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House Education and Workforce Committee Examines Expanding Opportunity in America's Schools and Workplaces

 

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HEARING BRIEF 

House Education and the Workforce Committee Examines Expanding Opportunity in America's Schools and Workplaces

 
Prepared by:
 
Washington Partners (wpllc@cur.org)
 
 
February 4, 2015
 
On February 4, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing, “State of American Schools and Workplaces: Expanding Opportunity in America’s Schools and Workplaces.” The hearing was the first convened by the Committee in the 114th Congress.
 
 

Members Present

Chairman John Kline; Ranking Member Bobby Scott; Joe Wilson (R-SC); Virginia Foxx (R-NC); Glenn Thompson (R-PA); Tim Walberg (R-MI); Brett Guthrie (R-KY); Todd Rokita (R-IN); Luke Messer (R-IN); Dave Brat (R-VA); Buddy Carter (R-GA); Mike Bishop (R-MI); Glenn Grothman (R-WI); Steve Russell (R-OK); Carlos Curbelo (R-FL); Elise Stefanik (R-NY); Rick Allen (R-GA); Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX); Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Marcia Fudge (D-OH); Jared Polis (D-CO); Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI); Frederica Wilson (D-FL); Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR); Mark Pocan (D-WI); Mark Takano (D-CA); Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); Katherine Clark (D-MA); Alma Adams (D-NC); Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA)
 

Witnesses

  • The Honorable Mike Pence (R), Governor, Indiana

  • Dr. Michael Amiridis, executive vice president for academic affairs, provost, University of South Carolina

  • Mr. Drew Greenblatt, president, Marlin Steel Wire Products, LLC

  • Dr. Lawrence Mishel, Ph.D, president, Economic Policy Institute

Opening Statements

Chairman Kline convened the hearing by saying that 1 in 5 students in America will drop out of high school and that the vast majority will graduate unready for college or career. The Chairman said that the policies of the Obama administration are particularly to blame, arguing that the President’s recent Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request included rampant increases in spending that will ultimately harm lower and middle class families, “doubling down on failed policies.” The American people want a new direction, Chairman Kline said, arguing that increased state and local control will bolster American education and lead to national prosperity.

Ranking Member Scott began his opening statement by expressing his displeasure at the release of H.R.5 prior to any House hearings regarding reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and urged the Chairman to proceed with the reauthorization process in a bipartisan manner with time for adequate hearings that are crucial to the development of informed policy. The Ranking Member indicated the economy has seen growth over the past decades, yet benefits of economic growth have been disproportionately enjoyed by the upper class, while lower and middle class workers and families continue to struggle. Additionally, the cost of attending college continues to skyrocket; the Congressman said that 7 in 10 of graduating high school seniors in 2013 had to borrow at least $28,000 to attend a college or university. The congressman indicated his concern that American education is affordable only for the wealthiest students and that opportunities continue to decrease across the board.
 

Witness Statements

Governor Pence began his testimony by expressing what he considers to be his good fortune for being part of a “state that works.” He argued that the cure for what ails America’s education will come from state and local influences. Restoring state and local control in education is critical, according to Governor Pence, who added that Indiana is leading the nation in innovation that grows the economy. He cited a drop in unemployment in the state from 8 percent to roughly 5 percent in the past two years. Governor Pence shared that Indiana is 2nd in the nation for growth on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the nation’s report card,” and that Indiana enjoys a robust school choice system. Four out of every 5 students utilizing school vouchers attends an A or B rated school, Governor Pence said, adding that one of his goals as governor is to have at least 100,000 students attending B or better rated schools. Governor Pence also said that he supports giving schools and districts the flexibility to pay “good teachers more,” and that Indiana has made career and technical education a priority in its high schools. He also said that these efforts support giving students as many postsecondary options as possible.

Dr. Amiridis began his statement by saying that the “best days for public and research universities are ahead of us,” arguing that demands for transparency and demonstrated quality require institutions to improve and grow. Arguing against burdensome regulations, Dr. Amiridis called for increased flexibility for colleges and universities to implement creative innovations to serve students. Dr. Amiridis cited the University of South Carolina’s Palmetto College, which offers an online program oriented to students that have completed some community college or vocational school. The program efficiently follows a calendar year and allows flexibility for students to work while completing their studies. Dr. Amiridis also called for an increase in federal research funding.


Dr. Mishel explained that though the economy has grown and productivity has increased, wages have stagnated over the past few decades. Dr. Mishel said the top 1 percent of earners saw wages rise 138 percent, while those in the bottom 99 percent saw wage increases of just 19 percent since 1979. Wage growth is the key to lifting people out of poverty, Dr. Mishel argued, expressing his support of raising the minimum wage, updating overtime rules, expanding rights of collective bargaining, regularizing undocumented workers, ending forced arbitration, and modernizing labor standards. Dr. Mishel asserted that, as an economist, he believes that tax cuts will not generate economic growth.

