Advocacy quick hits — 12/7/2023
Editor’s note: This weekly update from the government relations office at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) provides the latest on what’s happening in Washington and how AACC is advancing policies to support community colleges and students. Send questions, feedback and more to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bipartisan Workforce Pell Bill introduced
- House passes two higher education measures
- New bill introduced to authorize the SCCTG program
- Senate announces bipartisan ESRA reauthorization
- Department of Education moves forward with new debt cancellation plan
- Timeline announced for key regulations
This week, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced H.R. 6585, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, which would extend Pell Grant eligibility to students in qualifying short-term workforce education programs. The bill is sponsored by Elise Stefanik (R-New York), Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), and Mark DeSaulnier (D-California). The new bill builds on three existing proposals in the House—the bipartisan JOBS Act, the Republican-led PELL Act, and the Democrat-led Jobs to Compete Act—and represents a significant step forward on a key priority for community colleges across the country. AACC is hopeful that it will soon be considered by the full House.
AACC’s Jim Hermes has more on the policy specifics, eligibility parameters, and quality control measures in the Community College Daily.
This week, the House passed H.R. 5933, the Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act. The bill updates Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to impose new disclosure and reporting requirements on colleges and universities that partner with or receive gifts from foreign entities. The bill also prohibits colleges from entering into contracts with countries identified as countries of concern. As the first higher education bill advanced as part of a piecemeal strategy to update the HEA, the DETERRENT Act passed on a bipartisan basis, with 31 Democrats joining Republicans. Most of the bill’s provisions will apply to large research institutions, and the potential impact on community colleges is less clear. AACC is eager to hear from colleges about the partnerships they hold with foreign governments or foreign-owned companies as we analyze the bill.
Yesterday, the House passed H.J. Res. 88, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenge to the Department of Education’s (ED) SAVE income-driven repayment plan. The Biden Administration has referred to the plan – called Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) – as the “most affordable” repayment option to date, as it lowers monthly payments for undergraduate borrowers, raises the income protection allowance, eliminates interest capitalization, and shortens the timeline to forgiveness for small-dollar borrowers. Republicans in the House and Senate, however, have taken a different view, criticizing the plan as the “costliest regulation in U.S. history” and challenging the action as executive overreach.
The resolution passed the House with a margin of 210-189, with two Democrats joining Republicans. While a companion resolution was introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP), and 16 Republican cosponsors, it is unlikely that the measure will advance in the Senate, and it would be quickly vetoed if it was sent to the President’s desk.
This week, Reps. Lucy McBath (D-Georgia), Jahana Hayes (D-Connecticut), Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Mike Takano (D-California), and Mike Thompson (D-California) introduced the Training, Retention, and Investment Now (TRAIN) Act, H.R. 6601. The bill makes permanent the Strengthening Community College Training Grant (SCCTG) program at the Department of Labor (DOL). The SCCTG program helps community colleges increase their capacity to address the skill development needs of local employers and their communities, and it is currently the only dedicated workforce development investment targeted to community colleges. Currently in its third round of grants, the program was created and has been sustained through the annual appropriations process, using demonstration authority under the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA). However, with difficult funding dynamics ahead, the lack of a specific program authorization makes it more vulnerable to cuts and elimination. Protecting and expanding SCCTG has been a top funding priority for AACC, and the Association looks forward to working with Congress to make the program permanent.
This week, Senate HELP Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) announced that they had reached a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). ESRA authorizes ED’s research and statistical analysis functions, including those at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The bill also authorizes grant opportunities and technical assistance measures to help schools, states, and stakeholders improve their data collection and data use capacity. The current ESRA expired in 2008 and has been extended through the appropriations process. The Senate’s reauthorization bill, the Advancing Research in Education Act (AREA), contains new priorities around data transparency and making federally-funded education research to be more available to the public, authorizes a new state capacity and research development grant, and contains new provisions to strengthen the state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) grant program. The Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill on Tuesday, December 12, alongside three health care bills.
This week, ED released a revised issue paper to be considered during the final negotiated rulemaking table on President Biden’s debt cancellation policy. Earlier this year, the Biden Administration’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student debt was struck down by the Supreme Court, which stated that the President did not have the authority for the action under the HEROES Act. As a next step, the Administration announced that they would be moving forward with the plan under authority granted in the HEA. The HEA requires the Department to undergo a long, bureaucratic stakeholder engagement process called “negotiated rulemaking” before implementing significant changes to authorized programs.
The new draft maintains that cancellation should be structured to aid certain groups of borrowers, including: those whose loan balances are greater than the amount they originally borrowed, borrowers who are eligible for forgiveness under income-driven repayment plans but who have not applied, borrowers who took out loans to attend programs that provided low financial value relative to the loan amount, and borrowers who entered repayment on loans taken out before more generous repayment terms were offered. While the first discussion draft included an item to tackle debt relief for borrowers who experience financial hardship, this group was not addressed in the revised draft.
ED hopes to issue a proposed rule on student debt relief in May 2024, which leaves a short window to finalize the rule before the November election.
In addition to the student debt relief plan, the Biden Administration has announced an updated schedule for forthcoming regulations at ED. Final Title IX regulations are now expected in March of 2024, a significant delay from the original October 2023 target date. Title VI rules around ancestry-based discrimination are now expected in December 2024. Finally, final regulations around key higher education issues, including cash management, online enrollment, and Return of Title IV funds, are expected to be released in October 2024, after a negotiated rulemaking process this winter.