Now Hearing HEA

DC Shuttle …

Hearings Begin on HEA Reauthorization. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing of the 114th Congress on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The hearing marks the beginning of efforts by new Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to reauthorize HEA. Tuesday’s hearing focused on a report released last Friday by the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. The report, entitled “Recalibrating Regulations of Colleges and Universities,” contained four sections relating to college and university regulation and reporting requirements and set forth 59 specific proposals to make the regulations more feasible for institutions. Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) both expressed optimism about moving forward with a bipartisan higher education bill. Said Alexander, “I’m delighted with the bipartisan support for this, I’m delighted with Secretary Duncan’s attitude toward it because the department itself can do something with this.” To learn more about the report and hearing, please see the Chronicle of Higher Education or the Washington Post.


529 College Savings Plan Legislation Passes House. The House overwhelmingly approved legislation expanding Section 529 tax-free college savings accounts. The bill, H.R. 529, was introduced by Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) after President Barack Obama’s administration indicated its desire to reduce the plans. The bill passed in the House would expand the types of expenses which qualify for the savings accounts. Among the expenses added would be computer equipment, software and Internet access expenses. The legislation would also allow funds to be re-deposited without penalties if a student withdraws from college. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Obama, who quickly withdrew his proposal to reduce the plans after it raised furor from both parties last month, would not oppose the legislation. Earnest did reiterate the administration’s belief that the bill would not expand or simplify tax benefits to the middle class. “The proposal before Congress would not achieve these goals and focus[es] exclusively on education savings plans that focus on less than 3% of American families,” Earnest told reporters.


STEM Education Act Passes House. The House passed the STEM Education Act of 2015 Wednesday, which would add computer science to the definition of STEM education for federal policy purposes and would expand grant opportunities for teachers of STEM subjects. The act would also open federal STEM grants to more informal STEM centers and programs, such as those in museums, science centers and after-school programs. It was introduced by Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, who released a joint press release after the passage. The bill received widespread bipartisan support, passing 412 to 8. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Campus Sexual Assault Bill Introduced. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. It bears the same name as a bill introduced last summer and would make many of the same changes including: the designation of confidential advisors to support victims of sexual assault, specialized training for everyone who handles campus rape cases, a biennial survey of students and a rule which would confiscate 1% of the operating budgets of institutions that violate the terms of the bill. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a bipartisan group of representatives announced they would soon introduce a companion bill in the House.

Senators Object to Student Loan Profits. A group of Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week. In the letter, the senators objected to the $110 billion profit the Department of Education is predicted to make from student loans in the next decade, according to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office. The letter also objected to certain department policies relating to the reclamation of loans. The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). For more information, please see Bloomberg.

Student Success Act to Reauthorize NCLB Debated in House. Tthe House considered H.R. 5, the Student Success Act but put a vote on final passage of the act on hold to focus on the Department of Homeland Security funding. The law would reauthorize the Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 for the first time since 2002, when the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was passed. The Student Success Act is very similar to legislation of the same name that passed the House in 2013. Both the 2013 and the current Student Success Act were introduced by Congressman John Kline (R-MN), who currently serves as the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The House Rules Committee announced that it would allow 44 of the 125 submitted amendments to be considered in debate on the floor. The Washington Post reported that the bill is expected to be the subject of great debate in the House, as many Democrats and some conservative Republicans oppose the measure. Kline confirmed that the whip vote was close at the time the vote was postponed. White House officials have already announced that Obama will veto the legislation should it reach his desk. The Department of Education reiterated the administration’s concerns about the bill, releasing a report detailing H.R. 5’s proposed affects on funding to minority schools. Meanwhile in the Senate, HELP Committee Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray  are still working on crafting a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESEA. Murray took advantage of the House vote postponement to call on House Republicans and Democrats to work together on a bipartisan bill.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of March 2, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit:  


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