Mr. Greenblatt touted the success of his business—a steel manufacturing company—and attributed its growth to free enterprise. Arguing that increased regulations will hinder growth, Greenblatt shared that his company currently exports to 30 countries, including China, and imports nothing. Greenblatt told the committee, “You are shaping the trajectory of manufacturing,” and urged the members to protect the American free market tradition.

Member Questions

Chairman Kline asked Governor Pence about a moratorium he placed on government regulations in Indiana when he first took office and the review that followed. The governor said that he considered regulations another form of taxation and that the intent of the regulation moratorium and full-scale review was to cut red tape and increase efficiency. Saying that there is a manufacturing renaissance taking place in Indiana, Governor Pence argued that tax cuts and reduced regulatory burden will support businesses and allow for continued growth.

Ranking Member Scott questioned Governor Pence on his goal to prioritize career and technical education, expressing concern that such pathways might eclipse traditional academics for certain populations. Governor Pence reiterated his stance that this prioritization would offer increased options and opportunities to students and affirmed that it was not his intention for career and technical pathways to grow at the expense of traditional academics. The Congressman questioned Mr. Greenblatt on the benefits that his company would experience if comprehensive immigration reform were to be enacted. Greenblatt explained that such reforms are “extremely important” and would increase prosperity.

Representative Virginia Foxx expressed her displeasure at hearing a witness refer to career and technical education as “training.” The Congresswoman said, “The only thing I remember from my graduate work is that you train dogs, but you educate people.” Governor Pence responded that he agreed with Congresswoman Foxx’s point and reiterated that it was not his intent to create “plan A and plan B,” but that diverse opportunities should be made available to high school students.

Representative Marcia Fudge used her time to remind her colleagues and the witnesses that “states’ rights” rhetoric rarely benefits the poor and people of color—but often hurts them. The Congresswoman asked Dr. Mishel if the wage stagnation he referenced was due to any specific policy. Dr. Mishel responded that wage stagnation was due to “policy omission and commission,” saying that certain policies prevent increases to the minimum wage and often drive up rates of unemployment. The current economy generates the highest profits seen in 4 decades, Dr. Mishel said; businesses are prosperous, but the benefits of prosperity are not equitably distributed. Regarding student aid programs, Congresswoman Fudge questioned Dr. Amiridis on the importance of year-round Pell Grants, and the witness responded that it is a vital support to students.

Representative Tim Walberg asked Mr. Greenblatt how to raise the level of “respect” for career and technical education. Greenblatt explained that wages and benefits in these fields are already high, but increased career and technical opportunities in high school could increase respect for the pathway.

Representative Jared Polis questioned Dr. Mishel on the wage gap. The witness argued that pay for high level management and executive positions have increased, but that pay for lower level workers increases at a much slower rate. When questioned on the cost of healthcare for his company, Greenblatt argued for competition across states in healthcare markets.

Representative Steve Russell questioned Greenblatt on who is hurt most when burdensome regulations are imposed, to which the witness replied “working people.” Greenblatt argued that regulations and taxes weigh heavily on his company and put American manufacturing at large at a disadvantage.

Representative Frederica Wilson used her questioning time to urge her fellow committee members to follow a “jobs-first agenda,” arguing for modernized labor standards. Dr. Mishel discussed the fact that the United States provides less in terms of sick leave compared to other developed countries, arguing that this is a crucial benefit for all, especially women, to fully participate in the economy.

Representative Glenn Grothman indicated that Indiana and Wisconsin are two of the states with the biggest manufacturing industries in the United States. The Congressman questioned Governor Pence on the availability of jobs in his state, and he replied affirmatively that manufacturing jobs are plentiful in Indiana. The governor reiterated his vision that high schools offer more career and technical opportunities, not as a substitute for traditional academics, but as an available pathway for those who wish to pursue technical careers. The governor also commented that many manufacturing jobs go unfilled in his state because there are not enough skilled workers. The Congressman pointedly questioned Dr. Mishel as to why he did not mention the skills gap that Governor Pence described, and what Representative Grothman called “the number one problem.” Dr. Mishel responded that, as an economist, he has drawn his conclusions from a survey conducted by MIT scholars rather than anecdotes, finding that the skills gap is greatly exaggerated. Dr. Mishel restated his argument that stagnant wages and few job openings represent a more accurate picture of reality.

Representative Suzanne Bonamici echoed Ranking Member Scott’s disappointment at the intended ESEA reauthorization timeline, noting that the few number of hearings does a disservice to those the bill attempts to serve. The congresswoman questioned Mr. Greenblatt as to what he looks for in an employee, and Mr. Greenblatt responded that creativity and the ability to innovate are attractive qualities in a potential employee.

