By Christopher Beach
With control of all three branches of government, Republicans are set on unraveling President Obama's education legacy and pushing an unprecedented amount of funding and authority back to states.
Leading this charge is Rep. Virginia Foxx, the newly appointed chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Her mission, as she told RealClearPolitics in an interview for the new episode of the “First 100 Days” podcast series, is to make the federal government “as minimal as possible.”
In fact, the North Carolina Republican has no qualms about abolishing the entire Department of Education. “If the Lord put me in charge, I would do it,” Foxx said. But she admitted, “I do not think it's politically feasible.”
Instead, the GOP is busy chipping away at specific Obama-era regulations related to the nation's new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). And the Trump administration just took an axe to Obama's controversial Title IX transgender restroom rules. Foxx approved of the decision and added that Obama had circumvented the legislative process and tried to “interpret into the law something that was never intended.” (At the time of her interview with RCP, the administration's decision was imminent but had not yet been issued.)
You might describe Foxx as a strict constitutionalist. The seven-term congresswoman is a staunch believer that powers not specifically granted to Congress or the executive branch by the Constitution should be delegated to the states, and that includes decisions involving education. Furthermore, she asserts that the federal government's intervention in education has not been effective.
Foxx pointed to the fact that the U.S. has spent over $3 trillion on Title I funding directed at improving outcomes for low-income students, yet “reading levels have not changed one bit since 1965.” “Something is wrong with this scenario,” she added.
(According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card, reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have ticked up marginally over the past several decades, but scores for 12th-graders have remained stagnant and, in recent years, actually decreased.)
In interviews and in person, the committee chairwoman is not known to hedge or mince words. Her moxie and direct style are partly shaped by her remarkable personal journey from abject poverty to unlikely success. Growing up in Appalachia, her family didn't have electric power or running water until she was 14. At age 12, she took a job as a weaver to help provide for her family. She worked her way through high school as a janitor and became the first member of her family to graduate.
She talks openly about being raised in one of the poorest areas of the country, but stresses that it didn't stop her from succeeding. “That's what this country is about,” Foxx stated. Now, her personal goal is to protect the opportunity for anybody who grew up in similar circumstances to succeed also.
That's one reason she is an avid supporter of school choice. While Foxx did not specifically address how Republicans in Congress will go about it, she voiced support for Trump’s and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ desire to dramatically expand school choice. She also pushed back against critics, saying they’re trying to deny children in failing schools the opportunity at a better education.
After completing high school, Foxx graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later earned both a master’s degree in college teaching and a PhD in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She worked as a research assistant and English instructor in higher education and later became the president of Mayland Community College.
As you might expect, she's well-versed in the issues of higher education and is a vocal advocate for expanding college opportunities, whether it be through industry certification programs, two-year college or four-year degree programs. In her opinion, the United States needs to elevate the status of people who chose not to get a four-year degree. She stressed that states should develop better career and vocational training programs for students who don't want to go on to college.
To listen to the full interview, click here.
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The rules and regulations implementing federal wage and hour standards are overly complex, burdensome, and outdated, creating significant challenges for workers and small business owners. For Rhea Lana Riner, the confusing maze of rules and red tape forced her to confront costly litigation that could put her out of business and jeopardize valuable opportunities for families in need. She recently testified before the committee to share her story.
Arkansas Entrepreneur Tells U.S. House Panel That Regulations Threaten Survival of Company
By Frank E. Lockwood
An Arkansas woman who built a consignment sale empire told congressmen Thursday that federal regulations threaten the survival of her company.
Rhea Lana Riner told members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that she's been locked in a legal battle with the U.S. Department of Labor since 2013.
"If we lose, Rhea Lana's will no longer be able to provide its valuable service to families in need," she said.
Thursday's hearing focused on "Federal Wage and Hour Policies in the Twenty-First Century Economy." The entrepreneur from Faulkner County was the first of four people who addressed the subcommittee on workforce protections.
Riner started her children's clothing consignment company in 1997, holding the first sale in her Conway living room. A few friends gathered, buying and selling items. Since then, her business has mushroomed, with 80 franchises that operate in 23 states.
Many of the mothers who buy or sell gently used kids apparel also volunteered their time and helped run the consignment sales. In exchange, they're allowed to shop before the sale opens to the general public.
But in 2013, the Department of Labor said that Rhea Lana's Inc. was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act because she was using volunteer labor.
Since then, the government agency and Riner have been fighting each other in federal court.
If Rhea Lana's loses, it faces penalties as high as $3.6 million, she said.
Riner portrayed the battle as a struggle between big government and small business, between hardworking moms and oppressive bureaucrats.
