Congress Advances Education Spending Bills

This week, Congress advanced spending bills that would boost the maximum Pell Grant and block the Obama administration from implementing regulations relating to gainful employment for vocational programs, state authorization, teacher preparation, the credit hour, and its college rating system.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee marked up the chamber's proposed Labor-HHS-Education spending bill on Tuesday, while the House Appropriations Committee marked up and approved its education funding measure on Wednesday.

The Senate education budget bill mirrored the 2016 spending legislation backed last week by the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending for education programs. Both measures would raise the maximum Pell Grant to $5,915 in the fiscal year that begins in October, up from the current $5,775. But the Senate bill would revoke a $300 million surplus – $370 million in the House version – in Pell Grants, shuffling that money for other purposes while potentially leaving the program short in future years.

Additionally, the House and Senate measures would prohibit the U.S. Education Department from using any newly appropriated funds for new or pending regulations that expand "the federal government's role in higher education, until Congress has an opportunity to weigh in through the authorization process, as appropriate." Both spending bills would block the agency from acting to implement the proposed college ratings system, define gainful employment, establish requirements for state authorization of higher education programs, define the credit hour, and change how teacher education programs are regulated.

In contrast to the House measure, the Senate legislation would cut $29 million from the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant Program and $40 million from the Federal Work Study Program. Those programs would be held at their current 2015 levels by the House legislation.

Senate Democrats also said the bill would reduce funding for workforce training programs and minority serving higher education institutions. The measure would freeze the department's budget for Office for Civil Rights at a time when its workload is rapidly increasing – particularly in the area of campus sexual violence.

Lawmakers will again today take up the 2016 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, even though the measures being marked up this week are unlikely to reach President Barack Obama's desk, according to Politico. House Republicans spent hours during their session on Wednesday rebuffing Democrat's amendments, many of which would have increased funding for education programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee's mark up today is expected to echo that of the House.


Related Links

FY16 LHHS Subcommittee Markup Bill Summary

U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Press Release

Inside Higher Ed