NAICU Washington Update

Student Aid Funding a Priority in House Bill

June 22, 2015

When the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee wrote its bill June 17, with $3.7 billion less than last year to work with, it made federal student aid funding a priority amongst competing worthy programs. It also included language prohibiting the Department of Education from implementing regulations that overreach into academic freedom.

Specifically, the bill provides the following funding for student aid:

  • Pell Grant maximum of $5,915, which is the scheduled increase for 2016-17;
  • SEOG level funded at $733 million;
  • Work Study level funded at $990 million;
  • TRIO increased by $60 million, to $900 million; and
  • GEAR UP increased by $21 million, to $322 million.

The bill also provides $1.4 billion for student aid administration.

The funding of the student aid programs is a positive step in the FY 2016 funding process, which started with the budget resolution proposal to cut student aid by $150 billion over the next 10 years. Funding for K-12 programs did not fare as well, with 20 program eliminations and level funding for Title I; while Special Education was increased by $500 million, and Head Start was increased by $192 million. The National Institutes of Health were increased by $1 billion.

In addition to the funding success for student aid, the bill also includes language prohibiting any funding from being used to implement Department of Education regulations on:

  • State authorization;
  • Credit hour;
  • Teacher preparation;
  • Gainful employment; or
  • To create a college ratings system.

The inclusion of these prohibitions is very important to private non-profit colleges to be able to serve their missions, and guide their students to achieve success. There was bipartisan agreement that many areas deserve additional funding if a big budget deal can be crafted that increases the subcommittee allocation.

The next step in the House is consideration by the full Committee on Appropriations, June 24, then a floor vote sometime before the August recess. The next step in the Senate is subcommittee markup, scheduled for June 23.

How the Labor-HHS-Education bill fits into the bigger budget picture remains to be seen. The House has written 10 of the 12 spending bills, and passed 6 of them on the floor, while the Senate has written 6 bills. The House will continue bringing its bills to the floor, and expects them to pass. The Senate failed to debate the Defense spending bill last week when Democrats filibustered consideration, hoping to force Republicans to the negotiating table on a broad budget agreement. Senate Republicans are not ready for that conversation, and will continue writing bills and bringing them to the floor.

If spending bills are not passed, conferenced, and sent to the president for signature, a variety of options exist to avoid a government shutdown. There could be another negotiated two-year deal similar to Ryan-Murray in 2013, which taps into the need to raise the debt ceiling this fall, and could address budget caps, sequestration, and entitlement spending. This would be better than a one-year deal that has to be renegotiated in an election year. An omnibus bill using creative accounting to provide higher non-defense discretionary spending through regular appropriations, and higher defense spending through the Overseas Contingency Operations account is another option. The last resort would be a series of continuing resolutions, or a long-term continuing resolution, which lowers baseline funding for all programs.

We will monitor the situation as appropriators do their work, and Congressional leadership makes the decisions on how to move forward.

MORE News from NAICU