Representative Glenn Thompson noted his co-chairmanship on the House Career and Technical Education Caucus and voiced his support for the pathway. Governor Pence reiterated his vision for high schools in his state and argued that Congress, too, should make high school career and technical education a priority, suggesting that many states are experiencing the skills gap previously described, and would be interested in joining the movement.

Representative Mark Pocan questioned Governor Pence on the success he claimed for Indiana’s voucher system. The congressman cited a statistic that 79 percent of students receiving vouchers in Indiana were already attending a private school, which demonstrates a misalignment with the stated purpose of vouchers to open opportunity for students in low performing schools. Governor Pence questioned the congressman’s data and said that “school choice was born in Indiana,” arguing that competition “makes everyone better.” The congressman also questioned the governor on accountability, and Governor Pence explained the A-F rating system in Indiana. He also reiterated his desire for “more resources, not red tape.”

Representative Rick Allen discussed his belief that more federal funding should go directly to local school boards, which are comprised of people he believes are well intentioned and best equipped to make education decisions. Governor Pence agreed. The congressman noted the existence of a skills gap and questioned Mr. Greenblatt as to how students could be motivated to pursue fields such as manufacturing. Greenblatt said that student performance improves when they are pursuing their passions. Offering career and technical courses in high schools will increase graduation rates, Greenblatt argued, because more students will have exposure to fields that interest them.

Representative Ruben Hinojosa discussed wage stagnation and argued for raising the minimum wage. The congressman asked Dr. Mishel how an increase could strengthen the economy. The witness explained that the top 10 percent of the workforce captures roughly 48 percent of income, also noting the increase in productivity and level of education in the U.S. over the past few decades. Increasing the minimum wage, Dr. Mishel argued, would play a part in resetting this imbalance. The congressman questioned Governor Pence as to how he planned to fund his state’s pre-K program after refusing $80 million in federal funding. Governor Pence did not answer directly and instead discussed the many opened opportunities that his program, funded by $10 million in state dollars, would afford needy and low income children.

Representative Buddy Carter used his time to express his distaste at being told how to run his business by the federal government. The congressman claimed that raising the minimum wage would mean he would be unable to hire students.

Representative Joe Courtney argued that Connecticut has successfully implemented a raised minimum wage and increased paid sick leave, and has not experienced the economic chaos that many claim would follow such policies, but has experienced a period of growth. The congressman questioned Dr. Mishel on the impact of increased benefits such as paid sick leave, to which the witness responded that these benefits would allow for greater participation in the economy, especially for women.

Representative Dave Brat used his question time to emphasize to his fellow members on the committee that the United States was not made great by policy but rather by free market systems, and questioned whether those undergoing a career and technical education are taught practices of a good business. Governor Pence agreed that market freedom is responsible for the nation’s success and that business is and should continue to be a factor in career and technical education. The governor explained that students in Kokomo, IN, for example, are required to submit business proposals to local investors as part of their career and technical education program.

Representative Katherine Clark questioned Governor Pence on why he recently chose to refuse $80 million in federal funding for Pre-K to instead implement a pilot program of $10 million. The governor responded that he “didn’t want to invite federal resources to expand a program before it even started,” and that he was interested in “doing things the Indiana way.” Governor Pence emphasized the success of the program and argued that state control played a key role in its success.

Representative Luke Messer asserted that “making things” is a crucial factor in maintaining American global competitiveness. When questioned as to how congress can support manufacturing, Greenblatt called for tax reform. He argued that American businesses are at a disadvantage when they are taxed at 40 percent while Canadian businesses are taxed at 15 percent of profits.

Representative Mark DeSaulnier questioned Dr. Amiridis on the availability of research funding; the witness responded that funding to research institutions has decreased in recent years, slowing discovery and innovation. The congressman further discussed the issue of wage stagnation with Dr. Mishel.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries questioned Mr. Greenblatt on the impact of comprehensive immigration reform to his business. Greenblatt argued that American manufacturing would benefit from an increased number of skilled immigrants and that the U.S. should make it a priority to compel foreign students studying in the states to continue to live and work in the nation when their studies have been completed. The congressman argued that “less rhetoric and more results” would benefit immigrants. The congressman and Dr. Amiridis concurred that cuts to Pell grants would negatively impact students and Dr. Mishel emphasized his support for a raised minimum wage, modernized labor standards, and improved access to collective bargaining.

Conclusion & Additional Information

Given that this hearing was the first of the 114th Congress and addressed the broad topic of “America’s schools and workplaces”, the discussion was wide-ranging and not particularly focused on any one policy or bill. In concluding the hearing, Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Scott noted that there is some encouraging agreement on support for career and technical education, with the stipulation that such programs do not take away from traditional academics. In the final moments, though, Ranking Member Scott urged Chairman Kline to delay further legislative movement so the committee would have time to conduct more hearings. (Chairman Kline has announced intentions to markup his ESEA reauthorization proposal on February 11, one week after its introduction.) For more information, including witness testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing, visit the Committee’s website at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=398288.