Government reopens and avoids default for now

In the 11th hour on October 16, Congress passed legislation to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling.  While the legislation avoided a government default, as has occurred in the past, Congress kicked the proverbial can down the road with a continuing resolution (CR) that temporarily funds government services and agencies until January 15 and raised the debt ceiling until February 7. The Senate voted 81 – 18 and the House 285 to 144 in favor of the deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 2775) leaves sequestration in place until at least January 15.  This means that education programs will continue to operate at funding levels below fiscal year 2012 allocations.  Additionally, a provision was inserted into the bill that extends the definition of a highly qualified teacher to included teachers in training for an additional two years.  NASSP is a member of the Coalition for Teaching Quality which advocates to ensure that all students have prepared and effective educators.  We have concerns that this definition allows for low-income students and students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and those living in high-need remote areas to be disproportionally taught by educators who are still in training and not yet fully certified.

The legislation also requires a budget conference with members of the House and Senate to hammer out a long-term budget and deficit reduction framework by December 13.  While members of both the House and Senate are optimistic that the budget conference will result in a resolution to the fiscal fight over spending and deficit reduction, if the past is any indication, we could be right back to where we were in October with a another potential shutdown on January 15.  Further complicating matters, is that the next round of automatic spending cuts, as known as sequestration, coincide with the end date of the CR on January 15.  The next round of sequester cuts will disproportionally affect defense spending, with defense expenditures expected to be cut by $20 billion.  Both Republican and Democrats have expressed a desire to address sequestration and pass appropriations bills through the normal budget process.  Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, issued the following statement in a press release following the passage of H.R. 2775, “I’m optimistic that, once this resolution is passed, the House and the Senate will come together in a budget conference to work out our broad fiscal and budgetary challenges. It is my hope that a common, topline discretionary number for fiscal year 2014 will be established that will allow Congress to enact full-year appropriations bills and avoid shutdowns like this in the future. And it is also my hope that Congress can address head-on the problem of unsustainable growth in our mandatory and entitlement programs, and work to reform our overly complicated, growth-stifling tax code.” The hope among education advocates is that a budget conference will give provide an opportunity to replace sequestration.

Budget conferees were immediately named after the vote on October 16 and the first meeting between the two budget conference committee leaders, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) occurred on Thursday morning, October 17.  Continue to check back here for the latests on budget negotiations and fiscal year 2014 appropriations.

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