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Updated: 2 hours 39 min ago

Kline Statement: Legislation to Strengthen Support for Victims of Youth Sex Trafficking

22 hours 18 min ago

As a father and grandfather, I find it difficult to imagine anything more terrifying than a loved one falling victim to youth sex trafficking. Yet each year, hundreds of thousands of children and families are forced to live with the pain and suffering that stems from this deplorable crime.
 
Mr. Speaker, let me be clear: this crime is taking place right here in our own country; it is impacting our communities, our families, and our children. We face a national crisis and it demands a national response. Fortunately, there are heroic efforts underway to fight this heinous crime, care for the victims, and support their families.
 
The dedicated staff at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, are on the front lines every day identifying victims, assisting law enforcement in the recovery of missing children, and returning children to their loved ones.
 
NCMEC is also partnering with schools and employers to enhance support for victims and their families. Parents with children in school are probably familiar with Lifetouch photography. Through its “SmileSafe Kids” initiative, Lifetouch is making it easier for parents and NCMEC to alert law enforcement of a missing child in order to accelerate the search and rescue.
 
NCMEC and others are always finding new ways to help and so should we, and that is why we are here today. We’ve learned too often victims fall through the cracks of states’ child welfare systems. Those who may be runaway or homeless youth do not have access to the full range of services they need. And believe it or not, due to a flaw in the law, there are times when children are treated as criminals rather than the victims of a violent crime.
 
Congress has an opportunity to address these challenges and strengthen our support for victims of youth sex trafficking. I want to thank my Republican and Democrat colleagues for working with us on this important effort, including the ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Representatives Joe Heck, Karen Bass, and Joyce Beatty.
 
I am pleased that in the early days of the 114th Congress we are taking action to address youth sex trafficking. It reflects both the seriousness of this crime and our commitment to the victims and their families. I urge my colleagues to support these important legislative proposals.

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Strengthen Support for Victims of Youth Sex Trafficking

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:00am
A bipartisan group of House members today introduced legislation that would improve support for youth who are victims of sex trafficking. It is estimated that each year 300,000 children become victims of sex trafficking. Many of these children were once involved in a state child welfare system, yet their experience with sexual exploitation may go undetected. Led by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV) and Karen Bass (D-CA), members are introducing bipartisan legislation that will enhance other support services for victims and improve the child welfare response to trafficking:
  • Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims of Youth Trafficking Act of 2015. Introduced by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV), along with House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), the legislation (H.R.468) will improve support provided specifically to runaway and homeless youth who are victims of sex trafficking.
        
  • Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015. Introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), along with Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and other members, the legislation (H.R.469) will improve practices within state child welfare systems to identify and document sex trafficking victims.

The bipartisan leaders of this effort praised today’s action:

Chairman John Kline – “As a father and grandfather, there is no more terrifying thought than a loved one falling victim to human sex trafficking. Yet each year, hundreds of thousands of families are forced to endure the pain and suffering of this heinous crime. We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to stop it and support the victims. I am pleased to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in advancing that vital effort. ”

Ranking Member Bobby Scott – “The sad reality is that young people who have run away, who are homeless, or who have gone missing often fall prey to sexual exploitation and trafficking. Thankfully, we have federal services to help these youths, and this legislative package will strengthen those programs. These bills will ensure that child protective services, runaway and homeless youth programs, and missing and exploited children centers can better address the unique needs of young trafficking victims and help them recover from the ordeals they’ve faced.”

Congressman Joe Heck – "Anti-trafficking advocates in my district have told me we need to improve resources and support for youth trafficking victims. We can do that through the Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims of Youth Trafficking Act of 2015. All of us have a moral obligation to support the victims of these heinous acts, especially our young people, who are among the most vulnerable and likely to become victims. Our bill helps ensure that those suffering from the trauma of these deplorable acts will have access to the care and support they need. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Committee on Education and the Workforce to once again pass this bill in the House.”

Congresswoman Karen Bass – “Children should never be treated as prostitutes; they are victims. And the men who abuse these children are not johns—they are child molesters. Helping sex trafficking victims is neither a Democratic nor Republican issue. Sex trafficking impacts every state and every city in our nation, and I am glad that members of Congress from across the country and political spectrum are working together to end it.”

The legislative proposals are part of a broader effort to support youth victims of sex trafficking. For example, legislation (H.R. 246) introduced by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH)  would add the term “child sex trafficking” to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline reporting areas to reinforce that these children are victims, not criminals.

To learn more about the legislative proposals, click here.

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Kline Speaks on Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:00am

Last fall the American people sent a clear message: They want to move our country in a new direction, one that will lead to prosperity and opportunity for every man and woman willing to work for it.

That’s no small task when you consider the problems we face: a persistently weak economy, stagnant household incomes, a broken education system, and a social safety net stretched thin – to name just a few.

As I meet with people from Minnesota and across the country, they often share their concerns and frustrations. They are concerned about the future and frustrated with a federal government that just doesn’t get it. But they also share a sense of enduring optimism.

