Monday, February 28, 2011

Ed. Dept. Community College Summit Today in Philadelphia

ACCT public policy staff are in Philadelphia today to participate in the first U.S. Department of Education Community College Summit in Philadelphia.

We will report live from Philadelphia later today. In the meantime, here is more information from the Department of Education...

ED is holding a regional community college summit in Philadelphia on February 28.

Secretary Duncan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will participate in the summit, which is the first of four regional meetings being held as follow-up events to the White House Summit on Community Colleges in October 2010.

The Philadelphia summit — “Challenges, Solutions, and Commitments” — will bring together 150 participants from 15 surrounding states, representing community colleges, business, industry, philanthropy, labor, state and local governments, as well as students. The summit focus is “Transitioning Adult Learners to Community Colleges and the Workforce.”

The morning session will be streamed live (from 9:00 am – 12:15 pm ET).

The remaining three regional meetings will be held around the country during the spring. The purpose of the meetings is to identify promising practices for increasing completion at community colleges.

Duncan has described community colleges as the linchpin for meeting the President’s national goal of once again leading the world in college completion by 2020.

While they’re in Philadelphia, Duncan and Solis will tour the 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund’s Learning Center, a joint labor-management partnership that provides job skills training in the health fields to over 2,000 adult students every year.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2011 National Legislative Summit: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy Predicts Financial Challenges Will Lead to Consensus

As the 2011 Community College National Legislative Summit drew to a close Wednesday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), predicted that the divisiveness that has characterized Washington politics in recent years will be supplanted by the common need to address pressing financial challenges.

“The mindset on both sides of the aisle is knowing that the crunch is about to hit us,” McCarthy, the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, told summit attendees during Wednesday's general session. Arguing that the federal budget deficit is no longer sustainable, he urged attendees to watch closely the deliberations over funding the current FY11 budget, as Congress works to avert a potential early March shutdown of the federal government. “The next two weeks is going to tell us whether we can work together and put politics aside to put the country first,” McCarthy said. “What happens... will determine how the debate on other things will go.”

Asserting that “structure dictates behavior,” McCarthy pointed to both changes within Congress and external factors as signals that the rancor of recent years may change. As majority whip, McCarthy said he regularly has lunch with his counterpart on the other side of the aisle to seek common ground. Other structural changes to meeting and voting schedules will also help improve debate, he said, pointing to the hundreds of amendments already attached to the continuing resolution for FY11. “We’re going through a detox right now,” said McCarthy, whose political career began in 2000 when he was elected a trustee of the Kern Community College District. “In the long term, it will be so much better for us when we can have a debate where the best ideas can rise up and win.”

Beyond Capitol Hill, the need to put Americans back to work will play an even bigger factor in driving progress, McCarthy predicted. “Commonality is going to happen around jobs,” he said. “If we don’t get America working again, we’re never going to get anywhere... and if we don’t find a solution, no one’s going to be reelected. So I believe we have the opportunity to do something.”

Acknowledging that the current deliberations by both Congress and the Obama Administration have centered on the 14-16 percent of the budget allocated to discretionary non-defense spending, McCarthy predicted that will change as the focus shifts to the 2012 presidential elections. “Everything needs to be on the table,” he said. “If we go and debate things this year, they may not pass, but they will go into play in the presidential campaign. That will be healthy.”

As the NLS drew to a close following three days of Hill visits by trustees and community college presidents, ACCT officials reminded attendees of the importance of making advocacy a year-round effort. “Our work does not end today,” said ACCT Chair Peter E. Sercer, Sr., a trustee at Midlands Technical College in South Carolina.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2011 National Legislative Summit: Second Lady Jill Biden, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis Emphasize Administration Support for Community Colleges

The Obama Administration was represented at the 2011 Community College National Legislative Summit Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Second Lady Jill Biden, both of whom acknowledged the financial challenges ahead while reiterating the President’s ongoing commitment to community colleges.

“President Obama is committed to community colleges because he knows, as we all do, that community colleges are critical to getting the economy back on track,” Biden told NLS attendees Tuesday evening. “They are the key to the President’s goal of having the most competitive workforce in the world.”

