October 8, 2015 - Issue: Vol. 161, No. 148 — Daily Edition114th Congress (2015 - 2016) - 1st Session
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 161, No. 148
(Senate - October 08, 2015)
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[Pages S7274-S7277] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Scott, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Booker): S. 2171. A bill to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today with my colleagues Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Tim Scott, and Senator Cory Booker to introduce the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, bipartisan legislation to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. I am a long-time supporter of this important program, which provides low-income students residing in the District of Columbia the opportunity to improve academically by attending a private school of their choice. Without this platform, D.C.'s most disadvantaged students would not have access to a high-quality education, including smaller class sizes and effective curriculum. That is not right. All [[Page S7275]] students should have the same opportunity to learn and thrive. The Opportunity Scholarship is a successful and transformative program. It has shown promising results in raising student achievement. According to data released by the program administrator for the 2014- 2015 school year, 90 percent of scholarship students graduated from high school and 88 percent of those graduates are enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college or university. The Opportunity Scholarship Program's graduation rate is more than 30 percentage points higher than D.C. Public Schools' rate, which stands at only 58 percent, well below the national average of 81 percent. For the 2015-2016 school year, there were more than 8,500 names on waiting lists at D.C. charter schools, an 18 percent increase over last year. This shows the demand for high-quality education in this city and unfortunately, the shortage to meet that demand. I have worked on this legislation with my House colleague, Speaker John Boehner, for many years. I also had my staff visit schools and talk to administrators and parents about ways to improve the program so that it can fully meet the goal of providing a better education to low- income families in the District's lowest-performing schools. I am pleased that this legislation strengthens the program by requiring participating schools to acquire and maintain accreditation, and by ensuring that an evaluation study truly assess the effectiveness of the scholarship, including how it affects academic achievement for scholarship recipients. I am pleased that Senators Johnson, Scott and Booker have joined me as original cosponsors of this bill. I remain fully committed to the success of the program, and I believe this reauthorization bill makes critical improvements to ensure that scholarships continue to transform the lives of the District's most vulnerable students. ______ By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Tester, and Mr. Whitehouse): S. 2172. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide protections for consumers against excessive, unjustified, or unfairly discriminatory increases in premium rates; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, great progress has been made in improving oversight of health insurance companies, holding them accountable for how premium dollars are spent, and increasing access to affordable health insurance. Even so, there is still work to be done to protect consumers from unreasonable and excessive health insurance rate increases. Through the Affordable Care Act, health insurance rate increases greater than 10 percent must be publicly posted and include an explanation for the increase. The increases are reviewed by States, and the Federal Government steps in when States opt out from participating in the review process. This is a good first step, which has helped reduce increases, but it isn't enough. The enforcement authority to block or modify unreasonable rate increases is key to providing strong consumer protection. In 2011, 43 percent of requested rate increases for health insurance rates on the individual market were larger than 10 percent. In 2013, 25 percent of plans had an increase greater than 10 percent. This shows progress, but not enough. Health insurance companies can still get away with putting profits before patients. Affordability of health insurance is vital in continuing to decrease the number of uninsured Americans, and to ensure that families can access coverage. Currently, 13 States still have little or no authority to block or modify excessive rate increases in the individual and small group markets. Even when regulators in these States find an increase to be unreasonable and unjustified, they have no ability to block or modify the increase. The Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Rates Act creates a Federal fallback option for States currently lacking this authority. This will protect consumers regardless of the State they live in, and improve accountability for insurance companies attempting to raise premium prices without adequate justification. This solution is simple: in States where the insurance regulator does not have or use authority to block unreasonable rate increases, the Secretary of Health and Human Services can do so. In some States, like California, companies are not required to get prior authorization for rate increases to go into effect. California insurance regulators with the Department of Insurance and Department of Managed Care review rates, but when they find rate increases to be unjustified and unreasonable, they have no authority to stop or adjust the price increases. Just a few months ago, Aetna raised rates for a small business plan that, on average, was an increase of 21 percent and affected approximately 13,000 people. The California Department of Managed Care had found the increase to be unreasonable, but couldn't stop it from going into effect. In many States we can already see that this type of authority is working, and this bill doesn't interfere at all with what they are doing. For example, in New York, insurers requested an average of a 13.5 percentage increase for 2016 premiums. Regulators disagreed and reduced the increase by nearly half, so consumers in that State will see a 7.1 percent increase instead. In Connecticut, a UnitedHealthcare plan wanted to raise rates by 12.4 percent for 2016. After regulators reviewed the request, they approved a 5.5 percent increase instead. For one plan in the State offered by ConnectiCare, a small increase was denied and consumers will actually see a reduction in their premiums for 2016. Regulators in Vermont reduced the increase that 65,000 residents of the State would have faced in 2016--the proposed hike was 8.6 percent and the approved rate increase was 5.9 percent. Any unreasonable rate increase that perpetuates year after year is unacceptable, and makes a big impact on a family's budget. All consumers deserve to have fully effective health insurance rate review and enforcement. This bill closes the final gap in this process and ensures that these protections are available for the entire country. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Rates Act. ______ By Mr. KAINE (for himself, Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Portman, and Mrs. Capito): S. 2174. A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for the preparation of career and technical education teachers; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, in today's increasingly competitive global economy, America's success will depend on the talent of its workforce. In cultivating the workforce necessary to succeed, we need to look at ways to expand opportunities for students, and refocus our Nation's education strategy to meet the demands of the industry in the 21st century. Career and technical education, CTE, programs play a vital role in increasing student engagement, continuing our nation's economic competitiveness, and building the skills of our country's workforce. We are beginning to see a renaissance of student interest in career and technical education, but school districts across the Nation are facing critical shortages in high-quality CTE teachers. While the Higher Education and Opportunity Act of 2008 provides grants for teacher residency partnership programs to colleges and universities who work with high-needs school districts to train prospective teachers, no CTE-focused partnerships exist. That is why I am introducing with my colleagues, Senator Baldwin, Senator Portman and Senator Capito the Creating Quality Technical Educators Act, which would create a CTE teacher-training grant partnership to give aspiring CTE teachers the experience necessary to mirror their success in the business world with that in the classroom. This legislation would foster teacher training partnerships between high-needs secondary schools and post-secondary institutions to create a 1-year residency initiative for teachers and includes teacher mentorship for a minimum of 2 years. When CTE teachers have work experience in a related industry before entering the classroom, students not only [[Page S7276]] benefit from their hands-on knowledge, but also look to them as career models. The Creating Quality Technical Educators Act would amend the Higher Education and Opportunity Act to give aspiring CTE teachers real-world experience and develop credible skills to apply in the classroom. This bipartisan bill takes a proactive approach to recruiting and training more high-quality CTE teachers. In addition to mid-career professionals in related technical fields, CTE teacher residencies would target teacher candidates who are recent college graduates, veterans, and currently licensed teachers with a need for technical skills training who seek to become transition into CTE fields. As co-chair of the Senate CTE Caucus, I am proud to introduce this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to recruit and train talented teachers to meet the rising need for CTE. The Creating Quality Technical Educators Act takes an important step to ensure students in communities of all sizes have access to high-quality CTE teachers and career-training programs. ______ By Mr. DURBIN (for himself, Mr. Franken, and Mr. King): S. 2176. A bill to expand the use of open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: S. 2176 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the ``Affordable College Textbook Act''. SEC. 2. FINDINGS. Congress finds the following: (1) The high cost of college textbooks continues to be a barrier for many students in achieving higher education. (2) According to the College Board, during the 2014-2015 academic year, the average student budget for college books and supplies at 4-year public institutions of higher education was $1,225. (3) The Government Accountability Office found that new textbook prices increased 82 percent between 2002 and 2012 and that although Federal efforts to increase price transparency have provided students and families with more and better information, more must be done to address rising costs. (4) The growth of the Internet has enabled the creation and sharing of digital content, including open educational resources that can be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. (5) Using open educational resources in place of traditional materials in large-enrollment college courses can reduce textbook costs by 80 to 100 percent. (6) Federal investment in expanding the use of open educational resources could significantly lower college textbook costs and reduce financial barriers to higher education, while making efficient use of taxpayer funds. SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS. In this Act: (1) Educational resource.--The term ``educational resource'' means an educational material that can be used in postsecondary instruction, including textbooks and other written or audiovisual works. (2) Institution of higher education.--The term ``institution of higher education'' has the meaning given the term in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001). (3) Open educational resource.--The term ``open educational resource'' means an educational resource that either is in the public domain or is made available under a permanent copyright license to the public to freely adapt, distribute, and otherwise use the work with attribution to the author as designated. (4) Open textbook.--The term ``open textbook'' means an open educational resource or set of open educational resources that either is a textbook or can be used in place of a textbook for a postsecondary course at an institution of higher education. (5) Relevant faculty.--The term ``relevant faculty'' means both tenure track and contingent faculty members who may be involved in the creation of open educational resources or the use of open educational resources created as part of the grant application. (6) Secretary.--The term ``Secretary'' means the Secretary of Education. SEC. 4. GRANT PROGRAM. (a) Grants Authorized.--From the amounts appropriated under subsection (i), the Secretary shall make grants, on a competitive basis, to eligible entities to support pilot programs that expand the use of open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students. (b) Eligible Entity.