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House to Vote on Bombshell Higher Ed Bill

By Alyson Klein — September 15, 2009 1 min read
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The House of Representatives is set to consider this legislation as early as tomorrow that would significantly expand the federal direct lending program, in which students borrow right from the U.S. Treasury. And it would effectively end the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which uses subsidized lenders.

That’s the controversial part of the legislation, but it’s not the part that’s most interesting for K-12 education. The bill also includes major new investments in community colleges, which could be used for dual enrollment programs, a brand-new prekindergarten grant program, plus funding for school facilities. It would pay for those new programs by using $87 billion in projected savings from the end of loan subsidies. (There’s considerable debate as to whether that’s a reliable number.)

The bill’s detractors have some notable criticisms of those proposed new programs. (Check out this story, in which Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican from Delaware, points out that Congress is financing these new activities without first fully funding special education.) But in the general debate over the legislation, those objections are likely to be more of an afterthought. Most of the attention will be on the lending changes.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and others held a pep rally for the bill today. And it will probably pass the House this week.

That vote will put additional pressure on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which hasn’t yet introduced its bill, to get going. (Over at the New America Foundation’s Higher Education blog, Stephen Burd has much more on the dynamics in the Senate.

It’s not clear that the Senate will go along with the student loan changes, much less the new education programs. We’ll see what brand-new chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, decides to do.

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