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HEA Reauthorization Bill Passes House Education Subcommittee

HEA Reauthorization Bill Passes House Education Subcommittee
By Charles Pekow

A revamped Higher Education Act cleared its first hurdle, but not smoothly. The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness approved the College Access and Opportunity Act of 2005 with several provisions to augment student aid, such as increasing Pell Grants and reducing costs and barriers for students seeking financial aid. But the bill passed on a party-line vote as Democrats said provisions would actually weaken student aid. The full committee on Education and the Workforce was poised to vote on the measure as of press time.

The bill includes “the single largest cuts to the student aid programs ever,” lamented ranking subcommittee Democrat Dale Kildee of Minnesota. He complained that the bill would raise the student loan interest rate cap from 6.8 percent to 8.25 percent. “As a result of this change, the typical student borrower could be forced to pay $2,600 more for his or her college loans,” Kildee warned.

The bill would increase the maximum authorized Pell Grant to $6,000 and allow year-round Pell Grants. The subcommittee also approved an amendment by Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., whose district has been ravaged by hurricanes, that would allow the Department of Education to waive the repayment of Pell Grants for students who have to withdraw from school in federally designated disaster areas. And the bill would remove the “tuition sensitivity” clause that restricts the amount of Pell funding students at low-cost schools can get.

A new Pell Grants Plus program would allow Pell Grant recipients to receive an additional $1,000 in each of their first two years of college if they completed a State Scholars Program during high school. To get the second year, they would have to maintain a B average as a freshman.
The bill also includes an Academic Bill of Rights that opposes — with no force of law — discrimination against students for expressing political opinions. It also includes an amendment offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., that would prohibit the Education Department from creating a federal database of personal information about individual students. “To create a federal database of personal student information is an unacceptable way to go about this and sacrifices privacy of students,” Foxx says. The amendment does not affect the existing database on student loan borrowers.

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