October 17, 2021

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The Education People

Education funding on the table as Democrats hammer out budget resolution

With help from Darius Dixon and Bianca Quilantan

Editor’s note: Weekly Education is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Education policy newsletter, Morning Education. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

WHAT TO WATCH AS CONGRESS SPRINTS TOWARD THE AUGUST RECESS: A bipartisan group of Senators is racing to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure deal as the chamber returns this week. But the Senate’s next item of business will likely have bigger implications for education.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed that the Senate will pass a budget resolution before it leaves town for the August recess. That would unlock reconciliation as a tool for Democrats, allowing them to pass large swaths of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda later this fall — including education proposals — without needing GOP votes.

Senate Democrats on the budget committee earlier this month announced an agreement on a topline $3.5 trillion figure for the entire reconciliation package. The agreement includes the major education policy proposals that the White House has proposed. But Democratic leaders have not yet finalized how that $3.5 trillion will be allocated among the chamber’s various committees, which will be instructed to come up with the actual text of the sweeping package.

It’s not yet clear how much funding Biden’s various education initiatives will receive under the bill or exactly how they’ll be structured, but here’s a guide to what’s on the table:

Free community college: The Biden administration has made free community college a cornerstone of its higher education legislative agenda. The reconciliation bill is likely to be modeled on the America’s College Promise Act, which is co-sponsored by the chairs of the House and Senate education committees.

Universal pre-K: The reconciliation package will include some amount of funding to make preschool free for 3- and 4-year olds. Biden’s initial proposal called for spending $200 billion to expand pre-K.

Boosting Pell Grants: The tentative agreement among Senate Democrats on the budget committee includes Pell Grant funding, but it’s not clear how much the increase will be. The Biden administration has proposed a total $1,800 increase in the Pell grant, which it has called a down payment on its campaign promise to double the amount.

Funding for HBCUs: Senate Democrats’ framework calls for more funding for minority-serving institutions and historically black colleges. But there hasn’t been agreement yet on what that funding will look like, or how much it will be.

How do Dreamers fit in? One major issue to watch as the reconciliation package takes shape is whether undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children will be included in the education proposals. The Biden administration has proposed expanding federal student aid eligibility to students who are covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program which protects them from deportation. Democrats’ legislative proposals for free community college also allow DACA recipients to access the program.

Workforce training funding: The Biden administration has pitched $100 billion for workforce training, though it’s not yet clear how much of that will end up in Democrats’ proposal. Our colleague Elanor Mueller reported last week that some Senate Democrats are looking at a significantly lower figure, about $30 billion — a sum many of their House peers and advocates for workforce training say is inadequate.

Expanded Social Security benefits for college students: Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are pushing to expand Social Security benefits for college students in the reconciliation package. Their proposal calls for raising the cutoff age for children receiving Social Security assistance from 19 to 26 for students enrolled at least half-time in college.

School infrastructure money? Biden proposed $100 billion to build or repair new public schools across the country. That item did not make it into the bipartisan infrastructure framework that the White House agreed to with Senate negotiators. But it’s not yet clear whether an equivalent chunk of school construction money will be included in Senate Democrats’ reconciliation package. In the House, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of his chamber’s education committee, has said it’s a priority for him in the reconciliation bill.

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HOUSE RULES TO GO OVER HOT-BUTTON GOP AMENDMENTS IN SPENDING BILL: The House’s massive spending minibus spending package, including fiscal 2022 funding for the Department of Education, is slated to go before the Rules Committee this afternoon, where the panel will decide which amendments get floor votes. Republicans have introduced amendments about free speech on college campuses, Chinese government-backed “Confucius Institutes” and campus coronavirus vaccine mandates. But more than a dozen provisions have been filed specifically targeting critical race theory, which focuses on how racial discrimination has shaped the U.S. Democrats are trying to queue up the overall bill, which would boost Education Department funding by 40 percent, for a floor vote this week before lawmakers jet off for the August recess.

