Washington Watch: Senate Dems propose massive funding for next stimulus

U.S. Capitol (Photo: Matthew Dembicki)

Led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Labor-HHS-ED appropriations subcommittee, 16 Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), have advanced a $430 billion bill to fund education and related programs.

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) relies largely on the CARES Act framework to deliver funding but makes key changes and adds new components.

It includes $132 billion for higher education and $2 billion for community college job training. CCCERA also emphasizes support for childcare and early childhood education, a longstanding priority of Murray.

Many of the legislation’s features reflect American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) priorities. CCCERA will now play a major role in negotiations about the next funding package addressing the coronavirus pandemic. It has a number of programmatic similarities to the House-passed HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), but it provides far greater funding.

Formula grants to institutions

As with the CARES Act, the bulk of higher education funding will be distributed on a formula basis to institutions. Critically, and consistent with the proposed HEROES Act, 75 percent of funds will be allocated based on the Pell Grant share and 25 percent on relative enrollment.

The funds will be based on student headcounts, rather than full-time enrollment, which was a top AACC priority. The HEROES Act uses this approach, but the CARES Act does not.

As with CARES, funds would be distributed directly by the U.S. Education Department (ED), rather than going to states as in the House legislation. This and other education funding would be tied to a strict maintenance of effort requirement.

Uses of funds

Both the student emergency grants and institutional grants are altered in ways that will make administration far simpler than CARES Act funds. The legislation clarifies that institutions shall determine which students receive grants and for which programs. The bill requires colleges to provide details about who applies for and receives grants and other demographic information.

Unlike the HEROES Act, at least 50 percent of all formula grant funds must be awarded to students. Institutions gain greater flexibility to spend their portion of funds, and, as in the HEROES Act, this broader discretion is provided retroactively, which should be of considerable help to colleges that have yet to deploy funds.

Institutional aid

As with the CARES Act, significant funding is provided for Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act, though allocated on a slightly different basis than under CARES.

The bill is drafted to ensure against some of the idiosyncrasies of the CARES Act allocations as administered by ED, particularly concerning Strengthening Institutions Grants.

As with the HEROES Act, but not CARES, institutions will generally compete for Title III and V funds on the basis of significant unmet institutional and student need, but this will not apply to the Predominantly Black Institutions program. Those funds will be allocated according to the existing statutory formula.

Job training

The bill would allocate $2 billion to Community College and Industry Partnership Grants at the U.S. Department of Labor. That program is virtually identical to that contained in the House’s Relaunching America’s Workforce Act.

Funding would be granted for four years. Individual institutional grants would be capped at $2.5 million and consortium grants at $15 million.

As the lead agent, community colleges would be required to develop proposals with industry or sector partners in a high-demand area, as well as a state higher education or workforce agency. Individuals impacted by the pandemic would have priority for training.

A range of other partners, including four-year institutions, would be permitted.

The legislation also includes $1 billion for career and technical education as well as $1 billion for programs in the Adult Education Act. These programs are major priorities for AACC.

AACC continues to work to ensure that needed federal support is provided to community college students and member colleges. For more information, see AACC’s advocacy home page.

About the Author

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