Earlier in the day, Solis told attendees that her experience as a community college trustee helped prepare her for the financial decisions the Administration now faces. “One thing I learned is that you have to be adaptable and flexible in hard times,” she said. “And now is no different from then in many respects. We are faced with some very tough decisions and economic challenges.”

With 14 million people out of work -- and more than half of those unemployed for six months or more -- community colleges must mirror the Administration’s focus on putting people back to work, Solis said. “You must be able to to provide training that is transferable to a job,” she said. “The criteria isn’t a certificate anymore, but to cultivate your relationships with businesses to [ensure] a smooth transition. Most of you in this room have those relationships. Now it’s about moving a little further and thinking about the opportunities in 15 or 20 years.” As the economy improves, Solis urged community college leaders to help meet the workforce needs of employers who are “coming back online,” as the automotive industry has already begun to do.

Solis also touted the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant Program (CCCTG), which recently began soliciting applications for $500 million in grants in its first year. “This money will help you in terms of building capacity,” she said, urging community college leaders to collaborate with businesses, non-profits, and each other to maximize the reach of the program -- and to emphasize results in conversations with lawmakers. “The money is there for a short time -- and money doesn't last for a long time here in Washington," she said. "I can tell you we have to make the case that your programs work and can provide the best training for employers.”

Administration officials are also following up on ideas generated during the White House Summit on Community Colleges last October, according to Biden, who stressed that the Administration will continue to advocate for education needs as lawmakers turn their attention to financial issues. “We know we will face some tough choices in the future, but we are working hard to build consensus about what we must do to provide a world-class education, both for K-12 and higher education,” Biden said. “Every American should have the opportunity to take advantage of a community college education.”
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Focus on Budget Proposals, Pell Grants as 2011 National Legislative Summit Kicks Off

The 2011 Community College National Legislative Summit kicked off the same morning that President Barack Obama unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, an irony not lost on speakers, who cautioned a near-record turnout of community college leaders convening in Washington that the legislative focus has changed.

““It’s all about the budget,” former education policymaker and consultant Vic Klatt of the Penn Hill Group told NLS attendees during a Monday afternoon session. “Everybody is claiming to be reducing spending—the president, Congress, everyone.”

With lawmakers focusing exclusively on the 16 percent of the federal budget that excludes entitlements and military spending, making the case for community college programs playing critical roles in revitalizing local economies will be challenging, speakers cautioned. “My sense is that it’s going to be very difficult in this climate to have a thorough and logical discussion that starts with the needs of the people in your communities,” Meet the Press moderator David Gregory of NBC told attendees during a Monday general session. “It’s not just a debate about numbers and policy. It’s a debate about leadership in Washington.”

For now, the battle over the FY12 budget is taking a back seat to coming to an agreement over funding for the current fiscal year, with House Republicans proposing significant cuts to a range of programs as the potential of a government shutdown looms as soon as next month. “You couldn’t be here at a better time,” ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown told attendees. “What you do over the next few days will have a profound impact on securing scarce resources for your community.”

In outlining the 2011 Community College Federal Legislative Priorities (Word document), officials from ACCT and the American Association of Community Colleges cited potential reductions to the Pell Grant program and the possible use of funds intended for the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant Program (CCCTG) to offset existing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs as two of the most significant legislative issues facing community colleges.

With the number of Pell Grant recipients having grown by 64 percent at the same time as the maximum award grew to $5,550, overall funding for the program has doubled over the past four years, making it a highly visible target for reductions in the current climate. “Part of it has to do with the economy, part of it has to do with the fact that community colleges are becoming first responders,” ACCT Director of Public Policy Jee Hang Lee said of the increase.

The Pell program has “grown bigger than most state budgets,” added David Baime, AACC senior vice president for government relations and research. “As the economy has tanked and students have come to our doors in record numbers, the program has come under immense financial strain.”

The most recent budget proposal for the current fiscal year offered by House Republicans would reduce the Pell Grant maximum by 15 percent. President Obama’s budget proposal for FY12 would leave the maximum untouched, but place limitations on year-round grants. Further qualifications based on metrics involving college costs and completion are also possible, Robert L. Moran, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said during an afternoon session. “We have dueling proposals from a Democratic president and a Republican House majority to see which one can cut Pell Grants more,” Wall Street Journal bureau chief David Wessel told attendees. “If you need any other reminder of the stakes you face, I can’t think of one.”

