July 27, 2021
WHAT TO WATCH AS CONGRESS SPRINTS TOWARD THE AUGUST RECESS: A bipartisan group of Senators is racing to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure deal as the chamber returns this week. But the Senate’s next item of business will likely have bigger implications for education.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed that the Senate will pass a budget resolution before it leaves town for the August recess. That would unlock reconciliation as a tool for Democrats, allowing them to pass large swaths of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda later this fall — including education proposals — without needing GOP votes.
Senate Democrats on the budget committee earlier this month announced an agreement on a topline $3.5 trillion figure for the entire reconciliation package. The agreement includes the major education policy proposals that the White House has proposed. But Democratic leaders have not yet finalized how that $3.5 trillion will be allocated among the chamber’s various committees, which will be instructed to come up with the actual text of the sweeping package.
It’s not yet clear how much funding Biden’s various education initiatives will receive under the bill or exactly how they’ll be structured, but here’s a guide to what’s on the table:
— Free community college: The Biden administration has made free community college a cornerstone of its higher education legislative agenda. The reconciliation bill is likely to be modeled on the America’s College Promise Act, which is co-sponsored by the chairs of the House and Senate education committees.
— Universal pre-K: The reconciliation package will include some amount of funding to make preschool free for 3- and 4-year olds. Biden’s initial proposal called for spending $200 billion to expand pre-K.
— Boosting Pell Grants: The tentative agreement among Senate Democrats on the budget committee includes Pell Grant funding, but it’s not clear how much the increase will be. The Biden administration has proposed a total $1,800 increase in the Pell grant, which it has called a down payment on its campaign promise to double the amount.
— Funding for HBCUs: Senate Democrats’ framework calls for more funding for minority-serving institutions and historically black colleges. But there hasn’t been agreement yet on what that funding will look like, or how much it will be.
— How do Dreamers fit in? One major issue to watch as the reconciliation package takes shape is whether undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children will be included in the education proposals. The Biden administration has proposed expanding federal student aid eligibility to students who are covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program which protects them from deportation. Democrats’ legislative proposals for free community college also allow DACA recipients to access the program.