School Choice Priority Finds New Path Forward

The Trump Administration’s effort to bolster school choice has found new life through H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, introduced on November 2.

Originally in President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, the Administration’s proposal to use $1 billion of Title I funding for school choice was not funded by Congressional appropriators from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies funding bills.

Nevertheless, the Administration continues to prioritize school choice and has found a new angle for its top K-12 education priority. H.R. 1 would expand section 529 college savings accounts to be used for K-12 expenses of up to $10,000 annually, including for the cost of private and religious schools.

Tax reform is an uncommon avenue for education policymaking, as the last major tax overhaul occurred over 30 years ago; but, the recent effort has revived hope for some school choice advocates. Others are wary that using 529 accounts does not go far enough to assist low-income families with children attending failing schools.

Some conservative education advocates are critical because they believe if enacted, the policy would only help wealthy families. Mike Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reacted, “If we are going to use scarce resources to advance school choice, we should do it for poor and working-class kids, not for families who can already afford private school tuition.”

The House began debating tax reform in the Committee on Ways and Means on November 6 and the Senate is poised to introduce its bill later in the week.

At this point in the process, tax bill details remain fluid as the GOP moves toward an initiative that can garner support spanning the wide spectrum of the party. Striking the balance of finding a way to offer school choice to America’s families without reaching further into the federal coffers may prove tricky. Where school choice will shake out in negotiations remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the Administration is committed to seeing its priority come to fruition.

A Year-Long 11th Hour

“On or before April 15 of each year, the Congress shall complete action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 of such year. The concurrent resolution shall set forth appropriate levels for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 of such year…”

April 15. As set forth by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (CBA), on or before this date each year, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate shall jointly approve a budget resolution that governs all legislation related to Federal spending and receipts for the coming fiscal year.

A full 195 days elapsed before Congress passed its fiscal year 2018 budget resolution on October 26th. This has the unsettling effect of both chambers’ budget, authorizing, and appropriations committees advancing distinctly separate legislative agendas with no common agreement to either start from or arrive at.

Compromise is fundamental to the legislative process. Final agreement and passage of this budget blueprint 25 days into the start of this fiscal year only now starts the effort at compromise amidst a challenging docket of legislative priorities and challenges, chief among them is the litigation of the annual authorization and appropriations measures. The following table reflects funding levels for each major budget function as set forth in the budget resolution for fiscal year 2018:

The concurrent agreement on funding for the above budget functions, if passed on time, would provide the expressed shotgun start and a firm, yet attainable objective necessary for both the House and Senate to begin in earnest their annual, constitutionally mandated obligations.

So, April 15th does indeed represent an inviolable “agreement” within the congressional budgeting process. Falling short of this agreement enables each chamber to set its own, somewhat arbitrary, spending targets which may be difficult to not just defend within its own body, but to later find compromise with the other side of the Capitol at the end of an inherently complicated appropriations process.

Today, that process is even further hampered by an emotionally charged political landscape. Every year somehow offers a new course laden with seemingly unsurmountable hurdles. Evidence of these annual challenges facing the Appropriations Committees is that in all but 4 of the last 40 years the Federal government has begun the year under some form of a continuing resolution (CR). The current CR, H.R. 601, runs through December 8, 2017. More specifically, that means Federal agencies are functioning at last year’s rate for operations, preventing budget stability, promoting fiscal uncertainty and prohibiting the inventiveness of private sector involvement.

However, despite the absence of top-line spending limits affirmed by a budget resolution, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees nevertheless began their “budget season” disseminating spending allocations to each of their 12 subcommittees. Under these prescribed guidelines, the House ultimately passed four appropriations bills, together, in a so-called “Security Omnibus” just before the August recess (H.R. 3219). Subsequently, on September 14, 2017, the House concluded work on its annual appropriations bills upon the passage of H.R. 3354, a catch-all, omnibus spending package.

The Senate similarly rendered its own guidance on subcommittee allocations and moved eight of its 12 bills through the Committee process. However, none of those bills were brought before the full Senate for consideration.

