US House rejects amendment restricting foreign-language programs

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Mar 30 14:38:44 UTC 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006

House Leaders Bring Reauthorization Bill to the Floor, but Avoid Debate on
Most of Its Contents


Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives finally brought
long-awaited legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act to the
House floor Wednesday, but avoided substantive debate on the bill's most
controversial provisions -- including measures to curb tuition increases
and to loosen restrictions on for-profit colleges. The act, due to expire
on March 31, governs most federal student-aid programs. A final vote on
the bill is expected today. After taking up the bill, the House
overwhelmingly rejected -- by a vote of 306 to 120 -- a last-minute
amendment that would have required colleges that receive federal financing
for their foreign-language and area-studies programs to tell the
government about any contributions or gifts they have received.

The proposal, which was sponsored by Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana
Republican, had caught college leaders and lobbyists by surprise, and they
scrambled to build opposition to it. In a speech on the House floor, Mr.
Burton said that his proposal would provide the government with more
information on large financial donations that colleges with area-studies
programs have received from "Middle Eastern interests." "Money from the
Middle East has been coming into our universities in large amounts to try
to indoctrinate young American students into taking a different position
than our government has taken in fighting the war against terror," Mr.
Burton stated. "We ought to know where this money is coming from."

In a letter to other lawmakers, Mr. Burton questioned donations that had
been made by members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia and by "other
Saudi interests" to 10 colleges, including Georgetown University. In
December, Georgetown announced that it had received a $20-million gift
from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to expand its Center for Muslim-Christian
Understanding, which focuses on promoting interreligious research and
dialogue. Georgetown officials say they never tried to hide the gift,
pointing out that they distributed a press release soon after receiving
the donation.

Scott Fleming, the assistant vice president for federal relations at
Georgetown, also said the university doesn't allow donors "to influence
the teaching and research that happens at the institution." College
lobbyists were delighted when the House defeated the measure. "This was an
extraordinarily intrusive and costly proposal," Barry Toiv, director of
communications and public affairs at the Association of American
Universities, said after the vote was taken. "We thank the House for
defeating it so convincingly."

Budget Bill's Long Shadow

Although the House was considering the reauthorization bill, much of
Wednesday's debate harked back to another measure: the budget-cutting
bill, which Congress approved and President Bush signed into law in
February. It slashed about $12-billion from the government-backed
student-loan programs at the heart of the reauthorization bill (The
Chronicle, February 2). The earlier legislation, known formally as a
"budget-reconciliation bill,"  achieved its savings by reducing government
subsidies to private lenders, raising interest rates on federal loans
available for the parents of college students, and requiring most
borrowers to pay a 1-percent fee to agencies that guarantee loans. The
Republican Congressional leadership pushed the legislation as part of a
broader Congressional effort to cut federal spending in order to lower the
budget deficit and reduce taxes.

Most of the provisions that were included in the budget-cutting bill had
originally been part of the reauthorization bill. "The higher-education
bill was hijacked," said Rep. George Miller of California, the top
Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which
drafted the reauthorization legislation. "It was hijacked by those in the
Republican party that wanted to take the savings from the student-aid
accounts and give them to the oil companies, to the energy companies for
their tax breaks, to continue to pay for the tax breaks for the wealthiest
people in this country."

Republican Congressional leaders complained that the Democrats were trying
to score political points by continuing to attack the reconciliation bill.
"What the other side wants to do is focus on something that took place a
few months ago," said Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, the California
Republican who is chairman of the House education committee.

House Democrats were particularly upset on Wednesday that the House Rules
Committee had, for the most part, refused to allow amendments on the floor
that challenged key provisions in the bill. Overall, Democrats and
Republicans had filed 117 amendments with the House Rules Committee, but
that panel approved only 15 of them, including Mr. Burton's.

Lawmakers, for example, were told that they would not be allowed to offer
an amendment that would have rewarded colleges that entered the federal
direct-student-loan program by providing them with extra financial-aid
dollars for low-income students. Direct lending, which was created by the
Clinton administration and the Democratic-led Congress in 1993, provides
loans directly to students through their colleges, bypassing the banks and
guarantee agencies that make up the guaranteed-loan program.

Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, said that it was unwise for
Congressional leaders to allow "only a very limited number of amendments"
to be considered. "We should have a much broader debate in regards to the
restrictive rule that's before us today," he said.

Republican Congressional leaders responded to the concerns by taking the
unusual step of having the Rules Committee meet again late Wednesday
afternoon to green-light other amendments for consideration today.

A Database and Privacy Concerns

Meanwhile, the White House said on Wednesday that it strongly supported
the reauthorization bill but opposed a provision that would forbid the
Education Department to create a "unit record" database to track the
educational progress of students.

The main proponents of the database have been researchers at the Education
Department and some public-college lobbyists, who argue that such a system
would allow the department to measure a college's performance more
accurately by generating better information about retention and graduation
rates. But critics of the proposal -- including many conservative groups
and the House majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio -- have argued
that such a database is unnecessary and would present a grave threat to
students' privacy (The Chronicle, May 6, 2005).

In its statement, the administration stated that "more discussion is
necessary to better understand how such a system could help evaluate
educational interventions and improve postsecondary education for students
and families."

The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education,
which has been charged with developing a national strategy on higher
education, is considering whether to recommend that the Education
Department adopt such a system. The commission is scheduled to present its
recommendations to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings by August 1.

Among other things, the reauthorization bill would:

Increase the authorized level of the maximum Pell Grant to $6,000, from
$5,800. The figure is a ceiling that appropriators cannot exceed when
setting actual grant levels each year. The actual maximum grant is
currently $4,050.

Make Pell Grants available to students year-round, rather than only over
the nine months of a traditional academic year.

Restrict the period over which a student can receive Pell Grants to 18

Place colleges that consistently raise their tuition and other costs of
attendance by more than twice the rate of inflation on a government watch
list, and require them to provide a detailed accounting of all their costs
and expenditures.

Make for-profit colleges eligible for millions of dollars in aid from a
variety of federal programs by broadening the federal government's
definition of "an institution of higher education" to include proprietary

Simplify the student-aid application process by allowing low-income
students whose families qualify for food stamps, welfare benefits, or free
or reduced-price lunches to fill out an "EZ Fafsa," a shortened version of
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which the government
uses to assess a student's need for financial aid.
During its deliberations, the House education committee approved about a
dozen amendments to the bill. The lawmakers agreed to proposals that

Direct the Education Department to provide matching grants to colleges for
the professional installation of fire-detection devices and other
fire-prevention technologies in dormitories and other campus buildings.

Allow the Education Department to provide grants to colleges to set up
centers that would provide advice and services to students who are
pregnant or who are parents. The centers would provide parenting classes
and programs, as well as postpartum counseling and support groups.

Provide up to $5,000 in student-loan forgiveness to individuals who take
jobs in government or other public-service fields. To qualify, borrowers
would have to remain in their jobs for five consecutive years.
Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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