On February 8th, 2023, The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held its first hearing of the year, titled “American Education in Crisis.” The hearing called attention to the challenges the education system still faces after recovering from the pandemic. Witnesses were Virgnia Gentles of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum, Dr. Monty Sullivan of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system, Scott Pulsipher of Western Governors University, and Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

The majority party raised concerns about educational freedom and parents’ rights, which led to heated debate. Gentles’s testimony centered on incentivizing school choice and called out teachers’ unions for delays in reopening schools, as well as schools teaching gender ideology and “woke” topics. Her comments received significant pushback from minority members of the committee.

Governor Polis spoke about Colorado’s educational successes that resulted from the use of emergency COVID-19 relief funds: the state now offers free full-day kindergarten and universal preschool, and schools implemented mental health support through a program called I Matter, offering 6 free counseling sessions for all students.

The Committee demonstrated bipartisan support for expanding federal aid for workforce training programs and lowering the high costs of college tuition. Dr. Sullivan spoke about the ever-increasing skill requirements of the workplace that have resulted in a record 11 million unfilled jobs. He demands that Congress takes a “no wrong door approach” to fill this unmet need in the workforce by expanding short-term Pell grants under the PELL Act. Integrating the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with the Higher Education Act would also strengthen community colleges. Governor Polis supports these efforts to make community college and apprenticeship programs accessible and directed funding towards wraparound services like transportation and childcare so adults could return to school. Pulsipher agreed about expanding access with a focus on colleges and universities.

Reducing barriers to accessing higher education and technical training programs for youth that have experienced foster care is a legislative priority for CWLA.

By Ava Cloghessy, Policy Intern