"We're continuing to fight for a mother's right to use her personal time as she sees fit to help her family," she said.
To read more, click here.
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By Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
What a difference an election can make. Across the country, there is renewed hope and confidence in the future. Expectations are high, as they should be. Now it’s time to do the hard work necessary to live up to those expectations.
For eight years, families and small businesses have lived with the consequences of failed policies and failed leadership. They have endured job growth that is sluggish, wages that are largely flat, college costs that continue to rise and health care costs that are still skyrocketing.
However, it is a new year with new leadership and new opportunities to deliver real solutions that will improve the lives of the American people. As the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I look forward to playing a leading role in this important effort.
We will start by rolling back the regulatory onslaught that is crushing schools, states, employers and working families. In recent years, new regulations have been finalized that affect virtually every aspect of American life.
Under President Obama, the Department of Education sought to control how local communities spend their K-12 education dollars. The department also dictated how states identify and improve under-performing schools, and it put hardworking taxpayers on the hook for tens of billions of dollars in student loans.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor finalized extreme changes to overtime policies that would destroy jobs, reduce real income for families, raise costs on small businesses and make it harder for lower-skilled workers to climb the economic ladder. That’s enough damage from one agency, but for the Obama labor department, this barely scratches the surface.
We have also witnessed new rules restricting access to affordable retirement advice and a host of regulatory schemes that empower union bosses at the expense of workers and small businesses. The list goes on, but you get the picture.
Bureaucrats who have never owned businesses are micromanaging the decisions employers make every day. Central planners in Washington pretend they know better than teachers, principals, parents and faculty how best to educate America’s students. Enough is enough.
Working with the new administration, we will rein in the regulatory state. We will remind those employed by the federal government that they work for the American people, not the other way around.
We will work to undo the damage that has been done. We will also work to advance positive, conservative solutions to tackle some of our nation’s toughest challenges.
One of the first steps will be strengthening career and technical education (CTE). CTE has helped a lot of students gain the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the workforce. Recently, we came close to achieving reforms that would provide states more flexibility, reduce administrative burdens, improve accountability and better ensure students are prepared for in-demand jobs. It is my hope we will finish this important work in the coming months.
We also intend to take early action to help vulnerable youth get on the pathway to success by improving the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, we will continue our efforts to make higher education more accessible and affordable, deliver patient-centered health care solutions and help more Americans retire with financial security and peace of mind.
These and other important priorities will expand opportunities for students to learn and for Americans to climb the economic ladder. A new Congress and new administration mark a new beginning for this great country. We face a historic opportunity. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and seize this opportunity.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the Chairwoman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
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In recent years, working families and small businesses have faced significant challenges as they’ve struggled through the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Since 2009, the economy grew at an average annual pace of just 1.5 percent. The net result is limited opportunity for hardworking men and women.
In fact, the labor force participation rate has dropped to 62.9 percent — nearly the lowest level in decades. Wage growth remains largely stagnant, as the average hourly earnings for today’s worker is roughly the same as in 2009. Meanwhile, 7.6 million Americans are searching for work, and nearly six million individuals are working part-time hours when what they really need are full-time jobs.
We cannot accept this as the new normal. The American people have clearly spoken, and they expect their leaders in Washington to put the country on a better path and finally get the economy moving again, which means more and better paying jobs.
That’s why Republicans are committed to advancing a bold agenda that will remove barriers to job creation and empower more Americans to reach their full potential. As part of that effort, this subcommittee will examine the policies impacting America’s workforce, and ensure those policies support, rather than hinder, the ability of workers to succeed and employers to grow and hire.
A key part of this effort will be robust oversight of the policies under our jurisdiction, and as Chairwoman Foxx has made clear, a commitment to holding the administration accountable for how it enforces the law. There is too much at stake for families and small businesses to leave any stone unturned, whether it’s examining policies that are intended to promote safe and healthy workplaces, holding federal contractors accountable, or ensuring wage determinations under the Davis-Bacon Act are done accurately and fairly.
We have a lot of ground to cover in the coming months. And of course, an important part of our agenda — and the reason for today’s hearing — will be taking a close look at a law that affects practically every workplace in the country: the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law was signed over eighty years ago to address the challenges that existed during the Great Depression. It established important protections for workers, and has served as the foundation of our nation’s wage and hour policies ever since.
A lot has changed in those eighty years. For starters, things that are part of our daily life didn’t even exist back then — smartphones, iPads, and the internet, just to name a few. Advancements in technology have led to virtual workplaces, entire new industries, and flexible, innovative work arrangements. Most recently, we’ve seen the rapid rise in the so-called “sharing” economy.
