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Volume 19   Issue 7 - March 2, 2012


EDUCATION POLICY: SPELL IT “M∙U∙R∙K∙Y”

The House Education and Workforce Committee on Feb. 28 passed out their fourth and fifth bills in Chairman John Kline’s continuing attempt to reauthorize incrementally the No Child Left Behind Act. NCSL expressed support for the “recognition that the Adequate Yearly Progress metric [in NCLB] ... was a flawed and static measure” contained in the fourth bill, H.R. 3989, in a letter to the committee signed by Idaho Senator John Goedde and Hawaii Representative Roy Takumi, co-chairs of NCSL’s Education Committee. They also credited the House bill with allowing “states to choose intervention strategies that make sense for their own schools” rather than federally prescribed turnaround strategies for troubled schools. NCSL “finds attractive” a provision in H.R. 3989 that would eliminate federal maintenance-of-effort requirements, but it must be considered in tandem with waivers, federal funding and program flexibility. The bill would also eliminate NCLB’s provisions regarding highly qualified teachers. “NCSL believes that the determination of who is or is not an effective teacher is best made by state and local policymakers,” the state lawmakers wrote.

H.R. 3990, the other bill considered in the markup, would impose a federal mandate by requiring states to evaluate teachers based in part on their students’ achievement. Committee members voted on these bills along party lines, as they have previously. Only one of the quintet of bills has gotten a House floor vote, and future prospects for Rep. Kline’s bills in his chamber are uncertain. The Senate majority and administration remain committed to enacting a comprehensive overhaul of NCLB and have dismissed the House’s one-at-a-time approach. Full text of the NCSL letter is available at http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=24335 .

All of this congressional “murkiness” leaves an opening for the administration to continue granting NCLB waivers, a stop-gap policy in lieu of the law’s ultimate reauthorization. Eleven states have received waivers; 26 states and the District of Columbia are currently seeking them; and a third round of waiver applications for the remaining 13 states has a Sept. 13 deadline. NCSL joined representatives of state and local government organizations this week to discuss waivers and reauthorization efforts with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The organizations voiced a united message: The flexibility offered by the waiver process is welcome, but only a comprehensive reauthorization that addresses states’ major concerns can fix the underlying statutes. NCSL staff contacts: Lee Posey, Michael Reed


TO CAP OR NOT TO CAP

States already bracing for a possible 9 percent reduction in FY 2013 state-federal grant funding (required by the Budget Control Act) might be facing even greater reductions. House Republican leaders are deliberating whether to authorize discretionary spending at the cap established in the budget act or use a lower spending limit for the House budget resolution. The Budget Control Act dictates that the FY 2013 discretionary spending level not exceed $1.047 trillion. Two proposals currently on the table would lower the spending limit to either $931 billion or $950 billion. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin hopes to bring a budget resolution with the cap issue resolved to the House floor by the third week of March. Meanwhile, the chances that a comprehensive, bipartisan alternative deficit reduction plan might be brought to the House and/or Senate floor for votes are increasing. Members of the “go big gangs” in both chambers have directed staff to work on a comprehensive bill mirroring the Bowles-Simpson proposal released in late 2010. There is no specific answer yet as to whether the 140 lawmakers who have endorsed a “go big” debt reduction strategy are equally willing to support a plan once it grows beyond “general principles” into a true legislative alternative. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


ANTE UP

On March 2, NCSL sent a letter to congressional leadership urging them to respect and protect state authority over internet gaming. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that intra-state Internet gambling does not violate federal law as was previously concluded via the Federal Wire Act of 1961. The co-chairs of NCSL’s Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce Committee, Hawaii Senator Carol Fukunaga and Alabama Representative Greg Wren, recently urged “Congress to respect the sovereignty of states and to not consider any legislation that would overturn the DOJ’s ruling or to consider any legislation that would regulate gambling at the federal level.” The letter also reiterates NCSL’s policy requesting the federal government to respect the sovereignty of states to decide whether to allow or prohibit gambling by its residents. The letter is available here: http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=24402. NCSL staff contacts: James Ward, Max Behlke


U-TURN AHEAD

State lawmakers seeking a clear path ahead for federal transportation may be discouraged by recent developments in the nation’s capital. Efforts to find consensus on a five-year, $260 billion transportation reauthorization in the House have stalled, likely forcing a shorter-term extension before funding for transportation programs expires at the end of March. The House’s next move remains unclear, as it is unlikely to take up the Senate’s reauthorization measure. Talk of an 18-month, short-term extension is being deemed a “fallback measure.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered a 1,500-page substitute amendment on the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion plan, S. 1813. It would clear numerous non-germane amendments that have been offered. Earlier in the week, the Senate cleared its most difficult hurdle, an unrelated measure that would permit employers who provide health services to deny certain benefits. Over 100 amendments have been filed, including many that are non-germane to the issue. This has led Sen. Reid to file cloture, which if passed, would begin the process to end debate. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Jennifer Arguinzoni


OFFENSE ON DEFENSE

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress this week that the administration would be willing “to work to develop some approach that can de-trigger sequestration before it happens.” Like state-federal grants in the domestic discretionary world, the Budget Control Act orders federal policymakers to find $492 billion in defense savings over the next 10 years. The first year of those savings come via a mandatory across-the-board reduction (in federal parlance: sequestration) made necessary when the congressional “super committee” was unable last November to find consensus on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction savings. States would definitely be affected by these reductions as they would produce cuts in federal military and defense-related procurement, reduce base operations and squeeze non-civilian salaries and wages. President Obama’s FY 2013 budget calls for a repeal of sequestration paid for through increased taxes on high-income individuals, Medicare and Medicaid savings, and overseas military operation reductions. Some members of Congress have called for a repeal of the defense spending part of “sequestration,” replaced with greater reductions to state-federal discretionary programs or other offsets. This issue will likely linger unresolved until later in the year. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley