House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled sweeping education proposals that aim to lower the cost of higher education by funding two years of tuition-free community college and increasing the value of Pell Grants, among other things. The legislation, which the House Education and Labor Committee is slated to markup today, will be included as part of the $3.5 trillion spending package to carry out President Joe Biden's domestic agenda, The Washington Post reported.
Earlier this summer, House and Senate lawmakers approved a FY 2022 budget resolution, which unlocked the reconciliation process to bypass the 60 vote threshold required to pass most legislation in the Senate. The process allows Democrats to pass the legislation without Republican support. The budget resolution outlined top-line budget numbers and instructed Congressional committees to flesh out the details of the portions of the reconciliation bill that fall under their jurisdictions, including the $761 billion allocated to students, families, and workers.
The House Democrats' proposal include plans to establish a new federal-state partnership to provide two years of tuition-free community college and direct $1.5 billion in new funding to historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions, reported Politico.
The legislation would increase the Pell Grant by $500. Thus far, the Biden administration has proposed a total $1,800 increase in the Pell Grant, which it has called a down payment on its campaign promise to double the maximum award.
The proposal would provide $9 billion in new funding to help states and colleges boost retention and completion in higher education. The bill would also allow undocumented students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be eligible to receive federal student aid through the 2029-2030 school year, Politico reported.
Additionally, the legislation would expand Public Service Loan Forgiveness for some military service members.
Overall, the House Democrats' proposal includes less funding for education priorities than Biden's original plans, the Post reported, and moderate Democrats could force further cutbacks amid concerns with the overall price tag of the bill. Republicans oppose the legislation.
AACRAO joined the broader higher education community in a letter to House education committee leaders expressing support for the substantial investment the proposed legislation makes in students and institutions, but calls on lawmakers to use this opportunity to double the maximum Pell Grant award.
"We appreciate the Committee's recognition of the signature importance of the Pell Grant program in this legislation by providing an increase of $500 to the maximum award," the letter states. "However, this increase falls far short of the President’s request for an increase of $1,475, much less the significant expansion we know is needed."
Meanwhile, the White House called for Congress to approve a short-term extension in government funding to avoid a partial government shutdown on October 1, The Washington Post reported. The appeal comes with a request for additional funding for natural disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Ida and to assist the ongoing Afghanistan resettlement, as the administration tries to respond to both emergencies.
Government funding is set to lapse at the end of September under current law, which means that lawmakers would need to authorize a temporary continuing resolution to extend funding at their current levels for a set period, reported the Post.
U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Press Release
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