— Teaching about race and racism: Republicans are seeking to block federal money to Education Department programs, K-12 schools and colleges that promote anything involving CRT (or at least, what the GOP is calling CRT). What was for decades an academic framework used in legal circles to examine how racism is ingrained in American laws and institutions has evolved over the past year into a political catch-all for lots of things related to diversity and race. The minibus is being handled with a “structured” rule that limits the number of amendments considered on the floor, and Democrats will likely block the CRT measures. Still, the amendments to watch seem to be those led by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who has submitted a version of the same CRT language for each of division of the minibus.

— Funding for DACA students: Several GOP amendments would nix Democrats’ proposal in the bill to allow DACA-enrolled students to access federal student aid programs like Pell Grants.

— For-profit charter schools: Two GOP amendments would also undo a Democratic policy in the bill that’s aimed at blocking federal money to charter schools that are managed by for-profit operators.

— DeVos Title IX rule: A group of Democrats, led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), have proposed an amendment that would block the Education Department from enforcing the Trump-era Title IX regulations governing sexual misconduct. The Biden administration, which opposes the DeVos-era rule, has begun the lengthy rulemaking process to start rewriting it.

— The logistics: The committee is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. to advance the minibus, which includes health, transportation, agriculture and other divisions, to the House floor.

ALSO HAPPENING ON THE HILL THIS WEEK: The Senate Banking Committee’s economic policy subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is again turning its attention to student loans. The committee is holding a hearing Tuesday on “upcoming transitions” for borrowers amid the looming expiration of the payment pause and a major loan servicing shakeup for millions of borrowers.

House Democrats spotlight push for boosting Pell: The House education committee’s higher education subcommittee is holding a hearing Thursday morning on the Pell Grant program.

NEW POLL FINDS PARTISAN DIVIDE ON STUDENT LOAN RELIEF: Large majorities of Democratic and independent voters want to see an extension of the federal student loan payment pause beyond this fall, while most Republicans do not, according to a new poll of likely voters out this morning by Data for Progress.

— The poll, commissioned by Student Defense and the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, found bipartisan support for changing how student loans are handled in bankruptcy. Large majorities of Democrats (65 percent), independents (59 percent) and Republicans (58 percent) all said they supported treating student loan debt like other types of debt during bankruptcy proceedings.

— And the the Obama-era “gainful employment rule,” had strong support among Democrats and independents, according to the poll. More than three-quarters of Democrats said they supported bringing back the rule, meant to make sure graduates of schools that receive federal student aid can repay their loans. Republican voters were split: 44 percent supported the idea; 40 percent were opposed.

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT SEEKS IDEAS ON LOAN FORGIVENESS CHANGES: The Biden administration today is formally soliciting public comments on ways it can make it easier for public service workers to have their federal student loans forgiven.

— The Education Department is publishing in the Federal Register a request for information on possible administrative changes to how it runs the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which has been plagued by sky-high denial rates over the past several years.

— Education Department officials have already said they plan to overhaul the regulations governing the PSLF program. But the department is now also considering administrative actions that presumably could be enacted more quickly than a rulemaking process, which could stretch on for months or years.

— The Biden administration said it would solicit public comments on PSLF program changes for the next two months. The agency said it wants a wide range of feedback, from individual borrowers, advocacy groups, employers, policy experts, colleges and the student loan industry.

FOXX CALLS ON CARDONA TO DENOUNCE ABOLITIONIST TEACHING NETWORK: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) on Friday urged Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to issue a statement saying that the Education Department does not “endorse, support or otherwise encourage school districts to align with the Abolitionist Teaching Network.”

Foxx’s letter follows conservative criticism of the Education Department’s Covid-19 handbook, which linked to the nonprofit’s “Guide for Racial Justice and Abolitionist Emotional and Social Learning. The North Carolina Republican said the guide “demands ‘antiracist therapy for White educators and support staff.’” Last week, Fox News reported the department said the link to the group’s guide was included in error.

— Foxx also wants Cardona to “personally review all of the citations made in the COVID handbooks” and tell his staff “critical race theory and related policies and materials should not be referenced, referred or recommended.” She also demanded Cardona turn over any communication between department staff and the Abolitionist Teaching Network or sBettina Love, a co-founder of the group.

— The pandemic ruined third grade. Can summer school make up for it? The New York Times.

— It started with a mock ‘slave trade’ and a school resolution against racism. Now a war over critical race theory is tearing this small town apart: The Washington Post.

— Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across U.S.: The Associated Press.