Monday, February 04, 2008

HEA Scheduled for House Floor Action Next Week

Even by congressional standards, it is an understatement to say that the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) has been long and complicated. HEA reauthorization has been a pending issue for more than four years, over multiple sessions of Congress. A number of bills have been drafted and considered, but to date, no comprehensive bill has won approval from the House and Senate. This week, it looks as though an HEA reauthorization bill will get closer to enactment when the House debates its bill, HR 4137.

George Miller (D-Calif.), House Education and Labor Committee chairman, unveiled a comprehensive bill that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (HR 4137), last November. The bill, which is close to 800 pages in length, was subsequently marked up by the House Education and Labor Committee and approved by a vote of 45-0. The measure makes thousands of changes to current law.

The bill's supporters portray it as an effort to control college costs and make it easier for more people to attend college. It would increase the authorized maximum Pell grant award to $9,000 from the current level of $5,800 and creates a number of new initiatives that would ostensibly bring transparency to college costs and value, including an effort to encourage states to maintain their investments in college financing. It also would impose new disclosure and reporting requirements on student loan lenders to address what some consider an industry with insufficient oversight.

The measure would make changes to federal investments in teacher preparation programs, streamlining the current grant program in Title II and increasing accountability for participating colleges of education. The bill also proposes various new programs, including one to create a new early childhood education professional development and career task force. New college access programs are authorized, as are new student safety and campus emergency management proposals, databases to share information with students on available financial resources and efforts meant to promote environmentally friendly practices on campuses.

Although the bill is broadly supported, floor debate could be lengthy, particularly if an "open rule" is adopted that would allow numerous amendments to be considered. Since this could be the only major piece of education legislation considered by this Congress, many members may seek the opportunity to discuss their particular education priorities.

HR 4137 is scheduled to be on the floor of the House on Thursday. Members hoping to have amendments debated have been told to have those amendments to the Rules Committee by Tuesday.

No comments: