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Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Education. At this hearing, Secretary Arne Duncan testified on the education proposals in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. Murray asked Duncan to discuss the effects of sequestration and other budget decisions on students, families, and communities, and also questioned Duncan about his specific plans to make sure higher education is affordable with student loan rates set to double on July 1st. 

Chairman Murray emphasized her focus on early childhood education and asked Duncan to discuss the importance of investment in early childhood education, as it is critical to long term international competiveness. Duncan stated that education investment, “Is the ultimate long-term play. We won’t see the full dividends for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, 50 years, but with vision and foresight and leadership like yours, I think we have a chance to change our country for the next couple of decades here, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we provide those opportunities.” 

Murray and Duncan both highlighted that the Senate and President’s budget prioritize investments in education, while the House Republican approach makes extreme cuts to education programs, going even further than sequestration. 

Key excerpts from Murray’s opening statement: 

On budget conference: 

“…I don’t think working together on our thirty-year problems means we should ignore our 30-day problems and I don’t think it means we shouldn’t be working—right now—in a bipartisan budget conference—so we can do everything possible to, bridge the divide between the House and Senate budgets, replace sequestration in a fair and responsible way, return our budget process to regular order, and give the American people some confidence that their government can operate without lurching from crisis to crisis.” 

On sequestration:

 

“Sequestration—which was never intended to take effect—and was written into the bipartisan Budget Control Act to bring both sides to the table ready to compromise—is starting to hit children and students hardest in communities across the country. These children and students did not cause the debt and deficit challenges we are focused on addressing, but under sequestration they bear one of the largest impacts of the cuts.” 

On the House Republican Budget:

 

“…House Republicans shift the entire burden of the cuts onto children, families, and communities. Their recently released spending levels for education programs come in at 18.6% below sequestration levels. This would mean even bigger cuts to Title I, IDEA, Impact Aid and Pell—the core programs supporting education across the country. And it would mean we couldn’t even consider new investments in our students to make sure they can compete in the global economy.” 

On student loans: 

“As we all know, our college students and their families are up against a critical deadline—on July 1st the current fixed interest rate on Stafford federal subsidized loans will double to 6.8 percent unless Congress takes action. This just doesn’t make sense to me and we need to stop it. Students are taking on more and more debt—and struggling to pay that back—so the last thing we should be doing is making it even harder for them.”

Chairman Murray’s opening statement: 

“The hearing will now come to order. I’d like to thank Senator Johnson, who will be standing in for Ranking Member Sessions today– and all my colleagues here for joining me today, as well as the members of the public here and watching online. 

“I would also like to thank our witness, Secretary of the Department of Education Arne Duncan, for being here today to testify and answer our questions.

“The specific purpose of today’s hearing is to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Education Budget Request, but I am hoping that the conversation will be broader than that because our students and families are facing some serious challenges today—and those challenges are going to get worse—not better—if we fail to act. 

“When I worked with my colleagues on this Committee to write the Senate Budget that passed a little more than two months ago, one of our highest priorities was investing in programs that would pay off for our country over the long term—and ensuring the United States continues to lead in so many sectors for years to come. 

“We thought it was important to protect our economic recovery and work to create jobs today, of course. And we certainly all agree we need to work together to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges. 

“But we were also very focused on looking beyond the current crisis—and making sure we are building a strong foundation for long-term and broad based economic growth. Because as any business owner will tell you, no matter how challenging the current environment is, you never want to cut the investments that will allow you to compete and prosper once the crisis ends.

And as any farmer will tell you—no matter what happens, you never want to eat your seed corn. 

“I’ve heard a lot from my Republican colleagues over the past few weeks who want to spend our time now debating what our fiscal challenges are over not just over a 10 year window, but in the years beyond as well.  They think the ten-year window doesn’t show the full scope of our challenges—and they want to focus on our problems decades from now.  

“I certainly agree we should be working together to tackle our long-term budget challenges. They are real—and they won’t just go away if we ignore them. 

“But I don’t think working together on our thirty-year problems means we should ignore our 30-day problems and I don’t think it means we shouldn’t be working—right now—in a bipartisan budget conference—so we can do everything possible to, bridge the divide between the House and Senate budgets, replace sequestration in a fair and responsible way, return our budget process to regular order, and give the American people some confidence that their government can operate without lurching from crisis to crisis.

“I also hope that anyone focused on our thirty-year fiscal challenges would also be concerned about our other thirty-year challenges. 

“Are we going to be a nation that continues to lead the global economy in thirty years? 

“Will the children of today—who will be the workforce of thirty-years from now—have the education and training they need to fill the jobs our businesses will be creating in 2043? 

“Are we going to be able to compete with countries like China, Brazil and India that are making serious investments and major commitments to educating scientists and engineers? 

“That’s the kind of thirty-year thinking I think we should be doing too. And that’s what so much of what we are going to be discussing today is all about. Investments in education, from early childhood programs through college, are some of the smartest the federal government can make. 

“According to a study done at the University of Chicago by Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Heckman, high-quality early childhood education programs have a 7-10% rate of return through better educational outcomes. 

“We also know those with a high school diploma or less are more likely to be unemployed, to be among the long-term unemployed, and to earn substantially less than their counterparts. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a college degree can expect to make about $1 million more over the course of their career than those with a high school diploma. 