Despite our challenges, we still live in the greatest nation on Earth. There is nothing we can’t accomplish once we set our minds to it. The same country that won the race to the moon and invented the iPhone can continue to lead the world and remain a shining city on a hill, but to do so will require a lot of hard work, some tough choices, the courage to fight for our principles, and a willingness to accept compromise.

More than 50 years ago, President Kennedy looked to the future with confidence and a healthy dose of realism. He knew we couldn’t achieve peace and prosperity within 100 days or 1,000 days or even during his administration. But President Kennedy rallied a nation with three simple words, “Let us begin.” I believe that is our charge today as well.

Let us begin building a stronger economy and better America. Let us begin that great effort for the moms and dads living paycheck to paycheck and wondering how they will send their kids to college and plan for retirement. Let us begin for the entrepreneurs and small business owners struggling to succeed under a cloud of uncertainty and mountain of red tape. Let us begin for the millions of Americans who are being left behind because they can’t find full-time jobs. Let us begin for each and every child filled with hopes and dreams and trapped in failing schools.

For the next few minutes, I would like to discuss how the Education and the Workforce Committee will play a leading role in that effort, and more specifically, what the committee plans to do to improve education for America’s children.

At an event hosted by AEI three years ago, I spoke about the failure of U.S. schools to teach our children what they need to know to thrive in the 21st century economy. I described the state of the American education system as “sobering.” As I look back, those words described the situation rather mildly. I wish I could say things have started to turn around, but they have not.

It’s estimated that one out of every five students will drop out of high school, which means every day thousands of children walk away from one of the best shots they have to earn success in their lifetimes. These young men and women will face fewer job prospects and lower wages, and be more dependent on government assistance to help pay the bills and put food on the table. 

But don’t get me wrong. Just because a student receives a diploma doesn’t mean he or she is guaranteed success. Far too many high school graduates are entering the workforce with a sub-par education. According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 38 percent of high school seniors can read at grade level and just 26 percent are proficient in math. 

Each year countless parents have no choice but to send their kids to broken schools. Meanwhile, Washington talks about reform yet nothing changes. Something has to change.

I know you are all familiar with a little law known as No Child Left Behind. Signed by President Bush 13 years ago, enacting the law was the last time federal policymakers reformed our K-12 education system. Despite its best intentions, the law is failing to meet the needs of students.

For example, a one-size-fits-all federal accountability system hampers innovation and limits the ability of states and school districts to address their students’ needs. Outdated teacher quality measures fail to adequately capture how well teachers teach, and a massive investment of taxpayer resources has done little – if anything – to change the trajectory of student achievement levels.

Instead of working with Congress to replace the law, the Obama administration has spent the last several years offering states temporary waivers from the law’s most onerous requirements if states agree to new mandates dictated by the Secretary of Education. Congress wanted to provide relief, yet the administration said, “You can have relief, but only with strings attached.” Now states and schools are tied up in knots.


Allowing the Secretary of Education to act like the nation’s superintendent only creates confusion, uncertainty, and frustration. Another example is the ongoing debate around Common Core. What began as a voluntary effort at the state level to improve education standards has led to a broader revolt against federal overreach into our classrooms.

I support a state’s right to determine what its education standards will be. And I understand how important parental involvement at the local level is in determining how these standards are met. The Department of Education doesn’t have a role in this process. Secretary Duncan doesn’t have a role in this process – nor do any of his predecessors or successors.

Success in school should be determined by those who teach inside our classrooms; by state and local leaders who understand the challenges facing their communities; by parents who know better than anyone the needs of their children. 
 
Unfortunately, we have reached the point where too many decisions are made in Washington. While there are heroic efforts taking place in classrooms across the country, the federal government has more control over schools than ever before. It is making it difficult for educators to provide a quality education and countless children are paying the price. We need to do better. We have a moral obligation to do better.

That is why more than a year ago the Republican-led House passed the Student Success Act. The Student Success Act would have restored the balance between the federal government’s limited role and the responsibilities of states and local governments to deliver an excellent education to all students. The bill moved away from one-size-fits-all accountability requirements and eliminated the onerous “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirement that tells us nothing about teacher effectiveness.

The legislation also consolidated more than 70 ineffective and duplicative education programs into a Local Academic Flexible grant, giving districts maximum funding flexibility to support local efforts to increase student achievement.

The Student Success Act was the first comprehensive bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to be considered in Congress in more than 11 years. It was an important step to replace a flawed law, but unfortunately, it was the last step taken in the 113th Congress. Our Democrat colleagues in the Senate refused to consider the bill or any legislation addressing K-12 education, forcing schools to continue wrestling with a convoluted waiver scheme and broken law.  Fortunately, there are new allies in the Senate who share our sense of urgency.

Chairman Alexander has already begun the reauthorization process in the Senate and I look forward to partnering with him. He and I both agree that Congress needs to act because the status quo is failing our students. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip by. It’s time to reform the law so every child can receive the quality education they deserve.

