House Democrats Unveil Bill To Rewrite Higher-Ed. Act

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WASHINGTON--Democrats On the House Education and Labor Committee last week called for fundamental changes in federal student aid and other higher-education programs as they introduced a bill to rewrite the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Two proposals are likely to draw the ire of the Bush Administration, which has already introduced its plan to rewrite the historic law.

One would make the Pell Grant an entitlement, expand eligibility for the grant to more middle-income students, and increase the maximum grant to $4,500 annually.

Another would phase out existing loan programs and instruct the federal government to make loans directly to students.

In addition, the bill, sponsored by Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the committee and its Post- secondary Education Subcommittee, includes proposals to expand teacher-training and -recruitment efforts and-for the first time on the federal level-to establish programs that would provide counseling and information on college and financial aid to students as early as the 6th grade.

The bill also would reauthorize all existing aid programs except the Income Contingent Loan Program, a pilot effort that ties loan repayments to a graduate's income.

Tom Wolanin, the postsecondary subcommittee's staff director and the central architect of the bill, said the panel had sought to craft a bill that could be considered the H.E.A.'S first major rewrite in 20 years.

"The chairman felt quite strongly that, in his words, "We're not just going to dust off the furniture. It's time for a fundamental reorganization of the Higher Education Act,'" Mr. Wolanin said.

Mr. Ford plans to mark up the bill in the subcommittee this week, take it to the full committee soon after, and send it to the House for a vote by the Thanksgiving recess.

A final bill could be on the President's desk by next summer, allowing the law to take effect on Oct. 1, 1993.

Meanwhile, aides to senators working on their version of the H.E.A. reauthorization would not discuss details of their bill. The Senate bill will not be made public or marked up until the middle of this month, an aide said.

'Closer Evaluation' by E.D.

Michael J. Farrell, the Education Department's acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said last week that the department would review the House Democrats' bill over the next several days.

"At first glance, the bill includes a lot of what we've asked for to tighten up the student-aid programs, and I appreciate that," he said. "Other areas will need closer evaluation."

The Administration's bill suggests that Pell Grants be targeted to students coming from families earning less than $20,000 annually, and that middle-income students rely on loans. It does not include a direct-loan proposal, although such a plan was first suggested by a member of Mr. Bush's domestic-policy staff.

Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Education and Labor Committee, said in an interview that he had not seen the bill. Informed of the provisions regarding direct loans and Pell Grants, Mr. Goodling said he opposed them.

"You can't reduce the deficit that way, "he said. "A lot more thought has to go into these things. They both can be tremendously expensive."

Indexing Pell Grants

The House Democrats' proposal to make the Pell Grant an entitlement takes note of the fact that since 1972, when the grant was first authorized, appropriations for the program have met the authorization level only three times.

The bill also proposes that the maximum grant be increased to $4,500, from $2,400, and that it be indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

"We cannot simply write empty promises into law," Mr. Wolamn said.

The bill would remove a provision in the H.E.A. that limits Pell Grants to 60 percent of the cost of attendance. In addition, it will include a provision expanding grant eligibility to students coming from families earning as much as $50,000 a year, Mr. Wolanin said, although the details are not complete.

Although final figures are not available, he said, the changes would roughly double the cost of the programs, to nearly $11 billion.

In another effort to expand aid to middle-income students, the bill would allow students coming from all income levels to borrow from the federal government.

However, only students who met a needs test would qualify for an interest subsidy while they remained in school. Other students, presumably those from families earning upward of $50,000, Mr. Wolanin said, would be able to borrow, but would be required to begin paying back the loans after a short grace period.

By the 1996-97 school year, all current loan programs, which use banks and guarantor agencies as middlemen, would be phased out and be replaced by a direct-loan system.

Under the plan, the government would raise the seed money for loans by selling Treasury bends. It would then turn the money over to colleges, which would administer the loans. Promissory notes would be turned over to private contractors hired by the Education Department.

Colleges would be able to participate as early as the 1994-95 academic year, when the program would begin. Schools that failed to sign up by 199697 would lose eligibility for all federal-aid programs.

Early Information

In addition to authorizing a minimum of $170,000 for the TRIO programs, the House Democrats' bill would establish five other programs to assist students at an early age in understanding the financial-aid process and thinking about college:

  • The "National Liberty Scholarships and Partnerships Programs," which would authorize $250 million to provide matching grants to states for aid and partnership programs.
  • "Model Program Community Partnership Counseling Grants," which would authorize $90 million for partnerships focusing on mentoring, tutoring, and student services.
  • "Presidential Achievement Scholars," who would receive a 25 percent bonus to their Pell Grants if they participated for three years in an early- intervention program and met certain academic requirements.
  • "Technical Assistance for Teachers and Counselors," which would authorize $70 million for school districts to train guidance counselors and teachers in early-outreach methods for publicizing financial aid.
  • A $20-million public-information campaign on financial aid.

As expected, the bill also would authorize additional teacher-training and -recruitment efforts. (See Education Week, Sept. 11, 1991.)

Vol. 11, Issue 05, Pages 23, 29

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