What magic trick did the House perform to move the funding process along?
How did Sec. DeVos fare in this week's Democratic grilling?
Will the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program survive, even thrive?
Congress was busy this week trying to wrap a few things up as they enter an extended recess period. With the timeline for the election pressing, the momentum will continue. Remember the first Democratic presidential candidate debate is in June -- just two months away! So the pressure is on.
The Budget Control Act, as it stands now, would require dramatic cuts for education and other programs for FY 2020, which begins October 1. In order to avoid significant cuts to education and other programs, the Budget Control Act needs to be amended to increase the spending caps. While the House Budget Committee adopted new spending caps this week, Democrats were unable to find consensus and bring that provision to the House floor.
But do not despair! Where there is a will there is a way! On Wednesday the House adopted something called a "deeming resolution" which provides for $1.3 trillion for the 12 spending bills in FY 2020. The "non-defense discretionary" portion (which includes education) will be $34 billion over the FY 2019 spending level. This deeming resolution paves the way for Appropriations Chair, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), to divvy up the funding into 12 pots - one for each of the appropriations bills.
Education advocates are optimistic that education would see increases under this scenario. Chair Lowey has indicated that she intends to lay out the 12 funding levels in the next few weeks. There is a possibility that the House Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), will mark up that bill as early as the week of April 29 when Congress returns from recess. This will give education advocates a first look at hopeful funding levels for education programs for FY 2020. All reports indicate that DeLauro is ready to move the bill as soon as possible. The House spending levels will likely serve as the high-water mark in the process, as the Senate will undoubtedly insist on lower spending levels moving forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced they are beginning bi-cameral, bi-partisan talks to try to come to agreement on budget caps for the next two years. The Administration, always a wild card, will be weighing in too.
On April 10, Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos made her third appearance in the House to defend her policies. Grilled by Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) and other Democrats, her testimony was marked by multiple non-answers to questions. For example, when asked By Rep. Sablan (D-MP) if she was aware that 40 states do not include disaggregated achievement data for at least one federally required subgroup on state report cards required by federal law (ESSA), she responded that she only approves plans that comply with the law.
Other notable moments include:
Senate Hearing on Accountability
On April 10, the Senate Committee on HELP, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), held a hearing titled Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Strengthening Accountability to Protect Students and Taxpayers. This is one in a series of multiple hearings the Committee is holding as part of the bipartisan effort to put forward a reauthorization bill this summer. By all reports, negotiations are proceeding and, despite the odds, we may well see a bill coming out of the Committee in the next few months.
To watch hearing: https://www.help.senate.gov/
New Bill to Strengthen Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Both the Trump Administration and some Congressional Republicans have targeted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for elimination. This week, a group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced a bill to revise the program addressing, among other things, the inordinately high denial rate for borrowers. To date only 1% of borrowers who have applied have benefited from the program. The legislation allows partial loan forgiveness - after five years of making payments rather than requiring the current wait of 10 years. It also expands the program to borrowers of all types of federal student loans. The bill is co-sponsored by other Presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders ((-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill is called the "What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019." Multiple education organizations support the bill.