Replacing No Child Left Behind would be a significant achievement for any Congress, but we need to do more. There are other windows of opportunity to improve education we must pursue.

As you may know, the Perkins Act provides federal funding to states to support career and technical education or CTE programs. The law helps high school and community college students access valuable training programs and hands-on experience necessary to gain an edge in the local workforce.
The best CTE  programs are known for their rigorous coursework and hands-on training in fields ranging from computer science and information technology to law enforcement and nursing. 

However, like so many federal laws, this one needs to be reformed as well. We need to do a better job connecting coursework with industry demands and local labor market needs. We also need to help students as they leave high school and prepare to enroll in a college or university. Finally, we need to enhance accountability to help ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent. A number of my committee colleagues are passionate about this issue and eager to get to work improving the law.

Last but not least, we need to strengthen higher education so more Americans can turn the dream of an advanced degree into reality.

A college degree is a good investment, yet for many the cost is simply too great. Others struggle to fit the traditional college experience into an already hectic lifestyle that may include family, work, or both. What can we do to help address these challenges?

First, we have to empower students and families to make informed decisions. Students and families should have access to the best information that is easy to understand.

Second, we need to simplify and improve student aid. Let’s pull students and families out of the current maze of programs and help students receive a clearer picture of their financial aid in a more timely manner.

Third, we need to promote innovation, access, and completion. Innovation is the key to giving families more affordable choices in higher education.
We also need to strengthen programs that encourage access and help ensure every student who enrolls in an institution completes their education.

Fourth and finally, we must provide strong accountability and preserve a limited federal role. We need to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent, but also be mindful that federal rules and reporting requirements add administrative costs on schools – costs that are typically passed on to students in the form of higher fees and tuition.

Is there a lot of work to do? Absolutely. Am I optimistic about our chances? Yes, I am. The House of Representatives is ready to hit the ground running. We heard loud and clear the message sent by the American people, and we are ready to do the work that is necessary to move our country in a new direction. But we cannot do this alone.

Success will require presidential leadership, the kind of leadership we have not seen in recent years. We need constructive engagement from the Obama administration. Drawing lines in the sand isn’t constructive. Responding critically in the press to each new development in the legislative process isn’t constructive. Proposing ideas more fit for a political campaign than reality isn’t constructive. If we are going to succeed, the administration will need to start working with us, not against us.

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Committee Requests Public Feedback to Reform Head Start Program

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:00am

The House Education and the Workforce Committee today released a white paper outlining goals to reform the Head Start Act and requesting public feedback on ways to strengthen the law. The paper is the latest effort by the committee to improve federal early learning and child care programs for the nation’s most vulnerable families.

“Our country has long invested in early learning and child care programs,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). “Congress has a responsibility to ensure this investment is meeting the needs of the vulnerable families we aim to serve, while balancing the interests of taxpayers. That is precisely what Congress did when it reauthorized with bipartisan support the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. It is my hope we can build on this progress by reforming the Head Start program, and the feedback from concerned citizens and stakeholders will help us move forward in that important effort.”

The white paper released today discusses a number of goals for strengthening the Head Start program, including reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens, strengthening coordination between Head Start and programs at the state and local levels, and improving the quality of eligible providers. The public and stakeholders should provide feedback by June 1.

To read the white paper, click here.

To submit comments to the committee, email headstart.reform@mail.house.gov.

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***MEDIA ADVISORY*** TOMORROW: Kline to Speak on Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:00am

On Thursday, January 22 at 8:30 a.m., U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) will speak at the American Enterprise Institute about committee priorities for improving education.

The nation’s education system faces many challenges. No Child Left Behind is no longer meeting the needs of students, career and technical education programs often fail to connect students with in-demand jobs, and too many Americans are having difficulty pursuing a postsecondary education.

At Thursday’s event, Chairman Kline will discuss the urgent need to strengthen the nation’s education system, outline his policy priorities, and urge the administration to work in good faith with Congress to improve education for all Americans.

To watch Chairman Kline deliver his remarks at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, visit www.aei.org.
 

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Kline Statement: Organizational Meeting to Adopt the Committee Rules and Oversight Plan for the 114th Congress

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:00am

Today marks the beginning of what promises to be a very busy two years. We all know the challenges that our country continues to face: An anemic economy that isn’t creating enough good-paying jobs; a broken education system that is failing to meet the needs of many students; and a lack of retirement security for millions of hard-working Americans.

These are just a few of the problems that continue to plague workers, students, teachers, and job creators, and they are the problems this committee must work to address. The American people are looking for solutions that will move the country in a better direction and help make their lives a little easier; they want less bickering and more results. That is precisely what the committee will aim to do.

We will continue to have our differences and engage in lively discussions about important issues. Debate is a good thing and the committee will remain a forum for members, stakeholders, and concerned citizens to share their views and offer ideas. We will also move forward with bold reforms to strengthen our nation’s classrooms and workplaces, just as we did during the last congress.

