House Approves Reauthorization of Higher Education Act
The House voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize the Higher Education Act last week after defeating an amendment that would have effectively made California's ban on racial and gender preferences in public-college admissions the law of the land.
By a vote of 249-171, the lawmakers decided not to withhold federal aid from public postsecondary institutions that give admissions preferences based on an applicant's race, ethnicity, or sex. Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., offered the amendment.
"The Riggs amendment was bad education policy and bad social policy," said Terry W. Hartle, the vice president of governmental relations for the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella group representing colleges and universities. "Inclusion of the amendment would have killed any higher education support for the [Higher Education Act]."
The law, which was last revised in 1993, governs most federal student-aid and teacher training programs.
The House passed its version of the reauthorization bill May 6 by a 414-4 vote. The legislation would give states federal funds for teacher training and recruitment programs, forgive college loans for teachers who work in high-poverty schools, and increase Pell Grants for needy college students.
The bill also includes a compromise measure that would reduce the interest rates that students pay on college loans from 8.1 percent to 7.4 percent, and provide an estimated $1.2 billion over five years in federal subsidies to private lenders as a way of keeping them in the federal student-loan program.
Fifty-five Republicans voted against the Riggs amendment, even though it was backed by key GOP leaders, including Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, who chairs the House education committee.
Mr. Riggs' original proposal to eliminate racial and gender preferences in admissions would have applied to all institutions that receive federal funds, including private single-sex colleges and universities. In hopes of garnering additional GOP support, the Republican lawmaker revised the amendment before it reached the House floor so that it would apply only to public colleges and universities.
"If we want affirmative action, we have to start by improving the quality of primary and secondary education in America," said Mr. Riggs, who chairs the House subcommittee on early-childhood education. "That is where affirmative action begins, not in higher education."
The American Council on Education and other organizations representing higher education lobbied hard against the amendment in the weeks before the vote.
One possible sticking point for the legislation is the provision to offer federal subsidies to lenders that issue student loans.
The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved a measure similar to the one the House passed, but the Clinton administration has criticized both versions as being too generous to lenders.
Administration officials recently approached Senate Republican leaders with a compromise proposal that would significantly lower the amount of federal subsidies.
The Senate's HEA proposal is expected to reach the floor as early as this week.
In the meantime, Mr. Goodling said the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for the HEA sends a clear message that the bill would not likely sink under a presidential veto.
"The vote was 414 to four," Mr. Goodling said in a press conference following the bill's passage. "I believe I would call that veto-proof."
A product of 18 months of negotiation, the House vote proved that "we can put aside partisan differences," said Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich. "You look at the purpose and substance of the bill, and partisanship vanishes."
Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 24Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as House Approves Reauthorization of Higher Education Act