What the President’s FY 2015 Budget Proposes for Adult Education

(Updated Below)

Earlier this month I was in Massachusetts co-leading a presentation on federal adult education policy. (I’m doing another of these in Maryland in May, and that may be it for a while, due to a recent job switch). My part of the session looked at the current state of federal funding for adult education.

A big chunk of that discussion concerned the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal, and since the Secretary of Education will be taking questions before committees in both the House and the Senate this week on that proposal, I figured now was a good time to post my long-promised summary of that proposal as it relates to adult education (most of what I have to say about FY 2014 has already been posted previously on this site—here and here, for example).

In my view, there are three major points to be made about the President’s proposal as it pertains to adult education:

1. It Contains NO Increase to State Formula Grant Funding

For the first time in a long time since his FY 2013 budget, the President declined to propose any increase to the budget for WIA Title II/AEFLA Adult Education State Grants from the year before. (These are grants that states use to fund adult education programs.) The administration’s decision not to propose an increase is significant because last year’s final FY 2014 appropriation extended a significant reduction in funding for this line item: sequestration had already cut it down to $563,955,000 for FY 2103, and for FY 2014, Congress decided not to restore any of that funding in the Bipartisan Budget Act.

Last year, for FY 2014, the President had proposed $594,993,000 for Adult Education State Grants, which would have restored funding to the FY 2012 level, before sequestration cuts went in to effect. But for FY 2015, the President decided to leave the line item at its sequestered level of $563,955,000.

As usual, a portion of this funding would continue to be set-aside specifically for English Literacy/Civics Education State Grants ($70.8 million in this case)—a set-aside not included in the WIA authorizing language, but one that has been approved by appropriators for many years.

2. It Contains a Major Increase to National Leadership Activities to Support a New Competitive Grant Program

Adult education was not entirely passed over when Congress restored some of the sequestered funds lost in FY 2013. The Adult Education National Leadership line item actually got a bump, from $10,712,000 to $13,712,000.

For FY 2015, the President proposes an increase to this line item by another $20 million, in order to support a new “Skills Challenge” grant program, which is supposed to support partnerships among states, adult education providers, institutions of higher education, and private organizations to “develop and scale up evidence-based models that combine basic skills education with training so that participants have access to high-quality programs that equip them with the skills necessary to find jobs in high-demand fields or transition into credit-bearing postsecondary education and training” and “build evidence of effective practices through rigorous evaluations.”

Essentially, instead of proposing an increase to formula funding to all states to support local programs (which due to budget cuts and inflation serves about half as many adult learners as it did about a decade ago), the President is suggesting an increase for (in effect)  some states/programs via competitive grant funding.

It’s worth noting that even if you assume that a significant chunk of this funding would support direct services, it would (a) be unequally distributed across the states (that’s inherent to a competitive grant program); and (b) not make up for the roughly $31 million that’s been lost for direct services since FY 2012. In other words, it puts back only $20 million of the $31 million that was lost to the overall adult education budget due to sequestration, and puts it into a new competitive grant program, instead of restoring formula funding.

The case for this new competitive program in lieu of new formula funding seems to boil down to the argument that successful models developed under such a program will inspire  increased support for baseline formula funding in the future. Will this work? New innovations certainly could spur Congress into appropriating more funds for adult education in future years, although fiscal belt-tightening across all federal programs is a more likely scenario in the coming years. On the other hand, it’s not as difficult to imagine consortiums formed under such a program inspiring deeper, long-term investments at the state and local level.

Here’s a chart that shows the President’s budget proposals for AEFLA and Congress’s actual appropriation over the last four years (click on it to see it full-size):

Annual Expenditures for WIA Title II

3. It Calls for Partial Restoration of Pell Grant Eligibility for Those Without a High School Diploma (aka “Ability to Benefit)

The key word above is partial.

A little background is in order here. Back in 2011, Congress decided to eliminate a long-standing policy that enabled thousands of low-income students to attend college via Pell grants without first having obtained a high school diploma, provided that they passed an independently administered test or successfully completing six college credits—either of which were deemed sufficient demonstration of an “ability to benefit” (known as ATB) from a college education. The President’s budget proposes reinstating ATB eligibility for Pell Grants, but only for adult students who are dually-enrolled in adult education and postsecondary education as part of an approved career pathway to work. This proposal, which mirrors appropriations language that has been floating around the Senate since ATB eligibility was eliminated, is a much narrower eligibility definition than prior policy.