Our record for the 113th Congress speaks for itself: the committee issued more than 200 oversight letters, convened 70 hearings, moved 29 legislative proposals through the House, and sent to the president’s desk 12 bills that are now the law of the land. A number of these legislative achievements required a lot of hard work on some very tough issues.

But thanks to our leadership, workers have a stronger, more accountable job training system, students enjoy low interest rates on federal Stafford loans, low-income families have access to safe and affordable child care services, and retirees in multiemployer pension plans have greater income security. It is our responsibility to build on this progress in the weeks and months ahead.

There is no question we have plenty of work to do, whether it’s replacing No Child Left Behind, modernizing multiemployer pension plans, reforming our juvenile justice system, conducting aggressive oversight, or tackling one of the many other important issues before the committee. I am eager to work closely with members on both sides of the aisle and help lead these efforts.

Each congress, we are privileged to serve alongside a dedicated and principled group of men and women, and this congress is no different. I would like to take a moment to introduce to the committee our new Republican members:

• Representative Dave Brat of Virginia;
• Representative Buddy Carter of Georgia;
• Representative Mike Bishop of Michigan;
• Representative Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin;
• Representative Steve Russell of Oklahoma;
• Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida;
• Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and last, but certainly not least,
• Representative Rick Allen of Georgia.

On behalf of the committee veterans, we are pleased to have you with us. Speaking of committee veterans, I also want to recognize the members who will serve as subcommittee chairs. The committee’s success is due in no small part to those who lead our subcommittees, and I am pleased to announced Representatives Todd Rokita, Virginia Foxx, Phil Roe, and Tim Walberg will continue to serve in their previous capacities as subcommittee chairs. Thank you for your service. The committee continues to work through subcommittee member assignments and those will be announced at a later time.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate the committee’s new ranking member, Congressman Bobby Scott. Congressman Scott has served the people of Virginia’s 3rd congressional district for more than 20 years and he is no stranger to the committee. He is a dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him and his staff.

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Kline Statement on State of the Union Address

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 12:00am
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address:


Tonight the president had an opportunity to present an agenda that would help us tackle the tough challenges confronting our country, one that would unite us as a nation and place more faith in the people rather than the government. Unfortunately, the president missed that opportunity. Instead, the president described the same tired agenda we’ve heard about countless times before.

The president still believes more mandates, more spending, and more programs will solve the problems we face. After six years of pulling our country down this path, it should be clear to the president his approach isn’t working. Working families are being squeezed and more government isn’t the answer.

The American people deserve better. In fact, last fall, they demanded better. In the coming weeks and months, Congress will work to advance bold solutions to help strengthen our nation’s classrooms and workplaces. We need reforms that will improve K-12 education, support working families, modernize an outdated pension system, and strengthen higher education. It’s time to get to work and move forward on behalf of the American people.

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***MEDIA ADVISORY***Education and the Workforce Committee to Hold Organizational Meeting

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 12:00am
On Wednesday, January 21 at 10:00 a.m., the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold its full committee organizational meeting in 2175 Rayburn House Office Building. At the organizational meeting, the committee will consider adoption of the committee rules and oversight plan.

To learn more about the meeting, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/markups.

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Kline Statement on Paid Sick Leave

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:00am

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement regarding the president's call for legislation that would mandate employers provide paid sick leave:

Working families are being squeezed and the answer isn’t more government. The president has shown time and again his only response to the challenges facing working families is to impose more mandates on workplaces. It should be clear to the president by now his approach isn’t working and the American people deserve better.

Two years ago, the House passed legislation to give workers the opportunity to choose paid time off for working overtime hours. This new flexibility would help working moms and dads take paid time off to care for a sick child, visit an aging relative, or attend a child’s sporting event. Instead of supporting this effort, the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, and it died in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Our country desperately needs commonsense, pro-growth reforms that will create new jobs, raise wages, and help workers meet the needs of their families. These are the priorities shared by most Americans, and I am confident they will remain the priorities of this Congress in the months ahead.

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Kline, Walberg Statement on Federal Court Ruling on Companion Care Regulation

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 12:00am
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Representative Tim Walberg (R-MI) issued the following joint statement after a federal district judge ruled against a Department of Labor regulation that redefined companion care under the Fair Labor Standards Act:

Congress created a broad exemption to help seniors and individuals with disabilities access affordable in-home care, and that policy has stood for decades under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Today’s judicial decision is welcome news for millions of families that rely on companionship services, and we urge the administration to accept the court’s ruling.

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President’s ‘Free’ Higher Education Plan ‘Doesn’t Make the Grade’

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:00am

The president is pushing a new, multi-billion proposal to provide ‘free’ community college to every American. Like most political gestures that promise something for nothing, this one is too good to be true. As House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) remarked:

Encouraging more individuals to pursue training or earn a college degree is a national priority and community colleges play a vital role in that effort. But make no mistake, the president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.