Other legislative priorities include grants, institutional aid, workforce development programs, funding for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) provided through a National Science Foundation initiative, and making the American Opportunity Tax Credit, extended for two years as part of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, permanent. Reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, TAA authorization, improvements to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reconsideration of the DREAM Act and programs to help community colleges serve veteran students round out the priorities. Making the case for these existing programs is especially important this year because no earmarks are expected for at least the next two years, AACC legislative associate Laurie Quarles told attendees. “Without your help this year, we’re going to see some pretty draconian cuts,” she said. “These programs... are where the money is -- and where it will be disappearing from if you don’t make the case for community colleges.”

Speakers urged community college leaders to focus on results in their discussions with lawmakers. “You don’t need rhetoric, you need money, and you need to convince people you’re doing something that makes sense,” said Wessel, encouraging community college leaders to emphasize the returns on investment yielded by retraining and remedial and developmental education, while not losing sight of their mission to help lift the underserved out of poverty. “If you close that door, you don’t deserve to exist,” he said to applause from the audience.

Despite the many challenges, NLS speakers remained upbeat about the future. “Our number one priority is getting people back to work, and community colleges are positioned to help us do just that,” said Penny Pritzker, chair of Skills for America’s Future, which aims to foster partnerships between businesses and community colleges by sharing best practices, identifying sources of funding, and “playing matchmaker” for prospective partners. “Putting our resources into training and development is one of the best investments we can make as a country,” she said. “It could not be clearer that community colleges are in the right place at the right time. The country has never needed you more.”

“We are entering a period of big, big challenges,” ACCT’s Brown said. “But I would submit to you we have big, big opportunities. I am confident today that we’re up to the task of meeting these big opportunities. Without you and the nation’s community colleges, this nation will not be the nation is has been up until this point in history. It’s up to you.”
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Monday, February 7, 2011

House Considers TAA Reauth, Cut to CCCTGP

Tomorrow, the House will consider a bill to reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program under a fast-tracked procedure known as “suspension of the rules.” The TAA program extends assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade, and it is the law that governs the Community College Career Training Grant Program (CCCTGP). Most TAA programs are set to expire this Saturday, February 12.

The bill would extend authorization for the ‘TAA for Communities’ program and Sector Partnership Grants until June 30, 2011. Included in the budgetary offsets (pay-for’s) in the bill is a $238 million cut to the CCCTGP in FY 2014. Instead of receiving $500 million in FY 2014, CCCTGP would be allotted only $262 million. Despite the fact that this cut in funding would come several years down the road, the CCCTGP is a critical investment in the long-term competitiveness and innovative capacity of community colleges. Under “suspension of the rules,” the bill will require a 2/3 vote for passage. It is unclear how the Senate will proceed with the bill as written.

Finally, the House is still expected to act next week on a funding measure that makes $12.33 billion in combined cuts to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (7.3% of current funding) through the end of FY 2011. Specific programmatic cuts are not yet known but should be announced this week.

The President’s budget request will be released on Monday, February 14. Read more!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Senate to Abandon Earmarks for 2 Years

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said Tuesday that he would not accept requests for earmarks during the next two years. This comes after President Obama said in his State of the Union address last week that he would veto any bills with earmarks. House Republican leaders have already agreed that they will not support earmarks during the 112th Congress. Inouye reiterated that he supports members directing funding back to their states as a constitutional prerogative of Congress, and he indicated that a review of Congressionally directed spending options may occur sometime in 2012.

The House is not in session this week, but the House Appropriations Committee is expected to begin considering a funding resolution next week after House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan (R-WI) sets new funding allocations. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has pledged to bring this funding measure to the floor on the week of February 14, since the current continuing resolution expires on March 4. According to media reports, House Republican leaders are tentatively planning to propose an aggregate cut of around $50 billion from current funding (FY 2010) levels, but they will allow conservatives to offer amendments on the floor to increase the cuts up to $100 billion. Expected programmatic cuts are not yet known.

The President will release his budget on Monday, February 14. Read more!