Note that the return of ATB under this scenario represents a shift in the way in which a student is deemed to be fit for financial aid. Under the old rules, eligibility was determined by the student demonstrating a certain minimal level of academic aptitude. Under the “new” version of ATB, eligibility would also require that the student be enrolled in a certain approved course of study, i.e. an “approved” career pathway program.

At least one group seems to believe that the return of ATB is intended to be narrowly tailored to support the I-BEST program in Washington State. See: NAICU Washington Update: President Sends Budget to Congress Kicking off FY 2015 Budgeting Process: “Ability to Benefit (ATB): Reinstates ATB eligibility for Pell Grants only for adult students who are dually-enrolled in adult education and postsecondary education as part of an approved career pathway to work. This was proposed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in the appropriations process last year, and reflects a specific community college program in Washington State.” (my emphasis)

Whatever the reason, if you are a student who other wise would have been eligible for ATB eligibility under the prior laws but don’t have access to a career pathways program that meets federal government approval, you are out of luck under the President’s proposal.

In March, Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) sponsored a sign-on letter requesting full reinstatement of Pell Grant and federal student aid eligibility for Ability to Benefit (ATB) students.

What’s Next

The FY 2015 appropriations process is now underway, with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees holding oversight hearings on the President’s request. (As I noted above, Secretary Duncan will be testifying on it this week.) The President’s proposal stands no chance of being enacted, but does lay out the Administration’s priorities and set some of the discussion points for the budget and appropriations process.

For adult education, the President’s proposal for National Leadership “challenge grants” is probably the least likely piece to get through. The Pell modification probably has the best chance.

Advocates in the House have expressed concerns over the adult education budget. Representatives Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), co-chairs of the House Adult Literacy Caucus, have circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter requesting the chairs of the Labor-HHS-Education to provide “adequate funding” for Adult Basic Education in FY 2015. (I can’t find a link to the final letter at the moment—the link above is the letter that went out to members for their signature.)

 

NOTES:

I found language about the President’s proposal to semi-restore ability-to-benefit in three of the budget justification documents, for those who are curious:

Education Overview (Page 71) “…the Administration will provide Pell Grant eligibility to students who are co-enrolled in adult and postsecondary education as part of a career pathway program to allow adults with-out a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”

Justifications of Appropriation Estimates: Student Financial Assistance  (Page Q-17) “The 2015 Budget proposes to make two small, but important, reforms to the Pell Grant program. The first reform strengthens academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program, to encourage students to complete their studies on time. Second, it would reinstate the Ability to Benefit provision for students enrolled in eligible career pathways programs, enabling adults without a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”

Justifications of Appropriation Estimates: Student Aid Overview  (Page P-4) “The Budget proposes to make two small reforms to the Pell Grant program. First, it will strengthen academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program in order to encourage students to complete their studies on time. Second, it would reinstate the Ability to Benefit provision for students enrolled in eligible career pathways programs, which will allow adults without a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”

 

UPDATE 4/29/14: Added a chart to hopefully make the discussion above a bit more comprehensible.

Also, a video archive of Sec. Duncan’s testimony this morning before the House Education and Workforce Committee is now available. I haven’t had time to watch it (if you have, feel free to comment below), but reportedly the Secretary noted during his testimony the administration’s support for reinstating ability-to-benefit Pell Grant eligibility for students who are enrolled in career pathway programs.

More on the Federal FY 2014 Appropriations and Adult Education

A week ago I mentioned that the final FY 2014 federal appropriations bill passed by Congress in January didn’t include an increase to the line item that is the primary federal funding source for adult education programs in the U.S.: the state grant program that is authorized by AELFA, otherwise known as Title II of the Workforce Investment Act.