Education stakeholders and opinion leaders seem to agree that the president’s plan is not all it’s cracked up to be:

Ambitious, yes. Wise, no … Some initiatives sound nice but fail to carefully target precious national wealth to those most in need. Mr. Obama’s is one of those ideas. … in an era of constrained resources, there are better ways of improving access to higher education than establishing a new middle-class entitlement. – Washington Post, Editorial, President Obama’s community college proposal doesn’t make the grade

The new entitlement is best understood as an extension of the Administration’s ideological project to add higher education to the list of entitlements that keep the federal government in charge of American life from cradle to grave ... The ObamaCollege plan is everything we’ve come to expect from this White House.Wall Street Journal, Editorial, The ObamaCollege Plan

“The federal government can tell people to do things, but it can’t tell them to do it well,” [said, Andrew Kelly, director of the Center for Higher Education Research at AEI] “it actually raises much more fundamental questions about what the federal government is capable of doing in this area, what they’re capable of doing well and the efficacy of top-down federal control over accountability and institutional performance.”CQ Roll Call, GOP, Education Advocates Question Free College Plan

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said the proposal is not a "legitimate" way to close the skills gap. Byrne, who serves on the House education committee and was also previously chancellor of Alabama's community college system, took issue with the fact that plans for funding Obama's proposal remain unclear. White House officials said Friday the estimated cost of the program is $60 billion over 10 years.U.S. News, Critics Pan Obama's Community College Plan

White House officials didn't have a lot of details last week about President Obama's proposal to offer free tuition to community colleges. They didn't know how much it would cost. They don't know where the money would come from. They don't know if Congress is interested. – National Journal, Free Community College Proposal Leaves Many Questions

[Kay McClenney, former director of Center for Community College Student Engagement said] the White House proposal would create “public subsidies for people who don’t need them in the face of excruciating need for students who do.” Inside Higher Ed, The Thought That Counts 

The Institute for College Access and Support, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to higher education, posted a blog calling free community college tuition a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and not a panacea. "Making tuition free for all students regardless of their income is a missed opportunity to focus resources on the students who need aid the most.” Education Week, Some Higher Education Advocates Wary of President's Free Community College Plan

A significant portion of persons going to community colleges come from at least moderately affluent families, and subsidizing their education more than presently is a waste of resources. Truly low income students, for whom financial barriers to college access are real, already receive Pell Grants that typically cover virtually all of community college tuition.Forbes, Op-Ed, CCAP, Six Reasons Why Obama's Free Community College Is a Poor Investment

Educators disagree on whether this is the best use of tax dollars. That's in part because some of the students who benefit could afford to pay for tuition on their own and the neediest of students might not get all the aid they need. – Associated Press, Q&A: Obama's community college plan calls for free tuition for students pursuing degrees

The administration deserves anything but a passing grade for this unprecedented proposal. Here is a better idea for the Obama administration to consider: Improve existing policies and programs so more Americans can pursue the dream of earning a postsecondary degree. As Chairman Kline noted, “the president should work with Congress in crafting a comprehensive, bipartisan plan that strengthens access to higher education for all Americans. That is the challenge we face and it’s time the president got serious about it.”

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Kline Statement on President's Higher Education Proposal

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 12:00am
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement regarding President Obama's higher education proposal:

Encouraging more individuals to pursue training or earn a college degree is a national priority and community colleges play a vital role in that effort. But make no mistake, the president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.

Today the president forgot to mention teachers who serve students with disabilities year after year without the resources the federal government has promised. He forgot to mention the low-income families who rely on a Pell Grant program that is on the path to bankruptcy. And the president forgot to mention those students and families facing higher college costs because many states are already stretched too thin.

Unless the president has a responsible plan to meet our existing commitments, he shouldn’t be making new promises the American people can’t afford. Instead, the president should work with Congress in crafting a comprehensive, bipartisan plan that strengthens access to higher education for all Americans. That is the challenge we face and it’s time the president got serious about it.

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VIDEO RELEASE: Kline Urges Support for the Save American Workers Act

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:00am

The House of Representatives debated earlier today the Save American Workers Act (H.R. 30), bipartisan legislation to repeal the health care law’s 30-hour definition of “full-time” employment and restore the traditional 40-hour work week.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) highlighted the concerns of teachers, business owners, and union leaders from across the country.
 

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A small business owner and constituent of mine from Savage, Minnesota wrote earlier this week that the president’s health care law is “wreaking havoc on the American workplace.” No doubt many Americans agree.

Unfortunately, the law is wreaking havoc in schools as well. According to a recent report, Louisiana school administrators are being forced to cut staff hours and hire more part-time teachers to avoid federal penalties. Schools in New Jersey and elsewhere are facing similar tough choices. One superintendent described the costs associated with the health care law’s mandates as “an unbelievable drain on school systems.”

