House Republicans Slash $61B in Continuing Resolution - Higher Education
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House Republicans Slash $61B in Continuing Resolution

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by Joyce Jones

After four days and nights of free-flowing and often intense debate, the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 235-189 a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through September 30. The measure, which reduces government spending by $61 billion, includes significant cuts to student aid programs, but also maintains or increases spending levels for others.

“This week, for the first time in many years, the people’s House was allowed to work its will — and the result was one of the largest spending cuts in American history,” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “For the good of our economy and our democracy, I call on Senate Majority Leader Reid to allow it to come to an immediate vote.”

H.R. 1 reduces the maximum Pell Grant by $845 and eliminates funding for the federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Liberal Education and America’s Promise campaign. Provisions to strengthen HBCUs increased from $85 million to $98.3 million. Funding for Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges also increased from $10.8 million to $11.3 million, and $30.2 million to $31.7 million, respectively. Meanwhile funding for Native American non-tribal institutions; science, technology, engineering and math programs; and critical foreign languages were cut. The bill maintained the earmark for Thurgood Marshall scholarships.

An amendment late Thursday night, offered by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee; and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., barring the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed gainful employment regulation, passed by a vote of 289-136. It was preceded by impassioned pleas from both sides of the aisle.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., argued that a “huge majority” of for-profit institutions are rip-off schools.

“While I was working with poor students in South Los Angeles, we were trying to get them into GED classes. The recruiters would come along and tell them that they could get them into their schools, they could help them get Pell Grants and they could help them get a career. Then, lo and behold, they would sign up,” said Waters.

“This is the next big scandal in America,” she continued. “You think that the meltdown that we just had and the foreclosures that we’re experiencing across this country are bad, you wait until the investigations are done and the truth is told and the amount of money is counted from the rip-offs.”

Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., said he supports career colleges, but the federal government must protect students and hold higher education institutions that access federal dollars accountable.

“The Kline-Foxx amendment is not about protecting low-income minority students. If that was the case, then these concerns would have been expressed by not cutting Pell Grants for over a million students by approximately $845 per student,” Davis said. “The reality is that this amendment completely stops the Department of Education from any form of oversight of career colleges that educate 10 percent of higher education students, receive approximately 24 percent of federal grants and loans and account for 48 percent of defaults.”

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., defended the amendment.

“Supporting this amendment is supporting educational opportunities for minorities,” he said. “A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for economically disadvantaged students. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college. These students wish to have the opportunity to attend a flexible program that trains them to be the best they can be.”

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Kline also applauded the amendment’s passage. “Students should be empowered to make an informed decision about their education, and we must ensure they have the information they need without targeting an entire sector of colleges and harming our economy,” he said. “By blocking the administration’s regulation, we prevented an unnecessary hurdle to important skills and training at a time when workers need every advantage to succeed in the workplace.”

 The passage of H.R. 1 will enable House Republicans to claim a major victory and keep their promise to slash government spending. But when they return to Washington this week, another battle begins. The Democratic-controlled Senate will not support the House’s drastic cuts overall, and President Barack Obama already has said he would veto such a bill.

“It’s almost like a game of chicken that’s happening right now, so we are all taking a very active role in making sure our voices are heard,” says Kimberly Jones, vice president for government affairs and public policy at the Council for Education in Opportunity. “The Republican majority in the House is operating under the impression that they’ve received a mandate to fix the fiscal crisis by cutting all the programs that help our neediest citizens. I think that a lot of people who voted for these more conservative, more radical members didn’t realize what it would mean on their street or in their neighborhoods.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., who sits on the appropriations committee and plays an active role in education issues, thinks the outrage against H.R. 1 is much ado about nothing, particularly since House Republicans control just one-third of the legislative body.

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“For every single young person in the country, there’s more opportunity, more money for them to go to school than there was before — period. We have taken the Pell Grants to the highest it’s ever been and we revamped the student loan program in the health care bill,” he said. “I want to focus on what is actual law, because I don’t want young people to get the wrong information. The Republicans are trying to change this, but they’re not going to be successful. They will make cuts here, but they will not become the law of the land, at all.”

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