'Smooth Sailing' Predicted for Higher-Education Bill

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Having disposed of the most controversial proposals earlier in the legislative process, members of the House and Senate are expected to breeze through an upcoming conference on bills to extend the Higher Education Act.

"I hope all in all it's going to be smooth sailing,'' said Tom Wolanin, an aide to Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, and a key architect of the House bill. "The hard part is just the sheer magnitude of the things to go through rather than any major philosophical differences between the House and the Senate.''

Lobbyists also predict that the conference will be harmonious.

"It almost sounds more like a harmonic convergence than a conference,'' said Becky H. Timmons, director of Congressional liaison for the American Council on Education.

Grants and Loans

The biggest source of controversy disappeared when both the House and the Senate dropped provisions from their bills that would have made the Pell Grant program an entitlement. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1992 and March 25, 1992.)

Still, several issues remain to be resolved.

In HR 4471, the House calls for a maximum grant of $4,500 with annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index; expanded eligibility for students from families earning up to $49,000; and elimination of the value of small businesses, farms, and home equity in needs-analysis calculations.

Meanwhile, the Senate's bill, S 1150, would increase the maximum grant to $3,600 and increase it by $200 annually; expand eligibility for students from families earning up to $42,000; and eliminate the value of businesses, farms, and home equity in needs-analysis calculations for students from families earning less than $50,000.

The Senate bill includes $200 million for scholarships to Pell Grant recipients who meet certain academic requirements and participate in an early-intervention program. A similar provision in the House version would increase a student's grant by 25 percent.

But lawmakers' apparent agreement on expanding eligibility will mean little if appropriations do not increase, noted Edward Elmendorf, vice president for government relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

"The funding problem is one that is going to be difficult,'' he said, estimating that about 500,000 more students would have received Pell Grants if the Congress had voted to transfer defense spending to domestic programs.

Student-Loan Provisions

Several differences also remain over revisions to student-loan programs.

The House bill would establish a new direct-loan program that would require the Education Department to make loans directly to students via their insitutions. The program could not exceed $500 million in loan volume, and would involve higher-education institutions on a voluntary basis.

S 1150 includes no such provision, although some key Senators, including Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, have sponsored a direct-loan bill introduced after Senate passage of S 1150.

HR 4471 also allows all students to participate in the existing Stafford Student Loan program regardless of income, and provides for an in-school interest subsidy for students from families earning less than $78,500. The Senate bill does not allow for unsubsidized loans, but it expands the Supplemental Loans for Students program.

Mr. Elemendorf said the House is "tying a lot of their credibility'' to the idea of universal eligibility and unsubsidized loans.

"They're willing to fall on their sword on that and may be willing to trade some things to keep it,'' he said.

Both bills increase the maximum amount of money first-year students, other undergraduates, and graduate students can borrow, although the amounts differ slightly.

Early-Intervention Programs

While the Pell-Grant entitlement and direct-loan plans have received the most attention, the bills would also greatly expand efforts by the government to inform students and parents earlier about the importance of college and the availability of federal aid, and to reward needy, high-achieving students.

The House bill would create a program in which the Education Department would make grants to communities to develop model early-intervention programs. About $90 million would be authorized for fiscal year 1993 for grants and dissemination activities. The Senate bill would provide $100 million for similar state grants.

HR 4471 also would authorize $70 million for new grants to school districts to obtain specialized training for teachers, counselors, and principals to give students advice on college opportunities, college requirements, the admissions procedure, and financial aid.

The Senate bill would make these allowable activities under its teacher-training title.

Both bills would mandate public-information campaigns about college and the availability of financial aid, and also authorize funds to create a computerized data base on aid information and a toll-free telephone information line.

The House bill would also create a National Liberty Scholarship and Partnership program that would guarantee financial aid for participating low-income students and provide grants to similar state programs.
Teacher Training

Both bills would dramatically expand the H.E.A.'s teacher-training title, adding numerous new programs and enhancing existing ones, such as the Paul Douglas Teacher Scholarships and the Christa McAuliffe Career Teacher Corps.

Penelope M. Earley, senior director with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said the House bill would authorize about $700 million per year and the Senate bill $400 million per year for such programs. In comparison, she said, past reauthorizations have set funding ceilings of about $100 million.

The two bills differ "in ways of looking at the role of the federal government,'' Ms. Earley said.

Teacher-training provisions in S 1150, she said, are categorical programs that may or may not have connections to other programs. The House bill contains some categorical programs, she said, but states are given more flexibility, and the provisions are tied loosely to one another.

One program in HR 4471 specifically calls for partnerships between educators, parents, and state and local governments to decide how teacher education and school development programs will be run.

Nevertheless, Ms. Earley said, "when you get to the conference, this won't be the level of the debate. It'll be, 'I'll trade you this for that.'''

Both bills would authorize grants to states for the creation of teacher corps. In S 1150, the grants would be used for professional-development scholarships. The House bill would authorize awards to higher-education institutions via states to improve teacher training generally and to prepare paraprofessionals to become teachers.

Both bills also include provisions supporting alternative-certification programs and state academies for teachers and administrators--ideas promoted by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.

Other new programs include a House plan to establish partnerships between colleges and school districts to encourage minorities to become teachers, and a Senate proposal for state grants supporting model programs for middle-school teachers.

Vol. 11, Issue 31, Pages 28, 30

Published in Print: April 22, 1992, as 'Smooth Sailing' Predicted for Higher-Education Bill
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