Don’t America’s teachers and students deserve better? Don’t we owe it to our employers, workers, and families to enact a responsible solution? I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding yes and that is why I strongly support this bipartisan legislation. Mr. Speaker, let’s tell our nation’s school leaders that we won’t sit idly by while ObamaCare makes it more difficult to provide students the quality education they deserve.

 To read Chairman Kline's full remarks, click here.

To watch a video of his remarks, click here

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Kline Statement: H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:00am

It was noted not long ago that the president’s health care law will “destroy the foundation of the 40-hour workweek that is the backbone of the American middle class. Those aren’t my words. Instead, those are the words expressed by leaders from some of the nation’s largest labor unions, including the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Echoing these concerns, members of the AFL-CIO endorsed a resolution that warned ObamaCare will lead to a “new underclass of less-than-30-hour workers.” 

Let me repeat that: Members of the AFL-CIO have said ObamaCare will lead to a new underclass of less-than-30-hour workers.

We have all seen the headlines in recent years, headlines describing how employers are left with practically no choice but to cut workers’ hours in order to avoid the health care law’s punitive employer-mandate. Put simply: the law punishes employers who provide workers with full-time jobs.       

A small business owner and constituent of mine from Savage, Minnesota wrote earlier this week that the president’s health care law is “wreaking havoc on the American workplace.” No doubt many Americans agree.

Unfortunately, the law is wreaking havoc in schools as well. According to a recent report, Louisiana school administrators are being forced to cut staff hours and hire more part-time teachers to avoid federal penalties. Schools in New Jersey and elsewhere are facing similar tough choices. One superintendent described the costs associated with the health care law’s mandates as “an unbelievable drain on school systems.”

Don’t America’s teachers and students deserve better? Don’t we owe it to our employers, workers, and families to enact a responsible solution? I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding yes and that is why I strongly support this bipartisan legislation.

Mr. Speaker, let’s tell our nation’s school leaders that we won’t sit idly by while ObamaCare makes it more difficult to provide students the quality education they deserve. Let’s tell our small business owners that we want to help make it easier – not harder – to create full-time jobs. Let’s tell the country’s union leaders that we share your concerns and are prepared to do something about it.

Finally, let’s tell workers that we won’t let a flawed law deny them the wages they need to provide for their families. I urge my colleagues to stand with the American people by supporting this commonsense, bipartisan legislation.

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ICYMI: Protecting Retirement. A Quick Guide to a Bipartisan Victory

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 12:00am

“Bipartisan” has largely become a phase used to describe ancient history. Yet the Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Education & the Workforce just negotiated complex compromise legislation that affects the basic rights of retirees—and last week it became law as part of the Cromnibus.

What they did was controversial: They amended the Employees Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA’s purpose is to protect retiree benefits, but the changes would make it easier for some distressed pension plans to cut retirees’ benefits—if doing so would save the plan and prevent even greater cuts. In an only slightly less controversial move, they also doubled the premiums these plans pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures them.

Many pension advocates were outraged. AARP, one of the best advocates for seniors, organized a nationwide campaign in opposition. They were joined by the Teamsters union, the Machinists union and other advocacy groups. Opponents reminded Congress of ERISA’s purpose, that pensions are a commitment for which people work decades, that retirees can’t afford significant cuts, and that for many the option of going back to work or living on their investments is a fantasy. (They also claimed, entirely inaccurately, that retiree benefit cuts have never been allowed in ERISA’s 40-year history. More on that later.)

So why did America’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and most other unions support the compromise (or chose not to oppose it)? Why did both conservative Republican committee chair John Kline and the ranking Democrat George Miller, a stalwart advocate of progressive causes for decades, negotiate it?

They did so to preserve these pensions, which provide some of the best retirement benefits in America.

Before I go much further, some disclosure: Until Labor Day, I was director (CEO) of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which insures these plans and which would, absent legislation like that negotiated in the House, go bankrupt itself and be unable to continue to support them. While I was a government official, I could not express my personal views, although we at PBGC worked hard to provide analysis showing the catastrophe that would happen if Congress didn’t act and suggested ways to avoid it. Now that I am out of the government, I can express my personal views, which are that Congressmen Kline and Miller are heroes and that millions of people are in their debt. (Unfortunately, most of those people don’t know it, and so Messrs. Kline and Miller will probably hear only from those who mistakenly think they’ve hurt retirees instead of protected them.)

Why would I, a passionate advocate of pensions who led the agency in charge of preserving them, support reforms that would allow them to be cut?

Explaining that requires both some pension geekery and some history. Follow on—it’ll be more interesting and less complicated than you think.

Multiemployer plans are negotiated between a union and an employer association (largely in industries like construction or trucking or food stores where there are many small business employers who cannot take on the responsibility of running a pension). The plans themselves are run professionally and unions and businesses are equally represented as trustees. Individual companies can and do go in and out of plans if they move or go out of business, but if one employer left, in the past there were plenty of others to cover any shortfall.

