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House Approves Higher Education Act Reauthorization

On March 30, the House approved, 221-199, a bill (H.R. 609) reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). Established in 1965 and last reauthorized in 1998 (P.L. 105-244), the Higher Education Act provides federal aid for postsecondary schools and low-income postsecondary students. Portions of the HEA dealing with mandatory federal student loans were reauthorized under the spending reconciliation law (P.L. 109-171).

The House approved, by voice vote, a manager’s amendment sponsored by Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA) which, in addition to making technical changes, would change the authorization period for the bill’s programs to FY2007-FY2012. The amendment also would reauthorize a study on female participation in intercollegiate sports.

An amendment by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA) to establish pregnant and parenting student services offices was adopted by voice vote. The offices would help students make use of child care, family housing, flexible academic scheduling, counseling, and support groups. Noting that “27 percent of all undergraduates are parents; 34 percent of all graduate students are parents; one-half of undergraduate students are single parents; and about a third of graduate students are single parents,” Rep. Hart cited parental education as the key to improving these families’ lives. Raising the issue of abortion, she said, “Forty-five percent of the women who have abortions are college-age women. Many, unfortunately, have them because they fear that they cannot complete their study. They fear they cannot support the child, and there are no resources to help them continue their education while having their child. They also lack the financial resources to afford child care. The amendment is an important step in providing much-needed services for these students so they will bear their children and also finish their education.”

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) offered an amendment to extend loan forgiveness to child and mental health professionals as part of the national need loan forgiveness program. The amendment was adopted, 380-38. Rep. Kennedy stated, “This is a problem that needs addressing, and we need the number of providers out there to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. This year alone, 1,400 college students will successfully take their lives…Two-thirds of those in juvenile detention facilities are being held there simply because they cannot get a mental health appointment because there is no one to provide an assessment of them, two-thirds. Any of my colleagues that are interested, I encourage them to go out to Oak Hill here in the District of Columbia and see for yourself 11- and 12-year-olds behind bars because their parents cannot handle their mental illness. They have no other choice but to call the police and get their children held in detention because there is nothing else for them to do.” Education and the Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) offered a Democratic substitute that was defeated, 200-220.

The College Access and Opportunity Act would reauthorize federal student aid programs through FY2012, including an increase in the maximum Pell Grant to $6,000 for the academic years 2006-07 through 2012-13. The measure also would allow year-round students to be eligible for two Pell Grants during a 12-month academic year. The committee report notes that “students studying year-round or on a non-traditional schedule” are limited with the current option of Pell Grants “based on the traditional two semester academic year.” Year-round Pell Grants, the report states, “will reduce costs to students and move them through their programs more quickly, thus allowing institutions to increase enrollments and accelerate course completion and graduation for students.”

H.R. 609 would limit Pell Grant eligibility to the equivalent of 18 semesters or 27 quarters. The committee report acknowledges the “growth in part-time attendance” and explains that “basing the limit on semesters or quarters rather than years…protects the ability of part-time and nontraditional students to pursue a degree over an extended number of years.” The report commends Internet-based distance learning as a “cost-effective” method for “a new and non-traditional group of students” and applauds “innovative reform programs with the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) program for non-traditional student populations and programs that work to improve secondary school and college graduation rates.”

The bill would tighten a restriction on Pell Grant and federal student loan eligibility for convicted sexual predators. The committee report explains, “Current law prohibits a student who is incarcerated in a State or Federal penal institution from receiving Federal student loans and Pell Grants. However, some State laws allowed jurors to confine the worst sexual predators to mental health facilities. Offenders in these centers are not called ‘inmates’ but ‘residents.’ Therefore, current law permits these offenders to qualify for Pell Grants. In the past year alone, over 50 sexual predators residing in one mental health facility in Florida have received over $200,000 to take college courses, paid for by U.S. taxpayer dollars through the Pell Grant program.” The committee report asserts that this provision targets “a very specific and particularly dangerous group of offenders” while not interfering with their “rehabilitation or education.”

To assist promising low-income students, the bill would create a new program entitled, Pell Grants Plus Achievement Grants for State Scholars. According to the committee report, “This initiative will provide for up to an additional $1,000 for the first two years of full-time undergraduate study to Pell-eligible, high achieving students. To be eligible…a student must be enrolled full-time in the first year of undergraduate education and not have been previously enrolled in an undergraduate program. The student must also be Pell eligible and have successfully completed a high school program supported by the Center for State Scholars.”

Two programs established under the 1998 reauthorization would be reauthorized under H.R. 609: the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which provides funds to schools to establish or expand child care centers to serve low-income students; and a grant program to help colleges reduce violence against women on college campuses.

 

H.R. 609 would create the College Access Initiative, a program to improve the dissemination of information on student aid. The committee report notes that the secretary of education would be required to establish a directory of programs that would be available over the Internet. The report also states that H.R. 609 would direct the secretary to “make a special effort to notify students and parents who qualify for free lunch, food stamps, or other such programs, of their potential eligibility for a maximum Pell Grant.”

Under the measure, states would be allowed to use Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants “to improve the qualifications of preschool teachers, which may include State certification for such teachers; to improve and expand preschool teacher preparation programs; and to reduce unnecessary burdens to the attainment of a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and increase the number of bilingual early childhood educators.” Additionally, H.R. 609 would grant loan forgiveness to a person “employed as an early childhood educator in an eligible preschool program or child care facility in a low-income community, and who is involved directly in the care, development and education of infants, toddlers, or young children through age five.”

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