The following table reflects the discretionary allocations (known as 302(b) allocations, after the section of the CBA detailing the sub-allocation process) as set forth by House and Senate Appropriations Committee guidance for fiscal year 2018, enabling each subcommittee to begin drafting its own spending legislation:

The current state of appropriations now requires the Congress to establish bicameral agreement on 302(b)s that support the terms of the budget resolution. As of early November, senior-level appropriations sources have told McKeon Group that these conference allocations have not yet been communicated to Subcommittee leadership. The absence of conference allocations alone would pose little challenge in meeting the expiration of the CR. However, there is a much larger political and legislative obstacle in play that suggests final passage of fiscal year 2018 funding will be an “11th hour” exercise, at best, or worse an extension of the CR deeper into fiscal year 2018.

In addition to the above process “foul” of the severely delayed adoption of a budget resolution, the proverbial “elephant in the room” looming over the entire appropriations process is the potential impact of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The BCA was enacted to control the Nation’s debt ceiling crisis and induce deficit reduction and balanced budget mechanisms.  

The BCA originally sought to reduce the deficit by $2.1 trillion while incurring savings of $1 trillion over the ten-year period of 2012 – 2021. The $1 trillion in savings would be accomplished through “budget sequestration”, which obligates the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to implement across-the-board, indiscriminate reductions through the cancellation of spending authorities for all executive agencies, their programs and their activities if/when appropriations legislation exceed the spending caps.

The caps established by the BCA for fiscal year 2018 are estimated to be $603 billion for defense activities (budget function 050) and $553 billion for nondefense activities. According to a May 2017 Congressional Budget Office report, the estimated effect of sequestration would revise those caps downward to $549 billion for defense (-$54 billion) and $516 billion for non-defense (-$37 billion).

The fiscal year 2018 congressional budget resolution provides for approximately $634 billion in total defense-related spending. Yet, the BCA remains current law, and congressionally-proposed spending levels sit in direct contravention of the statutorily-imposed spending caps. So, the Congress faces four likely options: 1) pass appropriations bills that comport with the BCA caps, 2) ignore the BCA and subject the entirety of fiscal year 2018 funding to draconian sequestration reductions, 3) increase the spending caps through some other legislative maneuver, or lastly, 4) extend the CR, perhaps for the entire year. The only absolute is that any one of these options will be met with vigorous opposition, meaning that it could be a very long “11th hour” for fiscal year 2018.  

The Defense Industry Is Opposed to Tax Cuts That Could Add to The Deficit

The American defense industry is requesting that Congress avoid adding to the deficit with its new proposed tax reform measures. The defense industry is worried that increasing deficits will result in cuts to defense spending in the future.

The recently passed House budget allows for a tax bill that could add as much as $1.5 trillion to federal deficits over a decade. Following the recently passed budget, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady (R-TX), released his long anticipated proposed tax reform agenda.

In a quick response from one of the defense industry’s leading voices, The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), is requesting that lawmakers “get as close to a revenue-neutral tax plan as possible, given the political environment,” said Doc Syers, vice president for legislative affairs. AIA represents most of the major American defense contractors including: Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and others. Its member companies make up 13 percent of the entire U.S. manufacturing base.”[1]

Many Republican lawmakers are not publicly acknowledging the difficulty of reducing the national debt, passing tax reform that includes major cuts to federal revenue while simultaneously attempting to increase the defense budget by passing a GOP-led House defense appropriation bill that breaks the self-imposed statutory budget caps (Budget Control Act) by $91 billion.

Todd Harrison, the Director of the Defense Budget Analysis and Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it’s about simple math and complicated politics.

“There is a natural tension between tax cuts and defense budget increases because both drive up the deficit,” Harrison said. “There are limits to how much Republicans, particularly the more fiscally conservative wing of the party, are willing to increase the overall deficit. And making offsetting cuts in other parts of the budget to balance out tax cuts and higher defense spending is politically difficult because most of the remainder of the federal budget goes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits and other services.”[2]

Though there have historically been disagreements between the Republican’s defense hawks and the more fiscally conservative wing of the party, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus pushed back against the idea that tax cuts put an additional squeeze on discretionary defense spending.

