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.”

The Sequester Still Festers (But Maybe Not in 2014)

(Updated Below)

This column by Jared Bernstein in the Times neatly summarizes the limited expectations people have for the upcoming budget conference committee meetings, which are focused right now on the hope that the committee might at least be able to do something about the 2014 sequester cuts. A “grand bargain,” or any significant progress towards addressing any of the long-term problems in the economy, appears to be out of the question.

The theory is that there might be a (relatively) easy way to replace the 2014 sequestration cuts with some other cuts (or savings) from (most likely) mandatory programs that wouldn’t kick in until many years later. If this sounds like only a slightly better version of the usual kick-the-can-down-the-road approach, that’s because that’s what it would be: a brief respite from the sequester in return for some new cuts over on the mandatory side of the budget that we don’t have to think about until later, while avoiding dealing with anything else.

Bernstein makes a number of illuminating points in his column, like this one:

[R]eplacement cuts will most likely have to come from the mandatory side of the budget, which includes entitlements. Now, there are definitely entitlement savings — say, from Medicare — in the president’s budget that do not affect beneficiaries, like reducing the amount that Medicare spends on drugs by allowing the program to use its clout to get better bargains from drug companies. And there’s other wasteful spending on this side of the budget, like farm subsidies, that could also contribute. (my emphasis)

This paragraph suggested to me a potential approach to a problem facing many of us who will be advocating for sequester relief for non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs (which means almost all federal education programs, such as adult education) this fall: we may be asked by folks on the Hill to support cuts to entitlements in return for lifting sequester cuts.

This is problematic for a couple of reasons. For one thing, our job is to make the case for the program we are there to represent, not to take a position on cutting other programs. And for many of us who represent NDD programs for low-income people, cutting benefits potentially hurts the people we are there to represent, just in a different way. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think it’s safe to assume that a higher-than-average proportion of adult education students probably receive Medicaid and Social Security benefits, for example. It’s a hollow victory to preserve adult education funding while pushing adult education students who benefit from those programs deeper into poverty. (In his column, Bernstein notes that Social Security benefits alone are keeping 22 million people in this country out of poverty.)

At the same time, just saying no doesn’t seem helpful, since, as Bernstein notes above, there are ways to save on entitlements that don’t necessarily involve cutting benefits. So  perhaps NDD advocates could express a preference for looking at entitlement savings that do not touch the actual benefits that people receive, at least as a second best option if raising revenue is off the table. If I’m in a member’s office talking about federal education programs, I still don’t think I have any business talking a position on farm subsidies, but, as a basic statement of principle, taking the position that “sequester cuts to NDD programs should only be replaced with entitlement savings that do not directly affect beneficiaries” at least provides some guidance to members as to what kind of direction they should be going in if they insist on replacing sequester cuts with some kind of cut from the mandatory side.

I should note that Bernstein and his colleagues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also take the position that while they are open to this kind of trade-off, it should only apply to non-defense sequester cuts. That is, folks who want to replace the sequester for defense programs shouldn’t be looking over at the non-defense side for more cuts. To do so would violate an essential principle embedded in the deal that created the sequester: that budget cuts should come in equal measure between defense and non-defense.

UPDATE 10:20am: Stan Collander, who has been pretty good with predictions of late, has just published a post in which he argues pretty convincingly that even a sequester deal is unlikely.

Adult Education and the Shutdown

(Update Below)

Most everyone working in the field of adult education is already aware of this, but for those who are wondering, federal funding for adult education is generally not affected by the federal government hoedown shutdown. Workforce Investment Act (WIA) dollars—the biggest source of federal funding for adult education—are forward funded, meaning that states obtain their WIA Title II funding for the fiscal year that began today during the prior fiscal year. As a result, there shouldn’t be a major impact on adult education during the shutdown.

There are, of course, other federal programs that provide funds or support to adult education. There are AmeriCorps members, for example, who work at adult education programs. But they will not have to pack up and go home—any previously awarded CNCS grant or cooperative agreement should not be affected. (I have read at least one story suggesting that AmeriCorps members would not receive their living allowance stipends during the shutdown, but based on my experience running an AmeriCorps program, I don’t understand why this would be the case, unless the AmeriCorps project grant wasn’t due to be awarded until after September 30th.)

Another example: Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). A few adult education programs (mainly in urban areas) receive CDBG funding, and some reports (such as here and here) are suggesting  that some municipalities may experience delays in accessing these funds, even if they were already obligated for fiscal year 2014, because federal officials may not be available to approve disbursements.

I’m sure there are other examples, (let me know if I’ve missed any), but again, I think the impact on adult education—at least in the short run—is going to be pretty minimal.

Bear in mind, however, that there are several federal programs relied on by some low-income people enrolled in adult education that will be affected. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has just published a brief report, What a Federal Government Shutdown Could Mean to Low-Income People, that is a useful guide to those programs.

UPDATE: The National Skills Coalition has a preliminary rundown on the impact of the shutdown on certain employment and training programs. Also, as this blog post points out, this is not the best week to be doing literacy research—at least if you are looking for NAAL literacy estimates—since the NCES Web site, like most other federal government Web sites, is offline.