House, Senate Panels Approve Student-Aid Revisions

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WASHINGTON--House and Senate panels last week cleared separate bills that would rewrite federal higher-education and student-aid programs.

HR 3553, the more controversial of the two proposals for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, cleared the House Education and Labor Committee last week with its most contentious provisions intact.

The committee's Republicans failed during two days of debate to remove provisions that would make the Pell Grant program an entitlement and replace the Guaranteed Student Loan program with direct loans.

As a result, only one Republican, Representative Tom Petri of Wisconsin, voted with 25 Democrats in favor of the bill.

The House bill also would increase the maximum Pell award to $4,500 and expand eligibility for the program.

The Senate education subcommittee, meanwhile, last week approved its version of the bill, which does not include a direct-loan proposal and has a Pell Grant entitlement provision that would not go into effect until the 1997-98 academic year.

Ford Issues Challenge

During debate on the House bill, Representative William D. Ford of Michigan, who chairs both the full committee and its Postsecondary Education Subcommittee, issued a challenge to his fellow Democrats.

"No matter what happens to the rest of this program, the Pell Grant entitlement has got to stay because it's the only way this committee can stick its head above the parapet'and I'm inviting you to be shot at-stick its head above the parapet and say that education for the the year 2000 is a number-one priority," Mr. Ford said.

"The committee can only pass on recommendations and if [other members of the Congress] can't take it, they won't do it. And then they better stop criticizing the White House," he added.

Representative E. Thomas Coleman of Missouri, the subcommittee's ranking Republican, noted that the Administration had threatened a veto of any bill including either the Pell Grant entitlement or a direct-loan program, and offered an amendment striking those provisions.

Mr. Coleman argued that the entitlement provision would be too costly and that too many questions surround the direct-loan proposal to go forward with it.

The amendment failed on a 26-to-15 party-line vote. Mr. Coleman, asking the committee to take "one little step before jumping off a cliff," then offered another amendment to require the direct-loan program to be tested using 100 schools. That amendment failed on a 27-to-13 vote.

In other action on the bill, the committee approved amendments to: . Remove from eligibility for federal aid programs repeat drug offenders and first-time offenders who do not seek rehabilitation.

  • Require the Education Department to collect financial information on college athletics departments.
  • Authorize $170 million for achievement awards for Pell recipients.
  • Remove the authority of the Education Department's inspector general to make arrests without a warrant, conduct searches, and carry firearms. (See Education Week, May 2, 1990.)

Seven-Year Senate Bill

The Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee voted unanimously after only an hour of debate to send its bill, S 1150, to the full Labor and Human Resources Committee, which is expected to take it up this week.

S 1150 has an estimated total authorization level of $17.4 billion for the first year. It would extend the H.E.A. for seven years, instead of the customary five, and activate the Pell Grant entitlement in fiscal 1997.

The bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant award from $2,400 to $3,600 in fiscal 1993, and increase the maximum by $200 increments annually thereafter. An additional $100 million would be authorized for a bonus to Pell recipients who met certain academic standards and participated in an early-intervention program.

In addition, students enrolled in a four-year college program would be eligible for grants for six years, and students coming from families earning up to $40,000 would be eligible for the grant. The bill would remove home or farm equity from aid calculations.

The bill would increase the annual loan limit to $3,000 for first- and second-year students obtaining Stafford loans, and increase the limit to $5,000 for other undergraduate borrowers.

The bill also strengthens eligibility standards for institutions that participate in the loan program and the agencies that monitor them.

Like the House bill, S 1150 would authorize new programs to encourage the provision of counseling and information on college and financial aid to students as early as the 6th grade, although the House provisions are more extensive. ('See Education Week, Oct. 2, 1991.)

The Senate measure also includes proposals for new teacher-training and teacher-recruitment programs similar to those in the House bill, including state and national teacher academies, a program to foster alternative routes to teacher certification, and a new Teacher Corps.

Teaching Board Funded

The two bills also include provisions authorizing federal funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said in July that the Administration was dropping its longstanding opposition to funding for the beard, and some Congressional sources said they had been told Administration officials would no longer lobby against funding. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

But a letter from Mr. Alexander stating the Administration's position on the House bill lists that provision as one that officials object to.

Senator Ornn G. Hatch of Utah, the Labor and Human Resources Committee's ranking Republican, also listed it as one of his objections at the markup last week, but the Republicans did not move to strike it.

When the bill comes up before the full committee, Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, the subcommittee's ranking Republican, plans to offer an amendment that would strike the Pell Grant entitlement provision.

In addition, Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, has been seeking support for a direct-loan program that he is sponsoring with Senator Dave Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota.

The Simon-Durenberger proposal would require the Education Department to make loans directly to students. Repayments then would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service through the tax-withholding system. The rate of repayment would vary according to income.

Mr. Simon argued that the proposal would simplify the administration of student loans for both the Education Department and schools. It would encourage students to base their employment decisions on reasons other than earning enough money to pay back college loans, he said.

Other senators remained skeptical, however, questioning whether the Education Department has the capacity to administer such a program, whether the I.R.S. would be willing to devote resources to the program, and whether colleges and universities support the proposal.

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Pages 20, 22

Published in Print: October 30, 1991, as House, Senate Panels Approve Student-Aid Revisions
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