Historically, the annual defense budget has made up half of federal discretionary spending and as a response, Republicans have usually called for cuts on the non-defense side of domestic spending. As a boost of confidence for the increased defense spending desires, Congressman Meadows suggested that he predicts a “very robust” defense budget for 2018.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), was a holdout on the Senate budget over increased defense spending, but ultimately voted for it. McCain, a known defense hawk insisted tax reform and defense spending must be addressed as separate issues.

“We have a military where we’re losing men and women’s lives because we haven’t funded them for training and equipment,” McCain said. “That has nothing to do with tax cuts.”


  1. Gould, Joe. “US defense industry to Congress: Don’t let tax cuts add to the deficit.” Defense News. October 28, 2017. Accessed November 06, 2017. https://www.defensenews.com/congress/budget/2017/10/28/us-defense-industry-to-congress-dont-let-tax-cuts-add-to-the-deficit/.
  2. Todd Harrison, Director, Defense Budget Analysis, Director, Aerospace Security Project and Senior Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

 

From Theory to Practice: Reflections from a Recent MPA Graduate

“To me, the budget process should be based on efficiency rather than politics; the financial future of our nation is too severe an issue to be hindered by the pull and tug of partisan politics.”

Merely a few months ago, I typed these words as I wrote a paper on the federal budget process for my Budgeting and Financial Management course. The class was not one I ever would have chosen, considering my deep aversion to math, instead, it was a graduation requirement for my Masters in Public Administration Program. As the semester wore on, I learned about the federal budget process: how it is effective in nature as it establishes a constitutional balance in budgetary actions, and, how it can be ineffective, due to timing and funding delays, which can decrease the speed and quality of services delivered. I learned a lot, but I ended the semester with an ultimately limited “textbook” understanding of the federal budget process. Something was missing; I was not connecting theory to practice.

Fast forward to October 4th. I was working as a Legislative Associate for The McKeon Group and on the hill for a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing. I sat on the edge of my seat in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, waiting to learn the fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which had expired on September 30th. The room was packed, filled with people wondering what would happen to the 9 million children who receive low-cost health coverage through CHIP.

Chairman Hatch gaveled the meeting into order, took a voice vote, and announced a bipartisan consensus to reauthorize the program. Audible sighs of relief were heard around the room, as other members vocalized the importance of the bipartisan accord on this vote, and most importantly, the need for CHIP reauthorization. Ranking Member Wyden commended the committee, stating there were several senators on both sides of the aisle who wanted to offer controversial amendments but withdrew them to ensure a strong bipartisan vote, so children would not be at risk.

Sitting there in the hearing I had my “aha moment,” so to speak. Months ago, I struggled to make the real-world connection between the budget process and its “real world” implications. Yet, in that moment, it became clear to me. Yes, I was at this meeting for a client, but, I realized that I personally understood the importance of reauthorization. I, like many, was concerned about the fate of the 9 million children who would be stripped of coverage if partisan gridlock hindered reauthorization. The words from my class paper, “efficiency rather than politics,” rung true more than ever as I exited the hearing. To me, that day was a prime example of Members of Congress doing their job, correctly, and efficiently. Amid the political impasse over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Action, this one hearing shone out to me, as a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope for the future of politics.

Chairman’s Corner: November 2017

Being actively involved in the community is something I believe every citizen is capable of. When I retired from Congress, I felt it was important to continue to foster that belief in my home district. That is when the McKeon Leadership Forum came to fruition.

With the help of the College of the Canyons and the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, we were able to organize an annual speaker series. The driving force behind this annual event is to “promote learning, foster dialog and inspire involvement by bringing thought leaders from the world of politics, government, the military, and social action together with the community to examine today’s most pressing issues.”

As part of the speaker series this year, we will have Retired General Richard A. Cody providing the keynote address. General Cody served for nearly four decades in the United States Army and accomplished a great deal during his military service. He also served as the 31st Vice Chief of Staff for four years.

I sincerely hope that those who attend the McKeon Leadership Forum not only learn from the speaker series, but are also inspired to go out and get involved in their own communities.

There are multiple ways to be personally involved in the community and the forum will provide dialogue and strategies on how to best be of service. Regardless of how you decide to get involved in your community, the important thing is that you are informed and engaged.

Those interested in attending the McKeon Leadership Forum will need to register here. This event is free and will be held on Thursday, November 30th at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Clarita Valley Performing Arts Center. I look forward to seeing you there!

