Dan Solomon

Field Representative to Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Dan Solomon, joined Policy Hour in May to provide updates on federal funding and policies that affect the early learning field.

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Franken is on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, so he is very close to education issues. Uncertainty continues to be a common thread when trying to understand federal policy.

President Trump released his budget blueprint in March, which outlines his plans for program spending and cuts. This budget proposes cuts to many programs that affect early learning including:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service – This agency oversees AmeriCorps, which supports members to serve in a variety of organizations that help children and families.
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting – Provides funding for radio and television which includes educational programming for children.
  • National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities – These organizations provide a variety of programs including early literacy work.
  • Museum and Library Services
  • 21st Century Learning Center – This provides programming for after school and out of school time learning.

Washington D.C. Capitol

The good news is that Congress just passed a spending plan that did not cut any of these programs. It’s important to keep in mind that, like Governor Dayton’s budget for Minnesota, Trump’s budget for the country is a starting point and is very unlikely to be passed exactly as proposed. Also, many constituents all around the country benefit from these programs, and it will be difficult for legislators to support cutting them. Franken is concerned about some programs in the long term. It is important to pay attention.

Appointing staff to President Trump’s administration has been a slow process. All secretary positions are now filled, but deputy level openings remain unfilled. And Trump has not submitted candidates for many of them. Gayle Kelly, Executive Director for the Minnesota Head Start Association, was especially interested in the status of the Head Start Director. Solomon said they are still waiting on many positions.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

This legislation is the successor to No Child Left Behind. ESSA focuses mainly on K-12 education, but it does allow the option to include Early Education programming in new ways. Additionally, there is $250 million in competitive preschool development grants. Senator Franken realizes that is not enough to meet the need, but it’s a start.

ESSA gives more power to states to decide how to best implement and evaluate education. The Minnesota Department of Education has held listening sessions around the state to gather feedback. They will submit the state plan to the federal government in September.

Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, cancelled rules and regulations around ESSA that the previous secretary put in place. However, she has kept the same timeline for state plans and hasn’t signaled how she might replace Secretary King’s regulations.

Child Care
Solomon’s area of expertise is education, and much of the child care policy does not move through the HELP committee. However, when audience members asked about child care policies, he did offer a few notes.

He hasn’t heard any new rumblings about the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG).  Minnesota is currently under waivers to comply until September 2017. It is unclear as to what the consequences may be if the state is still out of compliance by then. Minnesota may have to seek additional waivers at that time, but it is ambiguous as to any financial penalties that could be implemented.

He also reported not hearing any new information about potential changes to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

A couple of Policy Hour attendees shared their concerns about the partisan climate in Washington and asked about opportunities for bipartisan work.

Solomon noted that it is a partisan time, and that is a challenge. The Senate requires 60 votes to take many actions, and that does force some bipartisan work. Senator Franken has worked with Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska). Together, they are co-chairs of the after school caucus. Solomon also mentioned the bipartisan work of Senator Isakson (R-Georgia) and Senator Murray (D-Washington), a former preschool teacher, who worked together on the preschool grant money in ESSA.

Infrastructure is an issue that has bipartisan support although there are different thoughts about how to fund it.