Before adjourning for the year, Congress passed all twelve appropriations bills (packaged into two larger bills) that will fund the federal government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The breakthrough legislation increases funding for many programs that benefit community colleges and their students, including a new Department of Labor (DOL) community college-focused job training program, a top AACC priority. These increases come on top of a series of boosts to key programs that have occurred in the last two funding cycles.
The appropriations outcome reflects the budget deal struck by Congressional leaders and the Trump administration earlier this year. That deal provided about $24 billion more for domestic discretionary programs than was spent in FY 2019.
Before that budget deal was reached, the House of Representatives passed a series of appropriations bills that assumed larger spending increases for domestic programs than was ultimately provided in the bicameral deal, including an $11.8 billion increase for the Labor, HHS and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill. The Senate did not move forward on any of its bills until the budget deal was struck, and never acted on its own LHHS legislation.
After agreeing to overall budget caps, Congressional leaders and the administration negotiated how much of the increased funding would be allocated to each of the 12 spending bills. Just under $5 billion of the $24 billion domestic increase went to the LHHS bill, a little under half of what House appropriators had allocated. The result is that programmatic increases in the final legislation were generally not as large as those in the House bill.
One of the LHHS bill’s major highlights is the new, $40 million Strengthening Community College Training Grants program. DOL’s Employment and Training Administration will make competitive grants of at least $1 million to individual community colleges (up to $5 million for a consortia of institutions) to augment their job training initiatives. The program, championed by House LHHS appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), is intended to be a successor to previous, similar programs such as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants and the Community-Based Job Training Grants. While the lower final spending caps meant that the program was not funded at $150 million as passed by the House, it is an extremely positive development that AACC hopes to build on.
In other good news, the legislation increased the Pell Grant maximum award by $150, to $6,345, for award year 2020-21. The maximum grant has now increased by $425 over the last three funding cycles. On the other hand, the legislation rescinded $500 million from unspent Pell Grant program balances to help fund other programs. This rescission does not affect student’s grants, but it potentially spells financing complications for the program in future years.
Department of Education (ED) spending will increase by $1.4 billion (1.9%), allowing for spending boosts to important programs, with the highest percentage increases going to support minority-serving institutions. Programmatic increases include:
- Perkins CTE Basic State Grants – $20 million (1.6%)
- Adult Basic Education state grants – $15 million (2.3%)
- Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants – $25 million (3%)
- Federal Work Study – $50 million (4.4%)
- HEA Title III-A Strengthening Institutions – $8 million (8%)
- Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities – $42 million (15%)
- Strengthening Predominately Black Institutions – $1.7 million (15%)
- Asian American Pacific Islander – $580,000 (15%)
- Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions – $2.4 million (15%)
- Strengthening Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institutions – $580,000 (15%)
- Strengthening Tribal Colleges – $4.8 million (15%)
- HEA Title V – Hispanic Serving Institutions – $19 million (15%)
- Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) – $3 million (6%)
- HEA Title VI and Fulbright-Hays International Programs – $4 million (6%)
- Federal TRIO Programs – $30 million (3%)
- GEAR UP – $5 million (1%)
The legislation’s accompanying report language encourages ED to focus Title III-A grants on workforce-oriented programs, potentially altering the nature of the program. This development is of concern to AACC and the association will be carefully monitoring the Department’s response to this language. The report also directs ED to evaluate the Second Chance Pell (for incarcerated individuals) experimental site program and to issue guidance for implementing the Ability to Benefit provisions that allow non-high school graduates to access student aid.
DOL job training programs received relatively more modest increases, except for registered apprenticeship grant funding, which rose from $160 to $175 million. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act formula programs were each increased by about 1.1%.
The Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill raised funding for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program to $75 million, a roughly $10 million hike. This is the ATE program’s first significant increase in several years and will be felt positively on community college campuses.
Given a variety of factors, community colleges students and institutions have reason to be thankful for this outcome. While the federal government has much more to do for our students, another funding cycle of widespread funding increases is encouraging.