5 Questions with Rob Green, Workforce Policy Director, House Education and Workforce Committee

In late September, Rob Green returned to the House Education and Workforce Committee as its new Workforce Policy Director, taking over from the longtime GOP workforce policy veteran, Ed Gilroy, who recently retired.

Green returns to the Committee after more than fifteen years in business advocacy working for the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the National Retail Federation, and the National Restaurant Association. Prior to doing that, he had served on the workforce policy staff and and staffer for several Members of Congress.

The McKeon Group’s Jeff Andrade caught up with Mr. Green, who’s already hit the ground running in putting forward initiatives to help American workers succeed.

What’s your favorite thing about working on the Hill?

Working for an innovative and tireless Committee Chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) who assumed her leadership role in January 2017.

What’s your least favorite thing about working on the Hill?

I’ve only been on the job a month, but so far so good.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

Golf is one of my favorite pastimes, but my new responsibilities appear to be inconsistent with my interest in this area.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

I’ve been able to enjoy what I do over the entirety of my career to date, in both the public sector and the private sector.

Look into our crystal ball for a moment. Your new boss, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, has not been shy about her views on the Obama era labor policies. What major workforce policy initiatives can we expect to see being put forward in the Committee for the remainder of this Congress?

It’s very tough to predict specific outcomes on Capitol Hill, but you can be sure that the Committee’s legislative and oversight agenda will reflect Chairwoman Foxx’s commitment to free-enterprise, government accountability and conservative values.

McKeon Leadership Forum To Be Held Nov. 30

The 3rd annual McKeon Leadership Forum will be held on Thursday, November 30th at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Clarita Valley Performing Arts Center.

The forum was founded by Chairman McKeon after he retired from Congress as a way to “promote learning, foster dialog and inspire involvement by bringing thought leaders from the world of politics, government, the military, and social action together with the community to examine today’s most pressing issues.”

Those in attendance are encouraged to not just take part in the information discussed, but rather go out and actively shape the community. Personal involvement within the community includes exercising the right to vote, volunteering, or even running for office. The message of the forum is clear: everyone has the ability to get involved within the community in one way or another.

The Chairman has partnered with the College of the Canyons as well as the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation to put on this annual speaker series.

Retired General Richard A. Cody will be the keynote speaker at the event. He served in the United States Army for over 35 years and was the 31st Vice Chief of Staff for four years.

Attendance is free, but guests will need to register online here.

McKeon Group Closely Monitoring Appointments

McKeon Group has been closely monitoring appointments, nominations and other personnel changes in the Education and Workforce arena.  Stay tuned in future editions as we catch up with some of these busy policymakers to get their views on their new roles and what we might expect to see in the future.  

In the meantime, here’s a roundup of recent changes.

Capitol Hill

Rob Green has returned to the House Education and Workforce Committee as its new Workforce Policy Director, taking over from the longtime GOP workforce policy veteran, Ed Gilroy, who retired after 15 years of service on the committee.  

Green previously worked for the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the National Retail Federation, and the National Restaurant Association.  Prior to doing that, he had served on the workforce policy staff and staffer for several Members of Congress.

Education Department

Over at the Education Department, Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs Peter Oppenheim still remain the only officials confirmed by the Senate but maybe not for too much longer.   

Carlos Muniz, who the President put forward for the position of General Counsel back in early June, finally received a hearing from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on September 19, with two appointees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Muniz was introduced by his home state Senator Marco Rubio, who he had previously worked for Rubio in the Florida Legislature.  At his hearing, Muniz fielded tough questions from Democratic Senators on questions ranging from ESSA implementation, Title IX enforcement, regulation of for-profit colleges, and the investigation of fraud complaints against Trump University in Florida.

The President also nominated James Blew to be Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Timothy Kelly to be Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, and announced an intention to nominate retired Brigadier General Mitchell “Mick” Zais to be Deputy Secretary.  Zais most recently served as state superintendent of education in South Carolina under former Governor Nicki Haley, and prior to that was president of Newberry College in South Carolina.  He is a West Point graduate and served as an infantry officer for 31 years in the U.S. Army.  

