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House Panel Spars Over Reconciliation Package’s Higher Ed Provisions

In a lengthy markup the House Education and Labor Committee advanced their portion of the reconciliation package that would invest roughly $111 billion in funding for programs related to higher education.

House Panel Spars Over Reconciliation Package's Higher Ed Provisions

NASFAA / Hugh T. Ferguson / September 10, 2021

In a lengthy markup the House Education and Labor Committee advanced their portion of the reconciliation package that would invest roughly $111 billion in funding for programs related to higher education.

The 28-22 vote to move the package's education and labor related provisions was unsurprisingly approved along party lines.

The text of the legislation was unveiled on Wednesday and during Thursday's markup the committee made their way through more than three dozen amendments touching on issues that pertained to policies and regulations concerning the Department of Education (ED) as well as the Department of Labor.

The committee adopted a substitute amendment and a manager'samendment, both of which were offered by chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). The manager's amendment contained a number of minor technical changes including one provision that, according to Scott, would clarify that funding provided to ED's Office of Inspector General can be used for oversight activities regarding any departmental programs.

On the higher education front Democrats highlighted the measure's increased investments in the Pell Grant, funding for tuition-free community college as well as other provisions that would aim to make access to higher education more affordable for students.

During the markup Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment subcommittee, said she looked forward to advancing the bill but added that funding levels for higher education programs should have gone further.

"While I support this legislation it is important to acknowledge that it is far from perfect. I have called for a larger increase to the maximum Pell Grant and more robust tuition subsidies along with greater funding for teacher preparation," Wilson said. "We cannot further cut any funding for the Build Back Better Act even with the robust investments made here we are still shortchanging vital programs."

For the Pell Grant program the text would offer a $500 increase to the maximum grant for the 2022-23 award year, and for each award year through 2029-30. Though larger than the small grant increases passed in recent years through the annual appropriations process, the $500 boost proposed for award year 2022-23 falls short of the $1,475 increase included in the Biden administration's American Families Plan and the commitment to doubling Pell expressed by the president on the campaign trail and since taking office.

During the markup Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) offered and withdrew an amendment that would aim to ensure that HBCUs have equitable access to funds provided by the package and are not disadvantaged in trying to access federal resources.

Throughout the markup the committee rejected all amendments offered by Republican colleagues including amendments that would:

—implement means testing for students eligibility in free community college;

—prohibit Pell Grant recipients from conducting research on behalf on Chinese institutions;

—prohibit federal funding for institutions of higher education that fund Confucius Institutes;

—require a GAO study on the legislation's impact on reducing higher education costs;

—require institutions to repay the federal government a portion of received Pell Grant funding should a student not complete their program;

—aim to protect free-speech on college campuses;

—rescinds Pell Grant eligibility for individuals enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients program;

—aim to curb student loan borrowing by limiting the amount of debt a student can accrue in pursuit of their degree; and

—eliminate the proposal's $500 increase to the Pell Grant program.

In order to enact the package Democrats do not need to rely on a single Republican vote on either chamber however slim majorities offer the Biden administration little room for any defections.

The entirety of the bill is still being written and marked up by relevant committees and will likely see more alterations in the weeks ahead.