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 Act and WIOA Reauthorization Advance in the House
- Senate Committee approves bipartisan ESRA reauthorization
- Department of Education wraps up negotiated rulemaking on debt cancellation
This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved H.R. 6585, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, which would extend Pell Grant eligibility to students in qualifying short-term workforce education programs. Building on three existing proposals in the House, the bipartisan JOBS Act, the Republican-led PELL Act, and the Democrat-led Jobs to Compete Act, the bill represents a significant step forward on a key priority for community colleges across the country.
In the same markup, the House Committee considered the bipartisan proposal to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), A Stronger Workforce for America Act (H.R. 6655). The proposal includes many items of interest for community colleges, including authorizing the Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG) program (to be renamed the Strengthening Community College Workforce Development Grants program), requiring 50 percent of funding for WIOA Title I Adult and Dislocated Worker programs to be focused on upskilling workers, and revamping the complicated slate of reporting requirements for WIOA programs.
The House Committee approved the Stronger Workforce for America Act with overwhelming support, with only Representative Bob Good (R-Virginia) voting against. While some Democratic members raised concerns over the inclusion of for-profit institutions during the committee markup, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act was also approved on a bipartisan basis, 37-8. No amendments were adopted for either bill. With the House recessing for the winter holiday this week, AACC is hopeful that the full House will consider the bill early in the new year.
AACC’s David Baime has more information on the political dynamics around the two proposals in the Community College Daily. AACC’s Office of Government Relations will hold a webinar on these and other issues on Tuesday, December 19.
This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) approved the Advancing Research in Education Act (AREA), the bipartisan effort to reauthorize the expired Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). Introduced by Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), the bill authorizes the Department of Education’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 contains new priorities around data transparency and making federally-funded education research 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.
Several amendments were considered during the markup. Amendments were adopted to deny research funds to any institution that promotes antisemitism in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and to restrict research funds to entities that partner with China, Russia, and Iran.
The HELP Committee approved the measure on a bipartisan basis, with Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as the only nay vote.
This week, the Department of Education (ED) concluded its third and final negotiated rulemaking table on President Biden’s debt cancellation policy. As a review, 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 Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA requires the Department to undergo a long, bureaucratic stakeholder engagement process called “negotiated rulemaking” before implementing significant changes to authorized programs.
Last week, ED released a revised issue paper to be considered during the final negotiated rulemaking table. The draft maintained 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 loan 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. Many advocates and lawmakers have taken issue with this narrowing of scope, with particular emphasis on the omission of the hardship consideration. During the final session, the Department indicated that they will consider hosting another negotiated rulemaking on the issue of hardship-based forgiveness in the future.
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.