House Education Committee Kicks Off With Hearings on School Choice and Higher Education
House Education Committee Kicks Off With Hearings on School Choice and Higher Education

February 2017

The House Education and Workforce Committee launched its legislative agenda for the 115th Congress, holding two hearings in February focused on education policy.                                                 

On February 2, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Subcommittee members heard from a panel that included Michael L. Williams, former commissioner of the Texas Education Agency; Kevin Kubacki, executive director of The Neighborhood Charter Network; and parents Almo Carter and Nina Cherry. School choice is an area where Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of the Department of Education, has focused her work.

During the hearing, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), committee ranking member, pointed to research on voucher programs showing that student outcomes were worse for participants in Ohio and Louisiana compared to public school students. He stated that the lack of evidence provides a challenge for funding such programs.

On February 7, the full committee heard from stakeholders in a discussion on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, “Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Education.” Hearing witnesses included Beth Akers, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; William Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland and co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education; Jose Luis Cruz, president of Lehman College of the City University of New York; and Kevin Gilligan, chairman and chief executive officer of the Capella Education Company.

In his opening statement during the higher education hearing, Rep. Scott said, “It’s important for us to continue to work with a diverse array of leaders who will inform the development of research-backed policy solutions as the committee works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.”

Throughout the hearing, committee members asked witnesses questions on a range of higher education topics. One question, from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), focused on the repeal of the student unit record ban, a recommendation in a report Akers wrote. He asked how repealing the ban would allow the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to work more coherently to detail institution- and program-level outcomes.

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) followed up on Hunter’s comments by noting that there currently is not program-level data available to help students inform their decisions about the institutions that they attend. In December, AERA urged the Commission for Evidence-based Policymaking to consider the need for a federal student unit record system that captures the full experience of postsecondary education at the individual student level.