Prepared Remarks to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Prepared Remarks to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

March 5, 2020

Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the President's Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.

While we are discussing a budget, it's important to remember that, as it's been said, "the size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience." Federal government spending does not determine everything that's important to us, nor is it the only solution when we encounter challenges and opportunities.

Instead, "We the People" overcome challenges and seize opportunities.

That's why this Department's budget is focused on returning power to the people... to those closest to students, and to students themselves.

Our budget begins by recognizing that education is a local issue. Congress codified that truth when it created the U.S. Department of Education 40 years ago.

It promised the move would "not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education [nor] diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States."

This Administration proposes Congress align the budget with that 40-year-old promise. Our budget would take a big step toward right-sizing the federal role in education so that families, teachers, and state and local leaders are free to do what's right for students. The budget would expand education freedom for students so that they can prepare for successful careers. And it would refocus our approach to higher education so that students are at the center of everything we do.

First, let's consider recent history.

Over 40 years, Federal taxpayers have spent more than one trillion dollars trying to "fix" K-12 education. Each year, Congress grew the budget—from nearly 7 billion dollars in 1980 to more than 41 billion dollars in 2020 for K-12 education alone.

But what have we bought with all that spending? Just open up the latest "Nation's Report Card" to see the sad results. No real improvement in student achievement in decades.

So, instead of holding fast to what we know does not work, let me suggest we find the courage to do something bold and begin a new era of student growth and achievement.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives us good insights into where we should go. ESSA became law because many of you on both sides of the aisle realized federal overreach in education had failed.

So, you moved to restore the proper roles in education. The bipartisan K-12 law affords states and communities more flexibility to address local challenges.

This Administration proposes Congress complement its work on ESSA and make the budget match the law. States must work with local communities and families to develop comprehensive plans that best meet the needs of their students. And so, states should be able to target their Federal taxpayer dollars accordingly.

To that end, we propose putting an end to education earmarks by consolidating nearly all Federal K-12 programs into one, single block grant. To be clear, this proposal does not eliminate any program. It simply affords states the flexibility they need to enhance programs that work for their students.

Overall, Americans spend about 860 billion dollars on K-12 education every year. Last year, Congress appropriated about 24 billion dollars of that through the programs in our proposed block grant. Or, merely 2.5 percent of total education funding.

And yet, each year, teachers and school leaders spend more than 2 million hours complying with Federal reporting and recordkeeping requirements for that small slice of the pie.

2 million hours. More than 83,000 days. More than 225 years! That's time that could've been focused on helping students learn and grow.

Teachers, administrators, and state leaders need to be free to focus on people, not paperwork. Results, not regulations. Different states will invest their share of the block grant differently, and that's OK. In fact, that's what we hope they do. They can better figure out what their students need because they know their students.

Every student is unique and each one of them learns differently. Every child needs the freedom to learn in places and in ways that work for them.

That's why, the President's 2021 Budget also renews it's call for a historic investment in America's students: Education Freedom Scholarships.

Our proposal is a dollar-for-dollar Federal income tax credit for voluntary contributions to state-based, non-profit organizations that provide scholarships directly to students. I like to picture kids with backpacks representing funding for their education following them wherever they go to learn.

The budget also requests a 100 million dollar increase in supporting children with disabilities, amounting to a total of 14 billion for IDEA programs. There's also a request for a dramatic expansion of Career and Technical Education programs.

At an overall increase of nearly 900 million dollars, it's the largest investment in CTE ever. It includes a total of 2 billion dollars for Perkins State Grants, which is an increase of nearly 800 million dollars.

Additionally, we're requesting 150 million dollars—an increase of more than 135 million—to fund STEM activities led by HBCUs and other minority serving institutions located in Opportunity Zones. This Administration wants every student in America to have more education options that focus on preparing them for successful careers.

That goes hand-in-hand with our groundbreaking initiatives at Federal Student Aid. Consider that FSA is essentially a 1.5 trillion dollar bank that's dramatically outgrown its governance structure.

We propose evaluating a new governance structure and whether FSA should be a standalone entity. In the meantime, we're continuing to build on our important reforms that establish one platform, one operating system, one website. And importantly on providing customers—students and their families—with a seamless student loan experience.

In the end, our budget is about one thing: putting students and their needs above all else. It's a budget that recognizes that no student and no state, no teacher and no town are the same. States need to be free to address the particular problems and possibilities of their people. And students of all ages need the freedom to find their fit. This budget proposes that Congress give it to them.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I am happy to respond to any questions you may have.