House Republicans Repeat Their 2004 Bill

Publication Number 19 February 11, 2005

As noted last week in HEA Update #18, the House Republican leaders will pick up their efforts in new 109th Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) where they left off last year. This means that the accreditation-related issues in the pending HEA reauthorization continue on the 2005 legislative agenda. The key accreditation issues remain: federal rules on institutional credit transfer, expanded accreditor scrutiny of distance education, increased attention to student learning outcomes and more public information on accreditation results.

On February 2, 2005, Congressmen John Boehner (R-OH) and Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) introduced the College Access and Opportunity Act, which repeats their accreditation proposals originally introduced as HR 4283 in the 108th Congress. Boehner reaffirmed that the committee intends to pass “revenue-neutral” legislation to reauthorize HEA “that pays for itself by making common-sense reforms, rather than by adding to the federal budget deficit.” He added: “We need to reform federal higher education aid programs to put incoming, low and middle-income students back at the front of the line. The Higher Education Act’s first mission is to improve college access for low and middle-income students. It has drifted away from that focus over the years, at the expense of the very students it was written to serve. We’ve got to change that.”

[On February 8, the same two members introduced HR 609, a slight variation of their February 2 bill, designated as HR 507. HR 609 corrects a single drafting error in a Pell Grant proposal. For 2005, the House considerations of HEA will start with the corrected version, HR 609. HR 609 will replace HR 507.]

While House Republicans have repeatedly signaled a willingness to make changes in their controversial 2004 bill (HR 4283), the 2005 version (HR 609) reflects no policy changes in its accreditation provisions. Addressing the CHEA Annual Conference last month, Chairman Boehner told the audience that he hopes to work with the higher education community on this bill. He welcomes ideas to improve it and plans to begin its formal consideration in the committee right after the Easter holiday.

Representative George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education Committee, issued a statement: “This past Congress, Chairman Boehner and I agreed on many issues and disagreed on many issues. I don’t expect that this Congress will be any different. I hope that we will be able to work together to put students and families first and to make college more affordable.” Miller criticized parts of the Boehner/McKeon bill, but reiterated his hope to work together on the HEA reauthorization.

Budget Battles: New Background for HEA

On Monday, February 7, 2005, the Bush Administration formally released its 2006 budget proposals, which include widespread cuts in popular education programs. Funding levels are the “opposite side of the coin” to authorization issues such as amending the HEA. Following a decade of double-digit annual increases in federal education spending, these proposals are a sharp reversal of federal policy. These budget proposals will produce major battles in the Congress over resources and funding priorities. This fight will reduce the attention to the policy issues in the reauthorization legislation and may well delay its progress in 2005.

The Administration wants to eliminate $773 million for several pre-collegiate programs for disadvantaged students by cutting all of the Gear Up and 56% of the TRIO programs. The President’s budget would also eliminate new Perkins loans and all federal funding of vocational education programs. Perkins loans began in 1958 as the first federal student assistance program, and provide low interest loans to more than 600,000 needy students per year. Vocational education provides $1.3 billion to state-run programs for occupational training.

Pell Grants are proposed for a $700 million (5.5%) increase to implement President Bush’s announced raise of $100 in the maximum grant next year. However, other changes in Pell and guaranteed loans will be needed to support the Pell revisions and address prior years of Pell funding shortfalls that now total $4.3 billion.

Committees Membership Set for New Congress

As usual in a new Congress, the 49-member House Education and the Workforce Committee has major changes in the low-seniority ranks of the panel. The senior leadership is largely the same. Nine new freshman Republicans join the committee: Inglis (SC), McMorris (WA), Price (GA), Fortuno (PR), Jindal (LA), Boustany (LA), Foxx (NC), Drake (VA), and Kuhl (NY). Sixth-term Republican Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana rejoined the panel. A single Democrat was added, John Barrow of Georgia. Republican Pat Tiberi of Ohio claimed the chair of the Select Subcommittee on Education, which handles graduate, teacher and international programs under HEA. “Buck” McKeon of California will continue to hold most of the HEA jurisdiction in his Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. The committee roster may be found at

The more stable Senate panel has a new chair, and three new Republican members joining seventeen continuing Senators. Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi replaces Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Senator Hatch (UT) and freshmen Senators Burr (NC) and Isakson (GA) joined the committee. Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander will chair a revamped education subcommittee, but the jurisdiction over HEA reauthorization has not been clearly determined. The full committee list is available at

The new House committee roster signals the same approach for HEA as last year. The Senate did little on HEA last year. The emerging roles of Senators Enzi and Alexander will set the tone for the upper chamber. Throughout the four decades of HEA legislation, the House has taken the lead and dominated the early deliberations. The Senate usually acts only after the House has set the agenda, and provides a vital counterpoint to the House approach. This pattern is being repeated in this HEA reauthorization.