Washington Watch: Senate releases draft ed funding bill

Republican leaders in the Senate Appropriations Committee this week released a draft funding bill for fiscal year 2020 that would freeze spending for most programs at current levels.

The bill’s funding levels were generally expected after the Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a funding allocation for the Labor, HHS and Education (LHHS) appropriations subcommittee that was a shade greater than the FY 2019 allocation.

The Senate bill is widely expected to represent the “low-water mark” for LHHS funding in the FY 2020 appropriations process. Congressional negotiators must eventually reconcile the Senate bill with a House version that provided a substantial funding increase for the LHHS bill. Final legislation will likely provide funding somewhere between the two bills.

The released draft is not bipartisan, departing from recent tradition. Senate Democrats objected to abortion-related funding provisions in the legislation and to what they deemed to be an inadequate amount of overall funding. These objections prompted the canceling of an appropriations committee markup of the bill last week.

The bill’s release coincided with the Senate leadership’s attempt to bring it to the floor absent committee approval, but that maneuver failed. It is unclear what the next step is for the Senate bill.

What it means for community colleges

For community colleges, the bill’s highlight is a proposed $135 increase to the Pell Grant maximum award, which would bring it up to $6,330. The increase is intended to keep the maximum award apace with inflation.

The House bill includes a proposed $150 increase to the Pell maximum. In both cases, the increases were achieved not by providing new money to the program, but by tapping a portion of the program’s current funding surplus. The Senate bill also calls to rescind $1.3 billion of the Pell surplus, freeing up funds for other programs.  The American Association of Community Colleges strongly supports keeping Pell Grant funds in the Pell Grant program.

The Senate bill would provide an additional $10 billion for the Perkins CTE national Innovation and Modernization grants to expand and improve career pathway opportunities beginning in high school. It also adds $1 million (to $6 million) for a new grant competition in the Open Textbook Pilot program. All other Education Department programs of interest to community colleges are level-funded.

The story is generally the same for Department of Labor (DOL) programs – level funding with a few exceptions. DOL would also receive $10 million to expand career pathway opportunities for youth. The registered apprenticeship program would see an increase of $10 million (to $170 million).

Not surprisingly, the House’s proposed $150 million Strengthening Community College Training Grants program was not included in the Senate legislation. However, it remains a top priority for House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), who will advocate strongly to include the program in the final bill.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.