“Among our nation’s manufacturers, 82% report a moderate to serious skills gap in their skilled positions. 74% say that this skills gap has negatively impacted their business. And 70% expect it to only get worse. 

“McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the U.S. will need to produce roughly a million more post-secondary degrees by 2020—40% more than today—to ensure we have the skilled workers our economy needs. 

“Tony Carnevale, the Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce—who testified before this committee back in February—has estimated that by 2018, nearly two-thirds of U.S. jobs will require some education or training beyond a high school diploma. 

“So we have a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure our students and workers are getting the education and training they need. But unfortunately, our current path is taking us in the wrong direction. 

“Sequestration—which was never intended to take effect—and was written into the bipartisan Budget Control Act to bring both sides to the table ready to compromise—is starting to hit children and students  hardest in communities across the country. These children and students did not cause the debt and deficit challenges we are focused on addressing, but under sequestration they bear one of the largest impacts of the cuts.

“I saw this firsthand in a recent visit to a Seattle prekindergarten classroom. After I had the opportunity to read a story to the students at the Denise Louie Education Center, I had a conversation with the staff about the $130,000 that was cut from the center’s budget this year due to sequestration and how that will affect the low-income children they serve. 

“They told me that to manage the cuts so far, the already cash-strapped center had to eliminate two full weeks of their preschool program that so many local parents depend on while they’re at work. They’ve had to eliminate a classroom, cut slots for children, and let staff go. They are fighting to serve as many children as they can, but they told me it’s only going to get harder if these cuts continue. 

“This story is being told thousands of times over in communities across the country. 

“Hundreds of thousands of children across the country will lose access to Head Start programs if sequestration continues. We also know that these automatic cuts will be very harmful in our school districts – particularly those with high populations of low-income, military and Native American children. 

“Cuts to Title I, IDEA, and Impact Aid will lead to teacher layoffs and reduced supports and services for these children, who we know are among the most vulnerable. 

“For these reasons—and so many more—the Senate Budget fully replaces sequestration with an equal mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenue from those who can afford it most. And it doesn’t unfairly hurt the families we need to be investing in.  

“I know the President’s budget proposal replaces sequestration as well.

“And I am going to keep working with Republicans and Democrats to replace these automatic cuts that hit both defense and nondefense spending in a way that doesn’t place the entire burden on the backs of seniors and families. 

“The House Republican Budget takes a very different approach.

“Their budget makes no attempt to replace sequestration in a balanced or fair way. It doesn’t call on the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay a penny more toward their fair share. And it simply ignores the BCA caps on the defense side—which would lead to another round of sequestration in Fiscal Year 2014 if it was ever enacted.

“Instead, House Republicans shift the entire burden of the cuts onto children, families, and communities. Their recently released spending levels for education programs come in at 18.6% below sequestration levels. This would mean even bigger cuts to Title I, IDEA, Impact Aid and Pell—the core programs supporting education across the country. And it would mean we couldn’t even consider new investments in our students to make sure they can compete in the global economy.

 

“The House Appropriations Committee has been clear they don’t think these numbers are actually workable—and they’re right—they’re not.

 

“So I am looking forward to discussing this further today. And I am certainly going to keep fighting to make sure that we are moving our students and schools forward—not backward. 

“I am also interested in hearing more about the Administration’s other education priorities. 

“Of course, ensuring access to early childhood education has been a longstanding priority of mine. so I was very heartened to hear the President speak about early learning in the State of the Union, and was glad to see such an emphasis on birth through five learning opportunities in both your budget, Secretary Duncan, as well as in the HHS budget. 

“I’m looking forward to working with you to ensure all children in our country have access to prekindergarten, which we know is such an important step to ensuring the academic success of our young people.

“As we all know, our college students and their families are up against a critical deadline—on July 1st the current fixed interest rate on Stafford federal subsidized loans will double to 6.8 percent unless Congress takes action. This just doesn’t make sense to me and we need to stop it. 

“Students are taking on more and more debt—and struggling to pay that back—so the last thing we should be doing is making it even harder for them.  So I strongly support extending the current interest rate cap on these loans to make sure students are protected when interest rates rise. 

“I am going to keep fighting for that in the coming weeks and I hope Congress can work on a bipartisan basis to help keep interest rates low for college students.

“This is a short-term solution, of course and we need keep working to make sure our higher education system is working for students, and for the businesses that depend on it to graduate workers ready to fill 21st century jobs. 

“I am certainly interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this issue, Secretary Duncan—as well as the other policies in your budget that impact students and families. 

“As we all know, the budget debate here in Washington, D.C. is often centered around abstract numbers—and far too often it ends up being mired in partisanship and political games.  But what shouldn’t be controversial or partisan is the idea that we should be investing in our students and making sure our country is positioned to compete and win in the 21st century economy. 

“That is what this hearing today is about. 

“And that is what I am working toward as I continue urging Republicans to join us in a budget conference they’ve spent years saying they wanted, and work with us on a budget deal to put our country on a responsible path this year, next year—and for years to come. 

“I’d now like to turn to Senator Johnson for his opening statement.”

Archived Webcast

Witness Statement