Washington Watch: Tough funding talks down the road


The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2024 spending bill for education, workforce development and other programs that sets the stage for difficult negotiations later this year to reconcile differences between its bill and a much different House spending bill.

Unlike their House counterparts, Senate appropriators drafted bills that spent the maximum amount allowed under caps established in legislation to raise the debt ceiling that passed earlier this year. The Senate bills were all bipartisan, and as a result the committee was able to approve all 12 appropriations bills before Congress left for its August recess.

Meanwhile, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS-ED) bill has only progressed through subcommittee. An expected full committee markup before the August recess didn’t happen, indicating that House Republicans may not have the votes to pass their bill in committee and likely not on the floor.

In addition to spending up to the caps, side agreements made along with the debt-ceiling bill provided $2 billion in “emergency funding” for the LHHS-ED bill. Despite this, total funding for the LHHS-ED bill is $1.2 billion less than in fiscal year 2023, which, if the bill were enacted in its current form, would be the first year-to-year reduction in a decade. Nonetheless, the Senate bill is far more generous to community college priorities than the approximately 30% cut to LHHS-ED funding in the House bill.

Pell boost

The outcomes for key community college programs in the Senate bill range from modest cuts to modest increases. The Pell Grant maximum award would see a $250 increase, to $7,645 in the 2024-25 award year. This is a smaller increase than the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and other Pell stakeholders are advocating for but compares favorably to no increase in the House bill.

The Senate bill also would rescind a small amount from prior Pell appropriations to help fund other programs in the bill. Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants were each cut by $10 million. (Both would be eliminated in the House bill.)

Most Higher Education Act Title III and Title V programs would receive modest increases. Disappointingly, the Strengthening Institutions Program would see a $10-million cut, to $112 million. The bill would level-fund most other higher education programs, including TRIO and GEAR-UP, and increase funding for the Childcare Access Means Parents in School program by $5 million, to $80 million.

Funding for the Perkin Career and Technical Education state grants would increase by $40 million, offset somewhat by a $20 million decrease in CTE national programs. Adult Basic Education would be level funded at $729 million.

A decrease for SCCTG program

At the Department of Labor (DOL), one of AACC’s top priorities – the Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants program – would see a decrease from $65 million to $55 million. AACC will advocate strongly for final legislation to reflect the House bill, which maintained funding at $65 million. This is one of a very few instances the House bill was more generous than the Senate’s.

The Senate bill would level-fund DOL’s Workforce and Innovation Opportunity Act funding streams – adult, dislocated worker and youth – and boost funds for the apprenticeship grants program by $5 million, to $280 million.

CR on the horizon

The path to enactment for the LHHS-ED and other funding bills is cloudy. Lawmakers have an incentive to pass all the bills by the end of the calendar year; otherwise, a 1% across-the-board reduction that includes defense programs takes effect.

Congress will almost certainly need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the start of the fiscal year on October 1, but the far right’s dissatisfaction with the appropriations process so far may make it difficult to pass a CR in the House with Republican votes, raising the specter of a government shutdown. To pass a CR and final funding legislation, Speaker Kevin McCarthy will likely need to rely on some Democratic support, as he did to pass the debt-ceiling legislation.

About the Author

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