Budget and Legislative Outlook of Interest to Education Research

January 2016

While the ink is still drying on the 2016 appropriations agreement signed by President Barack Obama in late December, Congress has already turned its attention to the 2017 fiscal year.

The president will unveil his FY 2017 budget request on February 9, officially kicking off the appropriations season. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) aspires to have House appropriations bills on the floor by mid-March, a very ambitious goal that has House offices and advocates in Washington preparing for a busy couple of months. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated his commitment to providing floor time to consider all 12 bills. While House and Senate leadership are determined to return to regular order in appropriations, it is likely that FY 2017 will start with a continuing resolution.

The 2016 elections will complicate the process by adding political scrutiny to votes and reducing the number of working days as members of Congress spend more time on the campaign trail. Furthermore, both parties might be tempted to delay final action on the fiscal 2017 bills until the next president—and Congress—takes office. On the bright side, the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 set the non-defense discretionary and defense caps for both FY 2016 and FY 2017, reducing the likelihood of fights and debate about those top line numbers.

Having successfully passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, congressional offices are turning to other bills on the education agenda:

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act last year to update FERPA. As noted in the August 2015 AERA Highlights, the legislation removed language included in the draft version that proposed to allow parents to opt their children out of data sets. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has not yet taken action in this area.
  • Higher Education Act: With the implementation of ESSA underway, the committee may turn to further work on HEA. The House Education and Workforce Committee released several fact sheets and held hearings on HEA reauthorization. On the Senate side, the HELP Committee convened four bipartisan working groups last summer to examine important higher education issues: accountability, accreditation, college affordability and financial aid, and campus sexual assault.
  • Commission on Evidence-based Policy Making: The House passed the Evidence-based Policymaking Commission Act, introduced by now-Speaker Ryan, in July 2015. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs voted to move the Senate version of the bill, offered by Patty Murray (D-WA), this past October. The bill is awaiting action by the full Senate. Read more about this legislation from the October 2015 AERA Highlights.
  • America COMPETES: In May 2015, the House narrowly approved the America COMPETES Reauthorization. As noted in the May 2015 AERA Highlights, the bill included several provisions of concern to AERA and the broad scientific community, most notably allocating funding by directorate. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has convened three working groups and solicited public comments on Maximizing Impact of Basic Research, Innovation, Commercialization, and Technology Transfer, and Building a STEM Workforce.
  • The Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), which would reauthorize the Institute of Education Sciences, passed the Senate in December 2015 before going on recess. Although the House advanced the bill under suspension of the rules during the previous Congress in 2014, concerns over student privacy may reduce the possibility for action on the House floor. Read more about SETRA in the December 2015 AERA Highlights.
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