Unfortunately, in the past decade, multiemployer plans were hit by a double whammy: Like virtually all pensions, the stock market crashes of 2001 and 2008-2009 left them seriously underfunded. (As with other plans, this was mostly due to bad luck and bad timing, not bad investments.) However, unlike most pensions, many of the retirees in these plans now are “orphans”: they earned their pensions while working for companies that are no longer in the plan. Those companies made contributions then that were thought to be enough to pay the promised pension benefits. Nobody did anything wrong, but the market crashes meant that the plans became underfunded later.

So who is left holding the empty bag to make up the shortfalls? The companies who are still in the plan. They are making pension contributions for their own workers that are still working, but now those contributions have to cover pensions for orphans, too. Impressively, those companies responded by increasing their payments, and those workers who are still working have accepted the fact that their future benefits are being cut. But there are limits to that response. If these companies and their employees are forced to pay more and more, not only to cover their own costs but also the costs of “orphans,” at some points they’ll give up. They will withdraw and the plans, severely underfunded, will continue to pay benefits until they collapse.

The PBGC was created for just this situation. PBGC is the government’s pension insurance agency of last resort—when a plan fails, PBGC steps in and pays pension benefits. It’s funded by insurance premiums paid by plans it insures. Over four decades, PBGC has—at no cost to the US taxpayer—helped almost a million retired workers from companies like United Airlines and Bethlehem Steel receive tens of billions in benefits.

Unfortunately, for most people in multiemployer plans, PBGC covers only a fraction of their pension benefits (and it doesn’t provide retiree health benefits at all). Even worse, Congress set PBGC premiums so low that PBGC itself will run out of money—when plans fail multiemployer pensioners stood to lose virtually their entire pensions. 

What would have happened if Congress hadn’t acted?

The way ERISA’s “protections” work, companies save money if they leave a plan before everyone else does. (When companies withdraw from an underfunded plan, they are required to make a withdrawal payment; however, this payment is capped if a company leaves before there is a “mass withdrawal.”) Some companies, seeing plans deteriorate and not wanting to be the “last man standing” have already been making plans to quit distressed plans. If Congress hadn’t acted, there would have been a rush for the exits: many severely distressed plans would lose their remaining active employees and run out of money. Those plans as a group cover more than 1,000,000 people and their families.

Nor would the contagion necessarily stop at the severely distressed plans. Companies, knowing that currently healthy plans could become unhealthy in the future, probably wouldn’t wait to find out. They’d leave those plans, too. Without the bipartisan congressional compromise that passed earlier this month, I think it’s likely that the multiemployer system would collapse entirely.

Sadly, in the debate over this year’s congressional changes, many who value pensions chose to ignore the threat that there would be no pensions at all.

They became fixated on the mistaken notion that, under ERISA, earned retiree benefits can never be lost. In fact, ERISA has allowed retiree benefit cuts in failing multiemployer plans for 34 years. The reason they weren’t used is because, until now, they weren’t needed.
Here’s the truth: When plans are failing, not only can pension benefits be cut—they are cut. Just ask the tens of thousands of Delphi salary employees or United Airline pilots whose pensions were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The way ERISA set up PBGC’s multiemployer program means that, for multiemployer retirees, many more would have their benefits cut and those cuts would be much greater. So, without congressional permission and plan action, multiemployer retirees would have suffered pension benefit cuts on a broad scale.

Even that depressing scenario would have been optimistic, because PBGC’s premiums had been set by Congress too low even to pay for the reduced benefits. As I’ve warned repeatedly over recent years, without higher premiums, PBGC itself will run out of money within eight to ten years. When that happens, retirees won’t just “take a haircut,” they’ll get virtually nothing at all.

There are two ways to avoid this catastrophic scenario. Both are themselves depressing, but not nearly as awful as a complete loss of pension payments.

Benefit “Adjustment”: A minority of distressed plans have generous enough benefits and enough assets left so that, if they could cut some benefits for some retirees, they could preserve the plan and avoid having the plan fail and everyone going down to PBGC’s “safety net” levels. They would be preserving benefits by avoiding the greater cuts that PBGC involves.

Partition: Most plans have less generous pensions. PBGC could preserve them by taking responsibility for “orphan obligations” now, rather than waiting and paying for everyone once the plan fails; this is called “partition.” It involves a cut in benefits, but these plans’ benefits are low enough that going down to the levels provided by PBGC wouldn’t be as much of a catastrophe—and PBGC payment for orphans now could avoid the plan collapsing entirely in the future. However, the insurance premiums paid by multiemployer plans were so low that PBGC didn’t have the money to do this.

The House compromise—which has now passed the Senate and will become law—makes both of these remedies possible if plans choose to take advantage of them. It authorizes benefit adjustments to preserve benefits above PBGC levels and offers protections to ensure fairness to retirees. It also doubles PBGC multiemployer premiums and orders a study on the agency’s future needs, so that PBGC can preserve plans by paying for orphans.

But—and this is an essential point—the decision to cut pension benefits will not be made by Congress, but by plan trustees who are fiduciaries for the people in the plan. Those decisions will be made in a very public process, reviewed by three separate federal agencies, and in most cases can be overturned by a majority of the people in the plan.

