Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dream act passes, Dayton is governor, Higher education tax legislation, MN's Kline to take office

Dream Act passes House, tabled in Senate

By a vote of 216-198, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Dream Act bill last night that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and make such students eligible for federal financial aid. The Senate voted earlier this morning by a vote of 59-40 to table consideration of the bill.

Emmer concedes governor's race, Dayton to take office next month

At his home in Delano yesterday, Tom Emmer conceded the governor's race to Mark Dayton. At Emmer's news conference, he said the integrity of the election is of utmost importance, but at the same time it is imperative that "we" allow the next Legislature and governor to govern. He went on to say he doesn't believe we should delay the process. Emmer said that he was proud of his campaign, and as a conservative came within 8,700 votes in a race few thought would be that close. He congratulated Mark Dayton and offered to help him in anyway he could. "It is our job to make sure he can be the best possible governor he can be," Emmer said.

Less than two hours after Emmer’s announcement, the state canvassing board certified Dayton the winner. Governor-elect Dayton thanked Rep. Tom Emmer for his integrity and graciousness at his news conference, also yesterday. He also thanked all the workers and volunteers that helped on his campaign and promised he will work to the best of his ability on behalf of the people of Minnesota. Dayton said we face difficult decisions ahead with the $6.2 billion budget deficit, and asked for everyone's ideas, talents and help in making a better Minnesota for everyone. Dayton will now begin to build his administration as he prepares to take office Jan. 3, 2011. He did say he would name his Chief of Staff within 48 hours.

Federal tax legislation includes components for higher education

As Congress wraps up the year and the 111th Congress, President Obama and Republican Congressional members reached a deal Monday on tax legislation that extends for two years the Bush-era income tax cuts in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax holiday.

The measure includes benefits of importance to colleges and students. The legislation extends for two years the American Opportunity Tax Credit, or AOTC, which was created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The AOTC builds on the previous Hope Scholarship Tax Credit and provides a tuition tax credit worth up to $2,500, a student-loan interest deduction worth up to $2,500, and a benefit that allows companies to provide up to $5,250 in tax-free tuition assistance to their employees.

The House Democratic Caucus however voted today to not bring up the tax legislation in its current form. This non-binding vote held during a closed meeting of the caucus puts pressure on House leaders to push for changes to the legislation and raises questions about whether the deal will move to the House floor for a vote.

Kline to chair House Education and Labor Committee

It's official. Rep. John Kline of the second district in Minnesota will be the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee when the Republicans take control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month. The House GOP conference voted on the slate of committee chair recommendations yesterday.

Congressman Kline, who has served as the ranking Republican on the committee since 2009, says he hopes the committee's work will help improve the economic climate and lead to more jobs. He says he also hopes to simplify federal law.

Speaker designee John Boehner, R-Ohio, said of Kline’s election as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, "He's a savvy legislator who knows how to lead and can bring together members on both sides of the aisle to do what's best for our country."

2011 full year funding resolution passes House

As Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year, came and went without Congress passing any of the 12 appropriation bills for fiscal year 2011, the U.S. House and Senate passed a funding measure late September to keep federal government programs operating at current fiscal year 2010 funding levels until Dec. 3. As Congress works through a lame duck session, a further continuing resolution was passed Dec. 1 providing for a 15 day extension until Dec. 18, 2010.

Yesterday the House passed a full year funding resolution by a vote of 212 to 206 that freezes fiscal year 2011 discretionary appropriations at the fiscal year 2010 level. Within that ceiling, the measure adjusts funding between programs and accounts to deal with current demands and workloads. Overall, the Act includes $513 billion for the Department of Defense, $4.9 billion above 2010; $75.2 billion for military construction and veterans, $1.4 billion below 2010; and $501.4 billion for all other appropriations, $3.5 billion below 2010.

For education specifically, the bill provides $5.7 billion more for Pell grants to meet the current funding shortfall that has arisen because more people are qualifying for the grant. The discretionary portion of the maximum Pell Grant award is maintained at $4,860 which, combined with a mandatory supplement of $690, will support a $5,550 maximum Pell Grant in fiscal year 2011, the same as the 2010 level.

The bill also adjusts funding to allow the office of Federal Student Aid to maintain services to students and families in implementing the transition to 100 percent direct student lending mandated by law, and provides $550 million for Race to the Top, which was not funded in 2010.
You may find a summary of the bill here.

The bill now awaits action by the Senate, which could take up the resolution as a stand-alone bill or handle 2011 spending by wrapping all the appropriations bills into one "omnibus" bill and send it back to the House for a final vote.

Higher education, 2010 elections and the economy

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU, prepared a policy brief that examines November's elections as it relates to public higher education. In addition to discussing policy implications at the state and federal level, the paper explores the changing political and policy dynamics in governors' offices, state legislatures and Congress, as well as future implications of redistricting. Also included are higher education policy issues that may be taken up by the 112th Congress. You may find the brief here.

AASCU has also released a brief entitled, State Outlook: Fiscal and State Policy Issues Affecting Postsecondary Education. This document is a compilation of key economic trends, fiscal conditions and state policy actions that can serve as a helpful resource in preparation for the 2011 legislative session and can be found here.