--In this section, the term ``eligible entity'' means an institution of higher education or group of institutions of higher education. (c) Applications.-- (1) In general.--Each eligible entity desiring a grant under this section, after consultation with relevant faculty, shall submit an application to the Secretary at such time, in such manner, and accompanied by such information as the Secretary may reasonably require. (2) Contents.--Each application submitted under paragraph (1) shall include a description of the project to be completed with grant funds and-- (A) a plan for promoting and tracking the use of open textbooks in postsecondary courses offered by the eligible entity, including an estimate of the projected savings that will be achieved for students; (B) a plan for evaluating, before creating new open educational resources, whether existing open educational resources could be used or adapted for the same purpose; (C) a plan for quality review and review of accuracy of any open educational resources to be created or adapted through the grant; (D) a plan for disseminating information about the results of the project to institutions of higher education outside of the eligible entity, including promoting the adoption of any open textbooks created or adapted through the grant; and (E) a statement on consultation with relevant faculty, including those engaged in the creation of open educational resources, in the development of the application. (d) Special Consideration.--In awarding grants under this section, the Secretary shall give special consideration to applications that demonstrate the greatest potential to-- (1) achieve the highest level of savings for students through sustainable expanded use of open textbooks in postsecondary courses offered by the eligible entity; (2) expand the use of open textbooks at institutions of higher education outside of the eligible entity; and (3) produce-- (A) the highest quality open textbooks; (B) open textbooks that can be most easily utilized and adapted by faculty members at institutions of higher education; (C) open textbooks that correspond to the highest enrollment courses at institutions of higher education; and (D) open textbooks created or adapted in partnership with entities, including campus bookstores, that will assist in marketing and distribution of the open textbook. (e) Use of Funds.--An eligible entity that receives a grant under this section shall use the grant funds to carry out any of the following activities to expand the use of open textbooks: (1) Professional development for any faculty and staff members at institutions of higher education, including the search for and review of open textbooks. (2) Creation or adaptation of open educational resources, especially open textbooks. (3) Development or improvement of tools and informational resources that support the use of open textbooks. (4) Research evaluating the efficacy of the use of open textbooks for achieving savings for students. (5) Partnerships with other entities, including other institutions of higher education, for-profit organizations, or nonprofit organizations, to carry out any of the activities described in paragraphs (1) through (4). (f) License.--Educational resources created under subsection (e) shall be licensed under a non-exclusive, permanent license to the public to exercise any of the rights under copyright conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given as directed by the copyright owner. (g) Access and Distribution.--The full and complete digital content of each educational resource created or adapted under subsection (e) shall be made available free of charge to the public-- (1) on an easily accessible and interoperable website, which shall be identified to the Secretary by the eligible entity; and (2) in a machine readable, digital format that anyone can directly download, edit with attribution, and redistribute. (h) Report.--Upon an eligible entity's completion of a project supported under this section, the eligible entity shall prepare and submit a report to the Secretary regarding-- (1) the effectiveness of the pilot program in expanding the use of open textbooks and in achieving savings for students; (2) the impact of the pilot program on expanding the use of open textbooks at institutions of higher education outside of the eligible entity; (3) educational resources created or adapted under the grant, including instructions on where the public can access each educational resource under the terms of subsection (g); and (4) all project costs, including the value of any volunteer labor and institutional capital used for the project. (i) Authorization of Appropriations.--There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out this section for each of the 5 succeeding fiscal years after the enactment of this Act. SEC. 5. PRICE INFORMATION. Section 133(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1015b(b)) is amended-- (1) by striking paragraph (6); and (2) in paragraph (9); [[Page S7277]] (A) by striking subparagraphs (A) and (B); and (B) by striking ``a college textbook that--'' and inserting ``a college textbook that may include printed materials, computer disks, website access, and electronically distributed materials.''. SEC. 6. SENSE OF CONGRESS. It is the sense of Congress that institutions of higher education should encourage the consideration of open textbooks by faculty within the generally accepted principles of academic freedom that establishes the right and responsibility of faculty members, individually and collectively, to select course materials that are pedagogically most appropriate for their classes. SEC. 7. REPORT TO CONGRESS. Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall prepare and submit a report to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions of the Senate and the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the House of Representatives detailing-- (1) the open textbooks created or adapted under this Act; (2) the adoption of such open textbooks; and (3) the savings generated for students, States, and the Federal Government through the use of open textbooks. SEC. 8. GAO REPORT. Not later than 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall prepare and submit a report to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions of the Senate and the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the House of Representatives on the cost of textbooks to students at institutions of higher education. The report shall particularly examine-- (1) the change of the cost of textbooks; (2) the factors that have contributed to the change of the cost of textbooks; (3) the extent to which open textbooks are used at institutions of higher education; and (4) the impact of open textbooks on the cost of textbooks. ____________________