September 26th, 2013
The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) – the law that governs most federal programs related to student aid and institutional support – has gotten off to a slow but certain start on Capitol Hill, with the Senate recently joining the House and the Obama administration in seeking public input. On September 17, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Education (HELP) Committee announced a series of hearings on HEA reauthorization, and released a letter outlining the hearing process and soliciting recommendations. Under the announced Senate procedure, each hearing will be noticed at least one week in advance, and interested parties may submit brief recommendations specific to the individual hearing topic prior to the hearing.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is also holding a series of HEA reauthorization hearings, announced a similar but more open process in April, and last month President Obama unveiled his own college affordability plan, much of which would require Congressional changes to the HEA (see Federal Relations Update, August 28, 2013). The Department of Education is now in the process of soliciting input for implementation of the President’s agenda.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, has indicated his desire to have a draft HEA reauthorization bill ready for consideration early next year. However, the last HEA reauthorization was several years overdue, and there are major pieces of expired education legislation, such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in the cue for reauthorization ahead of HEA. In addition, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Ranking Republican Member of the HELP Committee, has indicated that he would prefer to rewrite the Higher Education Act from scratch, rather than just amending and reauthorizing the current act.