Over the weekend I planned to post something about the President’s FY 2015 budget proposal but I realized that I never actually completely summarized what was in the FY 2014 appropriations package. By now, most federal budget analysts have moved on to the President’s proposal, but before I do that, let’s finish up with a few more points about how things shook out for adult education in FY 2014. I think it’s important in order to properly assess what the President has proposed for FY 2015.

First, by way of background, remember that the Bipartisan Budget Act, which passed in December, eliminated sequestration for FY 2014 and 2015 and set funding levels for each year at $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion respectively. That’s going to be important to keep in mind for the discussion below, and also when analyzing the FY 2015 budget proposed later on. The BBA provided $63 billion toward sequester replacement: $45 billion for FY 2014 and $18 billion for FY 2015. In other words, for FY 2014, Congress had $45 billion dollars to restore to discretionary programs that had been cut by sequestration in FY 2013.

However, while the bill did in fact boost funding for some programs compared to what these programs would have received under sequestration, Congress did not restore any of the AEFLA state grant funds lost to sequestration in FY 2013. That left the final appropriation for state grants at exactly the same level as Fy 2013, which was $31,038,000 less than the amount requested by President Obama ($594,993,000) in his FY 2014 budget. And, as you may recall, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee had originally recommended $593,803 in their appropriations bill last spring, which was close to the President’s request. (All of which is also going to be worth keeping in mind when evaluating the President’s FY 2015 request for adult education.)

The bill did include, however, a $3,000,000 restoration for National Leadership Activities, a 28.0% increase above the FY 2013 sequestered amount. As noted in this post, these funds are used by the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) for a variety of national projects: standards development, curriculum material, and research—but not, generally speaking, to support local program services.

Some other interesting provisions related to adult education accompanied the bill (page numbers below refer to the bill as originally introduced):

  • It renamed the Office of Vocational and Adult Education to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (Page 79)
  • It “urges” the Department of Education to strengthen adult education programs by “increas[ing] the focus on adults with the lowest literacy and numeracy skills.” Authorizers also want the Department to “work with national adult literacy organizations to identify and promote new capacity building initiatives on adult learner leadership and advisory roles in local programs and assist in evaluating program effectiveness.” (Page 74) (Again, this language will be interesting to revisit when looking at the President’s FY 2015 request.)
  • It sets aside $3,000,000 from the National Leadership Activities line item to support new awards for prisoner re-entry education models as described in Senate Report 113-71. (1)

A lot of folks in the education community were disappointed that more programs weren’t fully restored to their pre sequestered levels. Part of the reason was due to the fact that in the end there wasn’t as much money to work with after all, after certain programs had to be prioritized for a variety of reason I won’t into here.

But one of them is important to keep in mind for future years: millions had to be added on the discretionary side for nonprofit (NFP) student loan servicers, because the BBA eliminated it as a mandatory funding programNext year, the NFP loan servicer amount will grow to $300-400 million, which will contain appropriators even further.

Recall from above that the BBA provided just another $18 billion for sequester replacement in FY 2015. So even without that the additional NFP loan servicer expense, there would be little reason to expect much upward movement in any of the education programs that didn’t see all of their pre-sequester level budgets restored in FY 2014 (or any of it, as in the case of adult education state grants). As we’ll see, the President’s FY 2015 budget proposal stays under that cap, and even if Congress rejects some of what he has proposed (well, not if—they most certainly will not go along with everything he’s requested), Congress will be similarly constrained.

(1) From Senate Report 113-71: “National Leadership Activities.—The Committee recommends $14,302,000 for national leadership activities, including $3,000,000 to support new awards for prisoner reentry education models that build on the success of the Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Education Opportunities [PRSCEO] competition. PRSCEO was funded in fiscal year 2013 with funds transferred from the Department of Justice under an interagency agreement.

The Committee recommendation will support projects that develop evidence of reentry education’s effectiveness and align with the model described in ‘‘A Reentry Education Model: Supporting Education and Career Advancement for Low-Skill Individuals in Corrections,’’ published by the Department in August 2012.”

Federal Adult Education Funding: Updated Table/Chart

I recently updated a chart I made back in May of 2013 showing AEFLA (i.e. WIA Title II) spending over time since 2002, in both nominal amounts and inflation-adjusted dollars. The reason for the update? We now have final CPI figures for 2013. The result isn’t much different from my original, which used the rate of inflation as of April 2013, but I thought it was important to update the chart with the final 2013 figures.

