CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS
FY 2020 Appropriations Finalized with Increases to Student Aid Programs
Before a December 20, 2019 deadline, Congress passed and the President signed into law two appropriations packages that fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2020, avoiding a government shutdown. The final spending packages included increases to student aid funding and other programs of importance to the higher education community. The law increases the maximum individual Pell Grant award to $6,345, an increase of $150 over the FY 2019 level. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program was provided a $25 million increase for a total of $865 million in FY 2020, and the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program received a $50 million increase for a total of $1.2 billion in FY 2020. Grant programs for Minority Serving-Institutions (MSIs), the TRIO and GEAR UP programs, the Title VI foreign language and training programs, the Teacher Quality Partnerships program, and other higher education programs received funding increases as well. Notably, the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program was flat funded at $23 million. On the research front, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) received $623.5 million, $8 million higher than the FY 2019 enacted level.
Other funding provided by the bill will go to the Centers of Excellence for Veterans Student Success Program, which has not operated in several years; the Open Textbooks pilot grant program; and a “Career Pathway” grant program “to expand and improve career pathways opportunities for students beginning in high school,” such as evidence-based career exploration systems. Congress also directed the Department to address the administration of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, guidance on "Ability to Benefit," and student loan servicing. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is further directed to address simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as it relates to data sharing between the Department and the Internal Revenue Service and to provide improvements to the "Return to Title IV" progress.
Of note, the law calls on ED to engage with institutions to address confusion on the foreign gift reporting requirements found in Section 117 of the Higher Education Act. An explanatory statement further states that as ED provides guidance on reporting modifications, institutions “should be given adequate time to ensure proper reporting.”
Also included within the final FY 2020 spending package were several tax provisions of interest to higher education. The non-profit “parking tax” would be repealed which was created by the 2017 tax law and treated tax-exempt employer provided parking and transportation benefits as unrelated business income. The 2017 tax law's "kiddie tax" would also be repealed, protecting students from that law’s increase in tax rates for taxable scholarships. Finally, the package includes the retroactive reinstatement and extension of the above-the-line tuition deduction.
Sources and Additional Information:
Congress Extends MSI Funding; HEA Outlook Remains Uncertain
On December 19, 2019, President Trump signed into law H.R. 5365, the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) Title III, Part F programs permanently at the current level of $225 million per year. The Title III, Part F programs, whose funding had expired at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2019, provide institutional aid from the U.S. Department of Education to historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and other minority-serving institutions (MSI), including the Hispanic-Serving Institution STEM grant program.
Prior to passage, the U.S. Senate amended the FUTURE Act to include the Faster Access to Federal Student Aid Act of 2018, a bill from the previous Congress that would require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to disclose certain tax information to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for the purposes of more easily verifying students’ income and eligibility for federal student financial aid. According to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), this change would allow for the elimination of 22 questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), one of his long-time top priorities.
Several reports have indicated that the success of the FUTURE Act had restarted talks between Chairman Alexander and Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) on a bipartisan HEA reauthorization bill. Although the two sides had been working on a reauthorization earlier in 2019, negotiations had stalled over issues related to Title IX sexual harassment and student aid issues. It remains to be seen if the Senate will be able to put together a bill that would earn the support of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, who support a comprehensive HEA reauthorization. According to a recent estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the House’s HEA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4674, the College Affordability Act, would raise spending by more than $330 billion over the next ten years.
Sources and Additional Information:
House Hearing Discusses Potential Solutions to Job Displacement and Automation
On December 18, the U.S. House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment held a hearing on “The Future of Work: Ensuring Workers are Competitive in a Rapidly Changing Economy.” Despite the hearing being held while the House was preparing to vote on Articles of Impeachment, members on both sides of the aisle showed up for a bipartisan dialogue on ways to better ensure that workers and the American economy are prepared for job displacement due to automation, global trade, and climate change. Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Davis (D-CA) criticized the current, “patchwork” workforce development system supported by the federal government, and advocated for a more comprehensive system that serves all dislocated workers. Subcommittee Ranking Member Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) expressed that skills-based education could help address the skills and employment gap and voiced his support for expanding work-based education opportunities, such as cooperative education and apprenticeships.
Seth Harris, Former Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor and one of the hearing witnesses, further advocated for increasing the number of apprenticeships, fully funding workforce programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), expanding Pell Grant eligibility to non-degree credential programs, and increasing data reporting requirements around cost and outcomes for degrees and other credentials, among other recommendations. Other topics discussed at the hearing included strengthening unions, funding the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, reforming WIOA workforce development boards, and better incentivizing businesses to invest in workforce training.
Sources and Additional Information:
Legislative Bills of Note
H.R. 3804 (Rep. Frankel, D-FL)/S. 2083 (Senator Feinstein, D-CA) - Athletics Fair Pay Act of 2019. This bill would ensure pay equity for amateur athletes.
H.R. 5294 (Rep. Adams, D-NC) - Student Borrower Protections Act of 2019. This bill would amend the Truth in Lending Act to establish a postsecondary education loan borrower bill of rights and to require certain creditors to obtain private loan certifications from institutions of higher education. It would also amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to issue rules to establish standards for reporting information related to student loans to consumer reporting agencies.
S.3040 (Sen. Rosen, D-NV) - Teacher Education for Computer Science Act. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include teacher preparation for computer science in elementary and secondary education.
S.3011 (Sen. Murray, D, WA)- Affordable Housing for Educational Achievement Demonstration Act. This bill would authorize demonstration projects to improve educational and housing outcomes for children.