Some people claimed that this agreement was political. It was, in that it helped constituencies that both parties care about. Congressman Kline, a conservative Republican, and Congressman Miller, a liberal Democrat, negotiated their agreement precisely because the collapse of multiemployer plans would have damaged people they care about: union workers and small businesses. Also, since taxpayer bailouts are politically toxic, neither Democrats nor Republicans wanted PBGC to need one; it’s much better if pension plans’ own premiums solve their own problems without any taxpayer funds.

Politics also explains why some of the unions that have the most to lose nonetheless publicly oppose the compromise. Democratically-elected union leaders do not want to be responsible for a decision to cut benefits (even if the result of inaction is worse). They’d rather have Congress pass enabling legislation and let the plan trustees make the ultimate decision.

Thanks to the courage of both Democrats and Republicans on the House committee, under the new legislation that will happen.
 

Kline, Alexander Respond to Administration’s College Ratings Proposal

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 12:30pm

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued the following statements after the Department of Education released the framework for an unprecedented college ratings system:  

“The same administration that created the HealthCare.gov debacle, now wants to arbitrarily grade and rank our nation’s diverse system of colleges and universities,” said Chairman Kline. “After working for more than a year on this unprecedented scheme, the department clearly hasn’t begun to figure it out. We should be looking for opportunities to empower students and families with information that allows them to make informed decisions. This should be done through commonsense reforms of the law, and there is already strong bipartisan support for such an effort. This so-called college ratings system is a fool’s errand and the secretary needs to stop it immediately.” 

Alexander said: “Trying to create yet another complicated, federal system—this time for grading our country's 6,000 colleges and universities—is every bit as impossible and unnecessary as it sounds and is sure to fall flat on its face. Making sure students have access to the information they need to pick the right school is important and something we will discuss during the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but I can’t support letting Washington bureaucrats use taxpayer dollars to fund a higher education popularity contest.”

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ICYMI: Pension Reform Benefits Businesses, Workers and Retirees

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 12:00am

There are nearly 11 million workers and retirees across America, including more than 165,000 Minnesotans, who rely on the little known but economically vital multiemployer pension system. Nationwide, this system has an economic impact of approximately $38 billion — with more than $375 million in benefits being paid to Minnesota retirees each year.

Today, many multiemployer pension plans find themselves in jeopardy, including some right here in our state.

Make no mistake: Some of these pension plans are on the brink of insolvency. While most plans are well-funded, including those here in Minnesota, some of the nation’s largest plans are in trouble. If they fail, the fallout will overwhelm the federal backstop, which recently announced that it is facing a $42 billion funding deficit.

If no action is taken, the plans themselves — as well as the government safety net — likely will disappear. That would mean deep, automatic cuts to pensioners and the real risk of businesses needing to close their doors forever.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the congressional committee that oversees pensions, has called this issue a “ticking time bomb” that jeopardizes a long-standing promise to so many retirees. Just last week, Kline, along with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., crafted a bipartisan proposal to address this issue.

The proposal has support from both labor and business groups; both the House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed the pension reform legislation. Thankfully, our leaders have acted to address an issue before it became an unmanageable crisis.

As heads of a company with headquarters in Minnesota and of an international labor union, we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, but on this critical matter, we do.                                                                      

These plans give employees the ability to accrue benefits in industries where frequent job changes are common — such as retail, construction, entertainment or, in our case, the food services industry. Companies contribute to these pension funds on behalf of their employees. These pension plans have existed for decades and, historically, they have been stable pension vehicles for countless families. Today, millions depend on their hard-earned retirement benefits, and employers depend on them to stay competitive and to stay in business.

Like other multiemployer participants, we have taken many steps on our own to ensure that our business, employees and retirees can continue to rely on their plans for both business stability and retirement security. With this action, Congress is providing the critical tools so the plans themselves can take the steps needed to survive in the long term. Congress’s bipartisan action provides the opportunity to keep the majority of multiemployer plans healthier longer — and helps prevent the devastating, automatic cuts that would have come if nothing had been done.

We applaud the efforts on this critical issue. 

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Committee Leaders Respond To NLRB Ambush Election Rule

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 12:00am
 House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chair Phil Roe (R-TN) issued the following joint statement after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) implemented a new rule speeding up the union election process: 

After more than three years of public outcry, the Obama board is still determined to impose an ambush election scheme on our nation’s workplaces. This administrative overreach will stifle employers’ free speech, cripple workers’ free choice, and jeopardize the privacy of workers and their families. It will completely upend an election process that has worked well for decades, one that is fair and designed to foster agreement.

The American people want policies that will set us on the path to a stronger economy, more jobs, and higher wages for working families. This misguided ambush election rule will pull our country in the opposite direction. Congress cannot stand by and let that happen. The committee has been leading the fight against the president’s radical labor board, and rest assured, we will continue to do so.

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