The bottom line is pretty much exactly why I estimated back in May: in terms of real dollars, the federal investment in adult education has dropped by nearly 23% since 2002.

AEFLA Spending 2002-2013 - Inflation Adjustments

(Click on the chart for a larger, less fuzzy version.)

As I noted when I put this together in May, for FY 2010, I did not include the one-time adjustment made by the Department of Education to make up for several years of underpayment to some states—that anomaly wasn’t carried over and shouldn’t be interpreted as growth.

Here’s How the Budget Deal Will Impact Adult Education

(Updated below)

I have no idea.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 set overall discretionary federal spending for FY 2014 and 2015, ($1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion, respectively), but we won’t know how this will specifically impact federal adult education spending—most importantly, the primary source of federal adult education spending, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA)—until the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations process plays itself out over the next several weeks.

But I do know  it’s going to work (based on reports from various sources): The agreement provides $63 billion towards sequester replacement: $45 billion for FY 2014 and $18 billion for FY 2015. In other words, the sequester level-spending limits that were going to be in effect for the next two years have been bumped up by $63 billion in FY 2014 and $18 billion in FY 2015.

Once the agreement is signed into law by the President, Senate and House appropriators have to figure out—pretty quickly—how they want to actually spend this money in FY 2014, (which actually began back in October). So they are getting ready to embark on something of a normal—if very abbreviated—appropriations process over the next several weeks (they have to finish by January 15th).

What’s interesting (if you can describe any of this as actually interesting) is that the new $1.012 trillion top line for FY 2014 presents a starkly different set of challenges for Senate and House appropriators as they put together their bills:

  • House appropriators are facing the task of adding money to the appropriations bills they wrote earlier that assumed a top line of just $967 billion. (Note that the House never produced a Labor-HHS-ED bill, so we never learned what they were planning to cut in terms of any education programs.)
  • The Senate, on the other hand, will have to trim spending back from the $1.058 trillion top line that Senate Democrats had used in their original FY 2014 budget. Unlike the House, the Senate did pass all 12 of their appropriations bills, including a Labor-HHS-ED bill at $164.33 billion, which proposed adult education funding of $594 million for FY 2014 (about $30 million over FY 2013 sequestered levels). That doesn’t mean Senate appropriators will propose an increase again this time around, but it’s possibly a clue into what they are inclined to do.

It’s possible that appropriators will simply propose a proportional increase for adult education relative to the overall increase in spending in the budget agreement—more or less putting adult education back to where it was before the 2013 sequester cut. But they could go for more—or less. So stay tuned. But also, you might want to consider contacting members of Congress and letting them know how important this funding is—particularly if they are on one of the House or Senate Labor-HHS-ED appropriations subcommittees.

Also—and I feel like I need to insert this reminder every time I write about the budget—remember that not all federal adult education spending comes out of Title II of WIA. Community Development Block Grants, AmeriCorps funding, funding for immigration programs, and some other pots of education money are also source of funding for some programs. So, if you care about adult education spending, remember that there will be several places in those appropriations bills you need to look at. I’m only paid to track WIA these days, so I don’t know how closely I’ll be following the allocations for these other programs.

Side Note: The budget deal did not include an extension of the longer term unemployment insurance benefits, which expire December 28th. Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are saying they plan to take up a one-year extension of the emergency unemployment program when Congress returns in January and something of a strategy to make it happen. This is worth keeping an eye on because two years ago during debate over extending UI, Republicans tried to insert several conditions to the extension, including a requirement that benefits be restricted to those who had passed the GED (or equivalent) or, if they had not, were enrolled in a course of study towards such a credential. I really don’t expect this to happen this time… but still, worth watching.

UPDATE: 12/20/13: Patrick Caldwell of Mother Jones quoting Joel Friedman of CBPP on the challenges facing appropriators over the next several weeks:

“It will be difficult,” says Joel Friedman, vice president for federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “They’ve added back some, but not the full amount of the sequester cuts. There will continue to be unmet needs. Not everybody is going to get the level of funding that they would like out of this.”