over changing the Pell program from discretionary to mandatory, saying he doesn't "have a closed mind about it," but that the issue needs further discussion.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expressed concern over the need for an improved system of matching practical and technical skills acquired during higher education with skills needed once students are working. She said she will soon be introducing legislation to bring together "all the players from the schools to the community to the community leaders, labor, business, workforce leaders to design programs for their own communities." She asked whether there is a place in the budget for these needs.

Duncan responded that "community colleges play a huge role in the trajectory of education continuum" and that community colleges "have been a highly under-utilized, undervalued resource." He mentioned the nomination of Martha Kanter, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, to the position of Undersecretary of Education as a "strategic" placement to include community colleges at the federal legislative level.

"It's so important," Duncan said, "to help shape the opportunities that our high school and community college students have. We can't do enough of that. We have to tie education to the real world."

View video of Secretary Duncan's testimony to the Senate.

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