Washington Watch: House passes funding for MSIs

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington) differ on how to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. (Photo courtesy of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee)

The House on Tuesday night passed bipartisan legislation that extends $255 million in funding for minority-serving institutions (MSIs), including Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges.

The FUTURE Act (H.R. 2486, the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act), which focuses on STEM education, also provides funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The legislation, which the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) supports, now heads to the Senate, where a companion bill, S. 1279, has been introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Doug Jones (D-Alabama), who are members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. 

Unlike funding provided through the annual appropriations process, which has been bogged down for the upcoming fiscal year, the FUTURE Act financing comes from the “mandatory” side of the budget, meaning that it is guaranteed by law. The funding augments what is provided through appropriations. This targeted mandatory funding expires on September 30, the close of fiscal year 2019, hence the pressing need for the extension.

Potential ties to HEA

Although the FUTURE Act has the support to pass the Senate, the road to enactment could be complicated. Reports indicate that HELP Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), discontented by the lack of bipartisan agreement with Democrats on full-fledged legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), may soon introduce a bill that includes the FUTURE Act and other HEA provisions. Some of these provisions could be top AACC priorities.  

However, Senate Democrats, whose support is needed to move the legislation through the chamber, will very likely reject this “mini-reauthorization” approach, which would be consistent with previous statements by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), the ranking member on the HELP Committee. So the immediate prospects for the FUTURE Act, as well as HEA reauthorization legislation more generally, hinges on how these dynamics play out.  

AACC will be actively engaged in and keep members informed about these key developments. In the meantime, and at minimum, it is hoped that a vehicle can be found to sustain FUTURE Act funding as FY 2019 draws to a close.

Related articles: “HEA hearings start with low-hanging fruit” and “White House priorities for HEA reform

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.