Jul 27 2011

Shelby: We Must Balance Fiscal Responsibility With Education Investments

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS) today made the following statement at a Subcommittee hearing on the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request for the Department of Education.

Statement of Senator Richard C. Shelby

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies

July 27, 2011

 “Thank you Mr. Chairman.

“Secretary Duncan, I look forward to hearing your testimony today on the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request for the Department of Education.

“As we convene today’s hearing I am gravely concerned that the Department of Education has delayed the tough choices that are necessary to ensure national economic stability.  We all understand the critical role of education in our society and its impact on our nation’s ability to compete in a global economic environment.  However, our nation is $14 trillion in debt and we must rein in spending. 

“In times of economic uncertainty, while every Department should be looking for savings and efficiencies within the budget, the Department of Education has requested a 13.3 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2011.  In comparison to Fiscal Year 2010, the 2012 budget request is a 20.7 percent increase. 

“Let me repeat that. 

“The Department of Education has requested 20.7 percent more funding in Fiscal Year 2012 than it received just two years ago.

“In your written statement, Mr. Secretary, you state, “….our request is a responsible budget that emphasizes both fiscal constraint and investment in education reforms that will deliver results.”  Mr. Secretary, how can you consider an over 20 percent increase since Fiscal Year 2010 a responsible budget that emphasizes fiscal constraints?

“One of the key investments proposed by the Department of Education in Fiscal Year 2012 is Race to the Top.  The budget request includes $900 million for the program, an increase of $200 million or 28.6 percent above Fiscal Year 2011. 

“According to the Department, Race to the Top funds are awarded to states that are leading education reform with ambitious, yet achievable plans.  Specifically, Race to the Top creates incentives for state and local reforms that produce improvements in student achievement, while reducing achievement gaps. 

“I understand that education reform is never easy.  However, it is made significantly more difficult when states must meet prescriptive requirements – in this case a de facto requirement for charter school legislation – to even compete for available funding. 

“Alabama has been a leader in innovative science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives.  The Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative has earned nationwide recognition as a model for increasing the math and science achievements of students – the very achievements that Race to the Top states it supports.  Yet, Race to the Top only awarded STEM programs 15 points out of 500. 

“Instead, the Department chose only states with charter schools as awardees.  Despite its nationally recognized STEM program, a key component to our future workforce competing in a global economy, Alabama finished dead last in the latest round for Race to the Top funding.

“Although the Department of Education often states its objective is to be loose on means and tight on ends, the experience of the State of Alabama clearly illustrates this is not the case. 

“As the United States continues to fall behind other developed countries in reading, math, and science, states should be given the flexibility to implement critical reforms as identified on the state and local level.  The federal government should not mandate initiatives, but assist states in implementing programs that they deem most important to improving their students’ achievement.  A key component to this achievement is improving access to higher education.

“As a nation, we are on the brink of breaking our commitment to students who wish to attend college because the Pell Grant program is on a fiscally unsustainable path. 

Since 2008, the costs of the Pell Grant program have more than doubled.  Legislative changes that expanded eligibility combined with the dramatic rise in the number of students seeking further education due to the economic recession have caused costs to skyrocket. 

“While the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget request offers proposals to address the growth in costs, the Administration also proposes a $5.6 billion increase in discretionary Pell Grant funding.  We cannot continue to throw money at this problem. 

“Access to higher education must be protected, and immediate reforms are necessary to ensure the Pell Grant program continues as the basis of our commitment to helping low-income students attend college. 

“Finally, Mr. Secretary, I am concerned about state authorization provisions related to distance learning under the proposed Program Integrity regulations. 

“While I understand the Department of Education has delayed the enforcement date related to distance learning until July 2014, as long as an institution is making a “good faith” effort to obtain the necessary state authorizations, I do not believe that this adequately addresses the underlying issue.  Simply extending the deadline does not take into account the burdensome impact of these regulations on colleges and universities. 

“In addition, the definition of a “good faith” effort is vague, and the Department’s proposed guidelines will prove costly and time consuming. 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I look forward to working with you to find the appropriate balance between fiscal responsibility and meaningful education investments that support access to quality education for all students.”