From Your Lobbyist: Funding Bill Passes House and Bankruptcy Hearings
June 21, 2019
Week of June 17-21
House Passes FY20 Funding Bill: While not much action occurred in the Senate regarding higher education, the House was the center of gravity on federal education policy this week. After a little more than a week of debate and floor amendments, the House of Representatives approved a spending package, which included the FY20 LHHS-Education bill, along party lines. If enacted into law, the Department would see a 6% boost in funding to $75.4 billion and programs like Pell grants, Gear Up, TRIO, and student loan programs would all see generous increases. The jubilation about this legislative victory was tempered, though, by reports that negotiations between Congress and the White House failed to achieve a meaningful breakthrough on setting overall spending limits. The media reported that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had suggested that the White House might only agree to a one-year extension of current spending levels, which would eliminate all of the increases in education spending that the House just approved. Prior to Mnuchin’s statement, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), who has been on point for the Senate during the White House negotiations, stated that if no spending deal was reached by July 1, the Senate would move forward with setting its own spending levels and begin marking-up its version of fiscal year appropriations bills. It is now uncertain if the Senate will move forward with that plan in light of Mnuchin’s suggestion that the White House would only agree to last year’s spending levels. Now, the fate of education funding is in the Senate’s hands – it is imperative that we contact them and urge the Senate to pass the House’s funding bill. AYA has made it easy to do this, just click here to send your letter and see the details about the bill in our previous “From Your Lobbyist” report here.
Ed & Labor Higher Ed Hearing: Over in the House, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) presided over a hearing that explored alternative pathways to college degrees, which include dual-enrollment courses, competency-based education, online and technology courses, and apprenticeships as well as the importance of student support services such advising. Dual-enrollment emerged as a popular option, with Democrats and Republicans alike lining-up to praise this option and some discussing how the federal government could help pay the costs of high school students receiving college credits through such courses. Dr. Judith Marwick, Provost of an Illinois-based community college, and some Members of Congress, noted that some problems with dual enrollment exist: low-income and minority students still do not participate in dual enrollment courses at the same rates as wealthier or white peers, a shortage of teachers with Masters degrees in the appropriate subject areas to teach courses, quality control over the courses themselves, and privacy issues related to data transfer between high schools and community colleges. Committee Ranking Member Foxx expressed reservations about ideas floated to have federal taxpayers pay for dual enrollment courses as some states already subsidize them. Throughout the hearing, student support services (mainly advising) were invoked as a solution to helping first generation, low income and minority students complete college. Ranking Member Foxx threw some cold water on student supports, though, calling them “hand-holding” not befitting students who were supposed to be adults and labeling institutions engaged in such activity as “helicopter colleges.” In the end, Chair Scott laid out his usual list of items that must be in any HEA reauthorization while Ranking Member Foxx “affirmed my commitment to continue the conversation” but there was no announcement about if or when a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill would be introduced.
Bankruptcy Hearing Next Week: Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee noticed a hearing on bankruptcy issues for Tuesday June 25th at 10am that will cover the topic of allowing student loan borrowers to discharge their debt in bankruptcy, which is currently prohibited unless the borrower can show undue hardship––an extremely tough standard to meet. To help fix this issue, AYA is strongly supporting the Student Borrower Bankruptcy Relief Act of 2019, the bicameral billed introduced by Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Katko (R-NY), would eliminate the section of the bankruptcy code that makes student loans non-dischargeable, allowing these loans to be treated like nearly all other forms of consumer debt. So that our advocacy and support for this legislation is officially noted by Congress, AYA is submitting a letter for the hearing record detailing the need to allow student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, which we will share next week along with the key takeaways from the hearing.