With the expiration of the Higher Education Act last December, Congress has begun working on a reauthorization process for this important legislation. Congresswoman Speier looks forward to using this reauthorization as an opportunity to address ways to increase college access and affordability for students, including exploring incentives for states and universities to reign in the cost of tuition.
The United States is facing a growing college affordability crisis. Our national student loan debt has exceeded $1 trillion, surpassing both credit card and auto loan debt. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, seven in ten college seniors graduated with student loan debt, with a national average of $29,400 per borrower. From 2008 to 2012, student debt increased an average of six percent each year. Although California students generally fare better with a lower state average of $20,269 per borrower, there is still much work to be done. As the parent of a daughter in college, the rising cost of student loans is an issue that hits particularly close to home for the Congresswoman.
Last summer, after allowing interest rates on subsidized undergraduate Stafford loans to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, Congress retroactively passed H.R. 1911, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act which was signed into law by the President on August 9, 2013. Though this law initially returned undergraduate student loan interest rates to a lower 3.86%, going forward interest rates will vary from year to year and will be tied to the 10-year Treasury note plus a fixed increment depending on the type of student loan (i.e. undergraduate, graduate, and parent PLUS loan).
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the effects of this law on student loans will cost students almost $4 billion in additional loan interest charges. Speier strongly believes that we cannot afford to increase the cost of higher education and accumulate more national student loan debt, which is why she ultimately chose not to vote for this legislation. Speier believes we must find a more permanent solution to reduce the cost of higher education.
Congresswoman Speier is a cosponsor of H.R. 1979, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act that would allow previous student loan borrowers to refinance their outstanding federal loans down to the rates offered to new federal borrowers in the 2013-14 school year. H.R. 1979 would also allow eligible borrowers to refinance their private student loans into the federal program. The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act is fully paid for by implementing the Buffet rule which ensures that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share in taxes.
Additionally, making sure that students are receiving a quality postsecondary education for their money is a very important priority of Congresswoman Speier’s. That is why Speier sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in March of 2014 to find ways that the federal government can work to improve its oversight of accrediting bodies that are charged with guaranteeing the quality of the wide variety of programs and institutions in higher education. This issue has been especially important in the Congresswoman’s district with the recent issues regarding the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges’ (ACCJC) action towards City College of San Francisco (CCSF).
Congresswoman Speier had previously raised concerns about ACCJC’s conduct in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in September of 2013. And in November of 2013, Congresswoman Speier convened a public hearing with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and State Senator Jim Beall to examine the accountability of the community college accreditation process in California.
Recently, the California State Auditor released a report that provides further evidence that ACCJC was inconsistent in applying its accreditation process. The report found that ACCJC decided to terminate CCSF’s accreditation after allowing only one year to come into compliance even though it could have given the college more time. ACCJC also allowed 15 institutions to take two years to come into compliance and allowed another six institutions to take up to five years to reach compliance.
The report showed that ACCJC’s deliberations regarding an institution's accreditation status lack transparency, and that the appeal process does not allow institutions a definitive right to provide new evidence—a limitation that may be detrimental in showing the progress made in addressing deficiencies. ACCJC also sanctions community colleges at a higher rate than the six other regional accreditors in the nation. All of this pointed to the need for other accrediting options for community colleges besides ACCJC.
Congresswoman Speier will continue to monitor ACCJC, and is committed to keeping CCSF up and running.
In July of 2013, the House reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the form of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. Congresswoman Speier voted against this legislation because she believes the act's name is a misnomer and would bring failure instead of success upon our students, schools, and communities. Instead Speier cast her vote for Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Miller's fairer and more sensible substitute, which keeps taxpayer money in public schools and authorizes spending levels reflective of need.
Speier has always believed that education is a state issue, but the ESEA is a vitally important piece of legislation that the Congress has reauthorized for over 45 years, to ensure that all children have equal access to a quality education, no matter their state, background, or zip code. In the ten years since its most recent reauthorization in the form of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), it is clear that the law is outdated and dysfunctional. Currently 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and a consortium of school districts from California received waivers from the U.S. Department of Education to be exempt from its overly rigorous and inflexible requirements. It is vital that Congress pass a new, bipartisan authorization as soon as possible. In this new era of budget cuts, we need a law that is flexible but not so flexible as to render the equalizing purpose of the ESEA ineffective.
As a representative of one of the country’s foremost leaders in innovation and the biotechnology spheres, Congresswoman Sprier believes that we must prepare our students for competitive employment in the high-tech industry and enhance American competitiveness in the global economy. This means supporting computer science and science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) education.
· a cosponsor of H.R. 2426, the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act;
· a cosponsor of H.R. 1089, the Stepping up to STEM Act;
· a member of the Congressional STEM Caucus
The Congresswoman also encourages high school students from her district to compete in the House App Contest to create and exhibit their software application, or “app,” for mobile, tablet, or computer devices on a platform of their choice.
LGBT Americans deserve protection from discrimination at every stage in their lives. A school environment made unsafe by daily bullying and harassment is a major contributor to the drop-out problem and adolescent suicide rates.
Congresswoman Speier is a cosponsor of:
· the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), modeled after Title IX, which prohibits any school program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
· the No Name-Calling Week Resolution to commemorate this annual week of educational activities nationwide aimed at ending name-calling, bullying, and harassment of all kinds.
· the National Day of Silence Resolution, which commemorates the annual day on which students take a vow of silence to bring attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment faced by individuals in schools—the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all.
· the Safe Schools Improvement Act, of which she is a cosponsor, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
· H.Res.398, expressing support for designation of October 2013 as "National Anti-Bullying Month".
· the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which requires colleges and universities receiving federal student aid funding to enact a policy that prohibits harassment or cyberbullying by students, faculty, and staff based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity
· the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which would prohibit federal funding for programs that promote gender stereotypes or are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of sexually active or LGBT youth.
· the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act revises requirements for services provided under grants from HHS for centers for runaway and homeless youth and their families, to ensure that youth are served in a manner that is culturally competent, and demographics on the sexual orientation and gender identity or expression of the youth are recorded in its statistical records
· a bicameral resolution led by Rep. Barbara Lee’s recent resolution recognizing April 10 as National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day.
Speierhas also signed onto a congressional letter expressing strong support for protections for transgender youth through California’s AB1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, which allows transgender students to fully express their gender identity at school by allowing them to use restroom facilities and try out for sports teams based on the gender with which they identify. This is a crucial step in making our schools more safe and welcoming for all students, and Speier stands in vigorous opposition to the efforts to repeal this law.