Senator Lamar Alexander said Thursday that he plans to attach an amendment to the labor, health, and education appropriations bill that would stop the Obama administration from moving ahead with its college ratings system.
Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate’s education committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that the amendment would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from “using any federal funding to develop, refine, publish or implement a college ratings system.”
He derided the college ratings system as a “taxpayer-funded popularity contest” that would “pick winners and losers.” “It’s not the job of the federal government,” Alexander said. “I have a serious practical concern with the department’s ability even to begin this effort.”
The Obama administration has said the ratings system is needed to provide better consumer information and hold colleges more accountable for their use of taxpayer money.
The spending bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education cleared a Senate subcommittee earlier this week. But Democrats have postponed a vote on the measure by the full appropriations committee after Republicans said they would force politically difficult votes relating to President Obama’s health care law.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat, said Thursday that the bill is likely to be rolled into an omnibus appropriations package rather than be considered separately on the Senate floor.
President Obama will announce Monday that he plans to expand an income-based repayment program for federal student loan borrowers, The New York Timesreported.
The administration plans to broaden eligibility for its Pay As You Earn program – which caps student loan payments at 10 percent of borrowers’ discretionary income and forgives any unpaid debt after 20 years – to include an estimated 5 million additional borrowers who have older loans, according to the Times.
Obama will also formally announce that the Education Department plans to renegotiate the contract it has with federal student loan servicers to include incentives for helping borrowers avoid default. The department previously said it plans to change how it oversees those servicing companies and had said it was “re-examining” how it pays them. Monday’s executive actions come as Senate Democrats are making a push on student debt relief in advance of the fall midterm elections.
Over the weekend, Obama endorsed a bill by Senate Democrats that would allow existing borrowers to lower the interest rate on their student loans. The legislation proposes to fund such a refinancing program by enacting the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which would end some tax breaks for millionaires. Obama said that Congress had a choice to either “protect young people from crushing debt, or protect tax breaks for millionaires.”
Republicans are largely opposed to the proposal. In a statement on Sunday, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, rejected the plan as a “political stunt” to give former students money to pay off their loans. “College graduates don't need a $1-a-day taxpayer subsidy to help pay off a $27,000 loan,” he said. “They need a good job.”
More than half (53 percent) of grandparents are saving for their grandchildren's college costs, or plan to start saving, according to research released Thursday by Fidelity. And 90 percent reported that, if asked, they would be likely to make a financial contribution to their grandchildren's college costs. A majority of grandparents are also talking to both their children and grandchildren about college savings. The national survey was conducted of adults who are at least 45 years old and who have at least one grandchild younger than 18.
At least one House Republican is seeking to block the Obama administration’s efforts to develop a federal college ratings system.
Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia wrote in an email to his fellow lawmakers last week that he hopes to insert a provision into upcoming spending bills that would prohibit the Education Department from moving ahead with the ratings system. Goodlatte said he was responding to a range of concerns he received from college presidents about the ratings system. “There are real, long-term consequences that could occur if this proposal isn’t stopped, including the loss of choice, diversity, and innovation,” he said in the letter.
The Education Department is in the midst of deciding which metrics to include in its college ratings system, a draft of which officials have said will be ready “by the fall.” The administration says it wants an operational ratings system by the 2015-16 academic year and then plans to ask Congress to tie the ratings to federal student aid by 2018. A top domestic policy aide to President Obama said in an interview with The New York Times this week that the administration was undeterred by criticism of its college ratings proposal and remained strongly committed to the idea.
“For those who are making the argument that we shouldn’t do this, I think those folks could fairly have the impression that we’re not listening,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “There is an element to this conversation which is, ‘We hope to God you don’t do this.’ Our answer to that is: ‘This is happening.’ ”
The federal tax code should do more to help middle-income Americans afford college -- but that goal can be accomplished without the sort of wholesale restructuring of higher education tax benefits that many are advocating, the Center for American Progress argues in a paper to be released today. In the paper, some of the center's experts urge changes that would cap certain benefits and expand others, with the overall goal of encouraging more savings by middle income Americans. Many of the tax code benefits for higher education now greatly favor wealthy Americans, the report says.
A group of Congressional Democrats last week introduced a new legislative push to crack down on campus banking products, including student debit cards. Representative George Miller, the top Democrat on the House education committee, and Senator Tom Harkin, the chair of the Senate education committee, along with 63 other Democrats introduced a bill that would ban revenue-sharing agreements between colleges and student debit card providers. The bill would also prohibit gifts from campus card providers to college officials.
The lawmakers said the legislation was, in part, a response to a February Government Accountability Office report that outlined several concerns with campus debit cards and the relationship that card providers have with colleges. Earlier this week, an Education Department negotiated rule making panel failed to reach consensus on a department proposal to impose stricter rules on campus banking products. Department officials had proposed restrictions on the marketing of college-sponsored debit cards and had sought to ban certain fees.
A bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers on Thursday called on their colleagues to insert a provision in the upcoming budget that would block the Obama administration’s efforts to more tightly regulate for-profit colleges.
In a letter to the top lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee, 37 members of Congress -- 19 Republicans and 18 Democrats -- wrote that the proposed “gainful employment” rule would “increase costs and federal overreach in the higher education system, reduce data transparency, and limit postsecondary options for low-income students.” The administration has said the proposed rule is aimed at cutting off federal aid to low-performing vocational programs, mostly at for-profit colleges, that leave students saddled with high debt and do not lead to good jobs.
The deadline for public comments on the proposed rule is Tuesday. The Education Department is expected to produce a final rule by November.