The point is the American workforce has transformed dramatically, and the challenges facing workers and employers today are different than they were in the 1930s. However, our labor policies have failed to adapt. The rules and regulations surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act are simply outdated. At the same time, small business owners are getting tied up in a complex regulatory maze that forces them to confront costly litigation and limits their ability to expand.
It is clear our nation’s wage and hour rules were designed for another era and no longer reflect the realities of the 21st century workforce. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the previous administration missed an opportunity to streamline and modernize these important worker protections. Instead, the Obama administration spent its time and resources advancing an extreme and partisan overtime rule that would stifle workplace flexibility and limit opportunities for career advancement.
I can tell you that small businesses in my district are breathing a sigh of relief that this fundamentally flawed rule was blocked by a federal judge. Countless small business owners were worried that they would have to cut their employees’ hours or even lay people off. Colleges, universities, and non-profits were bracing for an especially devastating impact. As an example for my home state, the rule would have cost the University of Alabama System 17 million dollars in just the first year, costs that would have likely been passed on to students in the form of higher tuition and fees.
Fortunately, we have a new administration that understands how misguided regulations often hurt the very individuals they’re intended to help. We also have a new Congress that is working to advance an agenda that will foster economic growth and deliver results for the American people.
Bringing our nation’s wage and hour rules into the 21st century will be an important part of the conversation. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses who can speak more to the challenges resulting from an outdated law and the need for positive reforms that will improve the lives of hardworking Americans.
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For decades, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has coordinated federal resources to help improve those state juvenile justice systems. The law primarily focuses on education and rehabilitation to support efforts keeping at-risk youth out of the system, as well as efforts providing juvenile offenders already in the system the second chance they need to move forward with their lives in positive ways.
Today, more than one million young men and women across the country are involved in the juvenile justice system. That includes children as young as ten all the way to those on the cusp of adulthood. That’s a noteworthy number on its own, but it doesn’t even include the countless others who are at risk of becoming involved in the system because of circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, or difficulties at home.
That statistic provides an idea of the size and scope of the juvenile justice system, but it’s even more important to understand what being a part of the juvenile justice system actually means for each of those two million kids. In many cases, it means being at a disadvantage, not fully understanding what potential the future holds, and not realizing that opportunities exist to turn things around.
In fact, youth who have been incarcerated are 26 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their peers and 26 percent more likely to engage in other unlawful activity and return to jail as adults.
We, as a society, have to help children avoid becoming one of those statistics, and we can accomplish that by helping some stay out of the system all together and by helping others come out of the system with the opportunities and the motivation they need to chart a better course for themselves. Given the social and economic challenges facing our country, that’s no small feat. However — through a collaborative effort among parents, teachers, and local community members — it can be done.
That’s why we are here today — to discuss our role in that collaborative effort and to begin considering what steps Congress can take to help state and local leaders better serve vulnerable youth in their communities.
Last year, we advanced a number of bipartisan reforms to provide state and local leaders the flexibility they need to meet the needs of youth in their cities and towns, focus on proven strategies, and improve accountability and oversight both to help kids succeed and protect taxpayers. Ultimately, these reforms would set kids up for long-term success, helping them gain the skills they need to become productive adults and promoting opportunities for them to achieve success throughout their lives. I’m certain those commonsense reforms will help guide the work ahead as we renew our effort to improve the juvenile justice system.
As a father, I want my children to have every opportunity they need to succeed in life, and I work very hard to ensure they do. I also work hard to ensure they understand it’s their responsibility to seize those opportunities. Unfortunately, not all children are in the same position, and those are the kids we are here for today. I look forward to continuing our work to provide them the hope of a brighter future.
It’s also why the board is advancing a micro-union proposal that gerrymanders the workplace, thereby limiting the workplace mobility of employees and tying up employers in red tape. And it’s also why the NLRB is expanding the power of union organizing on college campuses, whether it’s organizing graduate students, student athletes, and others.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the extreme, partisan actions the NLRB has taken in recent years. As Republicans raised concerns with the harmful consequences of these policies, our colleagues told us not to worry; these were all innocent changes that will improve the lives of working families. Meanwhile, workers have less time to make informed decisions in union elections, micro unions are being certified across the country, and small business franchisees are uncertain about the future. None of this has helped invigorate the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs deserve better. Workers and their families deserve better. And this Congress will demand better. In the weeks and months ahead, we will do everything we can to turn back this failed, activist agenda and restore balance and fairness to the board. We will work to protect the rights of workers and employers, and help create an environment where businesses can grow and all workers can achieve a lifetime of success.
Not only does it impose prescriptive accountability requirements on state education leaders, but it also violates specific prohibitions the law places on the Secretary of Education’s authority.
