Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, energy, environment and natural resources, and intellectual property. 

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Timely Topic: Senate Immigration Proposal

Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

CONGRESS: Congressional Retirements; Congressional Committees

Administration & independent agencies: Inauguration Speech; Athletes and Education.

Noteworthy News: Pell Grants; State Spending; Standardized Tests; HS Graduation Rates; College Completion; MOOCs and Publics; College Degree Value.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

Timely Topic: Senate Immigration Proposal.

A group of eight US Senators issued a blueprint for immigration reform.  The four Republicans Senators (McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC), Rubio (R-FL), and Flake (R-AZ)) and four Democrats Senators (Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez (D-NJ), and Bennet (D-CO)) produced a plan that the Obama Administration has already praised.  The Administration will release its plan, which is expected to align closely with the Senators’ approach, today (I will send a special post).  With the bipartisan approach and the backing of the White House, the House Members will need to look at the proposal seriously.  Congressman Ryan told The Wall Street Journal that he believes immigration reform has a chance of passing.

Of course, the devil is in the details and significant legislative language needs to be developed and work for all eight Members of the group.

The blueprint has four main pillars (as quoted below from the blueprint).

  1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  2.  Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
  4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”

Most notably for readers of this blog, the proposal includes green cards for foreigners who earn Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields from US universities. Both Republicans and Democrats have embraced this proposal, so no surprise it was in the package.

Capitol News.


Congressional Retirements:

Senator Rockefeller, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senator Harkin, Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee and the Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, announced their plans to retire after their terms end in 2014.  Senator Rockefeller, in his list of priorities for this Congress, included math and science education. Senator Harkin, by virtue of his chairmanships, will lead the Senate efforts on education, NIH-related legislation, as well as funding for both issues.  Senator Harkin, in his list of priorities for this Congress, included “[m]oving forward with bills to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education – beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education.”

Congressional Committees.

  • House Judiciary Committee held an organizational meeting in which they set subcommittee assignments.  Most notably, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration are Rep. Gowdy and Rep. Lofgren, respectively.
  • House Education & Workforce Committee held its organizational meeting as well.  Subcommittee assignments for Republicans and Democrats were set then.
  • Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to set Subcommittee assignments on January 31, 2013.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Inauguration Speech Highlights.  For information, see the posting Obama’s Inaugural Speech.

Athletes and Education.  ED announced new guidance requiring schools to enable students with disabilities to participate in sports at schools.  Secretary Duncan described the guidance as saying schools “don’t have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage. But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else.”


Pell Grants.  A new report, one of 16 commissioned by the Gates Foundation, recommends eliminating federal grant programs, including Pell Grants, with need-based grants that States would provide matching funds.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the report also recommends eliminating higher education tax cuts, expanding Race to the Top to higher education, and adopting income-based repayment of student loans as the default.

State Spending on Higher Education.  The majority (30) of states increased funding for higher education, a reversal in the cuts imposed on higher education in recent years, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Some states continued to cut funding.  For example, Florida cut funding for higher education by eight percent.

Standardized Testing Challenged.  From the state that probably brought us assessments and testing as the golden rule, there are new challenges to standardized testing.  The Texas House eliminated funding for statewide assessment tests, as reported in The Washington Post.  While unlikely to succeed, this action reflects significant unhappiness with the emphasis on testing. Testing continues to be a major pillar of the Administration’s education policy, despite some retreat from No Child Left Behind.  How this will impact Congress’ efforts to reauthorize Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains to be seen.

High School Graduation Up.  Graduation from high school is at the highest level (78%) in four decades, reports The Washington Post. Although all racial and ethnic groups saw increases, the gains are not uniform.   Graduation rates among Hispanics jumped, but still lag behind Asian and White students and cities still have relatively lower graduation rates than suburbs.

College Completion.  A reoccurring theme of this blog is college completion effort.  Now, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment issued a report with recommendations on improving completion rates, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Some suggestions include more flexible schedules; financial help; a re-vamped remediation system; and, fixing problems that come from bottleneck courses.

MOOCs and Public Universities.  Several public universities are teaming up with a private company to offer a new online degree program, with the tease of a free introductory course, as reported by The New York Times.  The new program, MOOC2Degree, based out of Arizona State, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Arkansas system, is an attempt to reach out to new students around the world and increase revenues.

The Value of a College Degree.  The debate over the value of a college degree continues, as reported by Inside Higher Education with Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University arguing that having a degree gives graduates a leg up and Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity arguing that the degree is a waste of money for most graduates who end up in jobs not requiring a degree.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):

Past Events (listed by date):






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