NSTA Legislative Update: House Leaders Introduce The College Affordability Act by Jodi Peterson

Democrats Introduce Bill to Reauthorize Higher Education Act

House Democrats introduced a long-awaited bill earlier this week that would update the Higher Education Act for the first time in more than a decade.

The College Affordability Act, H.R. 4674 (116) expands federal Pell Grants and would ease current student loan debt, but it does not seek to completely eliminate college costs or cancel student loan debt, two proposals currently being offered by  several  2020 presidential candidates. It is expected to cost $400 billion over the next decade.

According to the press release issued by the Democrats, the bill:

  • Tackles the rising cost of tuition by restoring state and federal investments in public colleges and universities, which will reduce the burden that has been shifted to students and their families.
  • Makes college affordable for low- and middle-income students by increasing the value of Pell Grants.
  • Eases the burden of student loans by making existing student loans cheaper and easier to pay off.
  • Cracks down on predatory for-profit colleges that defraud students, veterans, and taxpayers.
  • Holds all schools accountable for providing students a quality education that leads to a rewarding career.
  • Improves students’ safety on campus by blocking Secretary DeVos’s survivor-blaming Title IX rule and introducing stronger accountability to track and prevent cases of sexual assault, harassment, and hazing.
  • Expands students’ access to high-quality programs by making Pell Grants available for short-term programs.
  • Helps improve graduation rates by providing stronger wraparound services to keep students in school and on track.
  • Invests in the critical institutions that enroll underserved students by increasing and permanently reauthorizing mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority Serving Institutions.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the House education committee, said in a statement,  “The College Affordability Act is a proposal that Members across the political spectrum should be able to support. It is a necessary and sensible response to the challenges that students and families are facing every day.

Read the full press release from the Democrats on the bill here and the New York Times article and Forbes article.

ED Awards New Research Grants for STEM Education and Computer Science

Last month Education Secretary DeVos announced $123 million in new grant funds would be distributed to 41 school districts, nonprofits and state educational agencies under the Education and Innovative Research (EIR) program.

The program aims to fund innovative programs meant to improve academic achievement for high-need students.

The awards include over $30 million to eight grantees serving rural areas and over $78 million to 29 grantees focused on STEM education. Over 85% of the funded STEM projects include a specific focus on computer science.

A link to the Department of Education press release, which includes the winning grantees, can be found here.

Appropriations Update

As reported in previous NSTA Legislative Updates, federal programs are currently under a stop-gap spending measure (continuing resolution) that provides continuing appropriations at FY19 levels to federal agencies through November 21, 2019. After that, if no agreement is reached, funding runs out and the government would be in risk of shutting down. Will they come to a compromise on the Fy20 budget? Earlier this week Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby told Politico that spending negotiations remain in a “prolonged slump.”

As you will recall, in June the House did pass H.R. 2740 (116), a minibus which bundles the text of four of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2020, (Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Energy-Water and State Foreign-Operations). The House bill provides a 6 percent increase to the Department of Education, includes $1.3 billion for Title IV/A Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant and $2.5 billion for the Title IIA grant, an increase of $150 million and $500 million respectively.

The education funding bill introduced in the Senate funds many programs at levels lower than the House bill. The Senate bill would provide $71.4 billion in discretionary spending on education, less than the House’s proposed budget of $75.9 billion for the Education Department.  Title IVA Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants did receive a $50 million increase over last year in the Senate bill. Title IIA, which funds teacher professional development would be level funded.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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