We also considered a few moments ago H. J. Res. 58, which will block implementation of a regulation that significantly expands the federal government’s involvement in teacher preparation. Yet another example of Obama overreach, the teacher preparation rule essentially creates a federal system for evaluating teacher performance. It would be virtually impossible to implement and could lead to fewer teachers serving low-income students.
Together, these two resolutions of disapproval will move us toward limiting the federal role in education and protect the local control promised with recent education reforms.
I want to thank Representatives Rokita and Guthrie for their work to fight against the flawed policies of the past and for leading the way in delivering a more positive, more limited, and more responsible federal role in education.
I urge my colleagues to support both resolutions, and I yield back the balance of my time.
That’s why, a little more than a year ago, Congress passed — and former President Obama signed into law — the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act. With this law, Republicans and Democrats worked together to reform our education system and ensure all children are able to receive the education they deserve. It represents a fundamentally different approach to education and — in the words of one superintendent — empowers local leaders “to dream and lead and transform public education in this country.”
Unfortunately, after the bill became law, the Obama administration began its attempt to roll back these bipartisan reforms.
With the Every Student Succeeds Act, Congress promised to reduce the federal role and restore state and local control over K-12 education. The law empowers states to develop their own policies to hold schools accountable to parents and taxpayers. For accountability to work, it must be driven by the state and local leaders who are best equipped to directly address the issues in their schools.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s flawed accountability regulation would reestablish the Washington-knows-best approach to accountability — an approach that is deeply flawed. Not only does the regulation dictate prescriptive accountability requirements, it violates many of the prohibitions the law places on the Secretary of Education. As we all saw, that top-down approach simply doesn’t work.
That’s why we repealed No Child Left Behind and passed a bill to transform K-12 education. Our students deserve better than the failed policies of the past, and that’s what the Every Student Succeeds Act — if implemented as Congress intended — offers.
States are already working to implement the law in their school districts, and I want to be very clear that this resolution in no way does anything to stymie those efforts. Instead, this resolution gives states the certainty they need to continue moving forward, confident their plans will be reviewed by the Department of Education against the requirements of the statute with deference to their judgement, as the law requires. We are also committed to working with the new administration to ensure states receive the support they need, consistent with the limits placed by the statute.
By passing this resolution and blocking implementation of the Obama administration’s flawed accountability rule, we can ensure that the promises we made under the Every Student Succeeds Act — to restore state and local control of K-12 education — are kept.
I urge my colleagues to support H. J. Res 57 and protect those important bipartisan reforms. I reserve the balance of my time.
Under the Higher Education Act, teacher preparation programs are required to provide certain information to state leaders to help determine the effectiveness of those programs. The state then submits an annual report card to the Department of Education that highlights the quality of their teacher preparation programs.
Additionally, the Higher Education Act provides TEACH Grants to high-achieving students who commit to teaching math, science, reading, or a foreign language at high-need schools. To ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly, the law requires that grant recipients attend an institution that provides “high-quality teacher preparation and professional development services.”
In 2012, the Obama administration began a rulemaking process to develop federal criteria for state teacher preparation report cards. For the first time — and without congressional authorization — the rule that came out of that process tied eligibility for TEACH grants to the state’s teacher preparation report card. That flawed and controversial rule is the reason we are here today.
We all agree that accountability is important, particularly when it comes to ensuring our students receive the high-quality education they deserve. However, it’s also important that state and local leaders have the flexibility they need to make decisions that affect the schools and programs in their local communities.
Teacher preparation should be addressed through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act — not unilaterally by executive fiat. That’s exactly what the Obama administration did by forcing its one-size-fits all approach to education on teacher preparation programs.
The rule requires states to track new teachers across three performance levels: student learning outcomes, employment outcomes, and employer surveys. In doing so, it essentially creates a federal mandate for teacher evaluations that Congress explicitly rejected with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The regulation assumes the federal government knows better than local education leaders when it comes to what makes an effective teacher, and to make matters worse, it will also result in fewer teachers opting to teach students in low-income neighborhoods and schools.
Teachers play an important role in helping students learn and succeed—both in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, as it did so often, the Obama administration overreached and took a flawed approach to preparing teachers to meet the needs of their students. The teacher preparation rule blatantly ignores the principles guiding recent bipartisan education reforms and will make it more difficult for state and local leaders to help ensure teachers are ready to succeed.
The resolution under consideration — H. J. Res 58 — will block the implementation of this misguided policy and protect state and local control over decisions affecting their teachers and students. The federal government has played too large a role in education for far too long. I urge my colleagues to vote in support of this resolution, and help rein in the federal government’s role in education.
Thank you, and I reserve the balance of my time.