Panel Delays Action on Higher-Education Bill
Washington--Members of the House Postsecondary Education Committee agreed to table temporarily a bill introduced by Representative Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, that would increase the amount of Pell grants and make them federal entitlements, establish an elaborate program to improve precollegiate teaching, and raise the overall funding level for postsecondary education.
The bill would reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965, the charter for all federal higher-education policy that is due to expire at the end of 1985.
Mr. Simon, the chairman of the subcommittee, had urged his colleagues to begin marking up the bill, HR 5240, while holding off debate on its controversial student-assistance segments. But subcommittee members from both parties suggested that the entire bill be tabled until there is more consensus among members about what should be done and more support from the higher-education community for the plan.
There is no requirement that a reauthorization bill be passed this year, but Mr. Simon told members of the subcommittee that they should attempt "to pass a strong bill now as a benchmark " He urged passage of the legislation to "see to it that this nation goes where it ought to go. ... The subcommittee can set criteria for leaders of both parties."
His call for making Pell Grants a federal entitlement available to all students who are eligible, Mr. Simon said, was clearly "in the national interest."
"I don't think it will hurt anyone to vote for an entitlement for higher education," he added.
But following a discussion among the subcommittee's members, he agreed to cancel the mark-up sessions on the bill until additional hearings and meetings with higher-education leaders are completed.
During the discussion, Representative E. Thomas Coleman, Republican of Missouri, said he thinks that "this is the wrong bill at the wrong time for the wrong reason."
Reading excerpts from letters from higher-education representatives, Mr. Coleman said that disagreement among college and university officials over the various segments of the bill "has only worsened."
Mr. Coleman cited a letter from John Phillips, the president of the 900-member National Association of Independent Colleges and Uni6versities, which said that discussion of the bill should be postponed until an "adequate data base" indicating the effects of the changes can be established.
He also said that a letter written late last month by J.W. Peltason, president of the American Council on Education, indicated it would be "premature" to say that the changes proposed in the bill represented a consensus of the higher-education community.
Lack of Bipartisan Support
According to Mr. Coleman and other members of the subcommittee, higher-education reauthorization bills have traditionally relied on bipartisan support in the House subcommittee to ensure bipartisan support in the House and Senate. They said there was no such support for HR 5240 this year.
Mr. Coleman added that Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and the ranking minority member in the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, has said that the Senate subcommittee will pass a higher-education reauthorization bill this session "over my dead body."
Since "there has been no change in Senator Pell's health or his position [on the matter]," Mr. Coleman said, the subcommittee should table the legislation.
Pell Grant Entitlement
The bill, which was introduced by Mr. Simon and 25 other members on March 22, would raise the maximum Pell Grant award from $1,900 to $3,000 and make the grants federal entitlements available to all who qualify; the awards would also be granted to first-year graduate students.
Among numerous other provisions, the bill would eliminate the 5-percent loan-origination fee now assessed students under the Guaranteed Student Loan Program; encour-age more emphasis on cooperative-education programs that combine occupation-related work experience with a student's curriculum; provide funds to upgrade research facilities and enhance libraries; help ailing black colleges through a new program; and establish endowment-development programs to assist in institutional growth.
To improve quality in elementary and secondary education, the bill would implement several recommendations of the U.S. Merit Pay Task Force, a blue-ribbon committee of educators, parents, administrators, and lawmakers chaired by Mr. Simon, that issued a 13-point report last fall.
The bill includes provisions to initiate a national program of university-run summer institutes and workshops to offer training to 200,000 teachers each year in advanced subjects, emerging technologies, and teaching skills; "talented teacher fellowships" to reward and nurture excellent teaching in the classroom; and 10,000 merit-based scholarships of $5,000 each to be given to outstanding high-school graduates who wish to enter the teaching profession. The scholarships would be repaid on the basis of two years of teaching service for each year of scholarship aid received.