Labor Department

At the Labor Department, Secretary Alexander Acosta remains the only confirmed nominee. The Senate HELP Committee has held a hearing on Patrick Pizzella to be Deputy Secretary back in July, and is considering the nominations of David Zatezalo to be Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health.

Chairman’s Corner: October 2017

It has been ten months since we first officially announced the addition of our education and workforce practice. We brought on experienced experts with plans to continue to grow and expand. In less than a year, the McKeon Group has done just that.

Prior to my time as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I had the opportunity to serve as the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Education has been at the forefront of my mind since I started my career in public office. I was elected to the William S. Hart High School District board of trustees where I first saw a need for improvement within the education system.Since that time, I have continued to strive for improvement to our nation’s education and workforce programs.

I’m pleased to see our education practice actively working to continue this effort. Our dedicated team has worked tirelessly to help our clients find solutions within the education space. As a result, we have added a number of passionate individuals to our team to help in these pursuits.

Over the years, I have learned when it comes to education you get out of it what you put in. Whether you are a student, a teacher, or someone looking for ways to improve the education system, that lesson remains true.

And I know one thing is absolute – our education team is committed to putting in the work.

Early Childhood Education: The New Focus of Education Policy

The 115th Congress has struggled to maintain the bipartisanship found in education policy, however, one issue does continue to have bipartisan support: early childhood education (ECE). Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Chair of the Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee (Labor-H) and Co-chair of the bipartisan Pre-K Caucus noted, “Early childhood education is essential for success later in life, and every state needs solid resources to reinforce the benefits of schooling.” Similar sentiments have been shared by President Trump and Congressional leaders of both parties, with many pending and adopted proposals on how to improve childcare and early childhood education. There are bipartisan efforts, demonstrated by the focus on early childhood education in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and partisan efforts such as the Child Care for Working Families Act (CWFA) and child care tax credits.

In the bipartisan ESSA which passed in 2015, a new emphasis was placed on the education of young children. ESSA includes Preschool Development Grants (PDG), a new grant opportunity for states which expands access to preschool for four-year-olds from low-income families. While PDG were created through the appropriations process, ESSA marks the first time a general education law includes authorized language for an early learning initiative. Currently, both the House and Senate Labor-H appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018 include $250 million for PDG.

ESSA also funds Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN), which provides literacy grants to include learners from infancy through 12th grade, with an emphasis on early literacy. Finally, ESSA requires all states to assess students in reading and math beginning in third grade. This provides a built-in incentive for districts to thoughtfully and strategically use Title I resources, which are grants to local education agencies, to prepare its youngest learners to meet rigorous state standards. By preparing children through evidence-based practices in Title I preschool settings, schools can focus their efforts on young vulnerable learners so they are prepared to meet state standards when they transition to kindergarten and progress to taking the required assessments in third grade.

ESSA proved to be the base point for a new emphasis on early learning, and now both Republicans and Democrats have their own proposals to increase the quality of early childhood education. To make childcare more affordable, the Trump Administration, along with Congressional Republicans, introduced an initiative which broadens eligibility for the Child Care Tax Credit in its tax reform plan, Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code.[1] The proposal allows for a $1,000 tax credit as allowed under current law, however more middle-class families would be eligible. The release of this plan comes after Senior Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, who along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), advocated for a child tax credit increase from the current tax credit of $1,000 to $2,000. Congress is currently examining and debating the child tax credit plus other provisions of the tax proposal.

This fall, Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), released the Child Care for Working Families Act (CWFA), which would substantially alter how the current Child Care and Development Block Grant program supports low-income families in accessing affordable, high quality childcare, and preschool programs. The CWFA encompasses high-quality early literacy skill development and family literacy services; improves compensation, training, and preparation for early childhood education teachers; and assists states in providing high-quality childcare to families of infants, toddlers and preschool-age children with disabilities. It also acknowledges the value of early childhood home visiting and recommends the expansion of the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

With Congress trying to solve major policy issues such as reforming healthcare and tax law, early childhood education policy remains a top agenda issue for Congress and the Administration. Even with major differences between proposed plans, the increased focus on early childhood education proves it is an opportune time to influence policy impacting the affordability of and access to childcare and early learning.


  1. “Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code,” U.S. Department of Treasury , September 29, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Documents/Tax-Framework.pdf.