GOP, Democrats Settle Education Subcommittee Dispute
Subcommittees to share responsibility of minority institutions
Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives have reached a bipartisan agreement that ends a testy debate on the oversight of Black and Hispanic-serving colleges.
Congressional Black Caucus members and other Democrats had complained bitterly about a plan that had placed HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges outside the subcommittee with chief responsibility for higher education. Under this original plan, Black and Hispanic-serving colleges fell under the Select Education subcommittee, while most of the federal government’s other college-level programs were given to a subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness (see Black Issues, March 15).
In protest, Democrats had boycotted all subcommittee meetings under the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2001.
But the new agreement gives both subcommittees input into HBCU and HSI policy. Specifically, the 21st Century Competitiveness panel gets “jurisdiction” over HBCU, HSI and tribal-college programs, while the Select Education subcommittee will have “oversight responsibility” for these colleges.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, called the agreement a “fair and equitable solution” to the problem. On the Democratic side, Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., represented the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, represented the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in discussions leading to the March 15 agreement.
Critics of the plan turned up the heat in early March as the House Democratic Caucus passed a resolution criticizing the new structure. Earlier, some Democrats had argued the new framework amounted to “segregating” HBCUs and HSIs from other higher education programs.
“It’s unfortunate that Republicans don’t view these colleges and universities as part of the Higher Education Act,” said Reps. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Martin Frost, D-Texas, vice chair and chair of the caucus, in a joint statement. “By placing historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribally controlled colleges out of the subcommittee which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, Republicans have jeopardized the important role these colleges and universities play in higher education.”
But Boehner, who designed the new structure, also went on the offensive in early March, asserting that the plan would enhance – not harm – minority-serving institutions.
“HBCUs and HSIs belong in a subcommittee that will give them the special attention they deserve – not one in which they’ll be competing for time, resources and funding,” said Boehner.
Congressional aides were left to explain precise details of the new arrangement, with one noting that the Competitiveness panel likely would consider all new bills affecting minority-serving colleges as well as changes to existing legislation. The Select Education panel could hold oversight hearings to monitor issues of importance to HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges, aides said.
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