U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified in support of the administration's recent proposed higher education reforms at a Tuesday hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee with jurisdiction over education. Subcommittee Chair Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) both criticized the administration for proposing level-funding for major formula grants while directing funding increases toward new, untested programs. Under the president's budget proposal, Title I grants to school districts serving low-income populations and formula grants to states through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would both receive level-funding, as would the TRIO and GEAR UP college-readiness programs. Congresswoman DeLauro argued that given rising enrollment and state and local budget cuts, "providing level funding to these programs serves as an effective cut in services." New programs funded under the administration proposal would include the president's $8 billion job skill development program through community colleges, the Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion competitive grant program, and another competitive grant program to encourage professional development and standards for teachers. The Perkins Loan program would also receive a significant expansion. Secretary Duncan defended the Race to the Top model, currently incentivizing sweeping reform in K-12 education, saying that "for an investment of less than 1% of total education spending, we've seen more innovation in the last four years than we have in decades." He said that continuing to increase funding for traditional formula grants would only maintain the status quo, rather than spurring reform.
House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's (R-WI) FY2013 budget proposal would tighten the eligibility requirements for the Pell Grant program, although it does not include specifics beyond "limiting the growth of financial aid and focusing it on low-income students who need it the most." The budget proposal would also change how the budgetary impact of federal lending is measured, with student loans measured against what a private lender would earn at the market rate. All student lending would therefore be tallied as a loss under "fair value" accounting. Congressman Ryan's proposal also cites "evidence that subsidized lending contributes to tuition inflation" as further reason to de-emphasize federal student loans.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis advocated for her department's job training programs at a hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Wednesday. Republican committee members argued that overlap between similar programs and inefficient administration made the work training programs a waste of federal money. A report released last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 44 of the federal government's 47 job training programs overlap in some capacity. President Obama's budget plan for FY2013 called for $8 billion for new programs to partner employers with community colleges in developing job skills, along with funding for programs to retrain displaced and long-term unemployed workers. Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) supported the president's call to simplify the network of job training programs, but said that the budget proposal's new program requests "would further complicate the tangle of existing programs." Secretary Solis warned lawmakers that programs that appear to overlap at first glance may be targeted at particular populations, and "if we were to look at proposals that would somehow consolidate those programs and cut them back, there would be fallout." John Tierney (D-MA) praised the Labor Department's efforts, many of which line up with the Workforce Investment Act reauthorization bill that he is developing, he said.
House Democrats and Republicans each unveiled their respective bills to reform the federal workforce law on Tuesday. The Republican bill (H.R. 3610), sponsored by House Education and the Workforce Committee's Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), would consolidate 30 job-training programs into four in an effort to reduce costs and redundancy. The Democrats' bill (H.R. 4227) includes a provision to encourage partnerships between community colleges and local governments to emphasize skill development in needed areas. It also includes a grant program for colleges which train students for in-demand jobs. Kline warned that a provision to assist state and local governments with funding for job training initiatives might not be feasible, since "the federal government is strapped as well."
Officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced Wednesday that U.S. student loan debt topped $1 trillion as of late 2011. This estimate is about 16% higher than one released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York earlier this year. CFPB officials credited the student loan burden to an increase in people going to college during a down labor market, tuition increases, and financial penalties as economically pressed students fall behind on their payments. The CFPB plans to release a comprehensive study of student debt, based on surveys of private lenders, this summer.
As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council's Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of March 26, 2012.
Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council's mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.