Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives on Wednesday formally introduced legislation to restructure the federal student aid programs and signaled their intention to move with lightning speed to pass it. The Committee on Education and Labor announced that it would take up the $87 billion legislation next Tuesday, and given the strong Democratic majority on the panel, as well as in Congress, passage is assured. The legislation got a strong endorsement Wednesday from the Obama administration, whose student loan proposal the House legislation closely mirrors. On a telephone news conference with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered his "clear support" for the House bill despite some differences with President Obama's original plan, and said it was fully consistent with the administration's plan's "fundamental principles." While the House bill would not make the Pell Grant Program an entitlement, which would be too expensive, Duncan said the measure's plan to use mandatory funds to ensure that the size of the maximum grant keeps pace with inflation plus 1 percent was a "good compromise." Duncan and Miller also both went out of their way -- in discussing the money the House bill would make available to fund President Obama's proposed $12 billion community college initiative -- to emphasize how the legislation would turn up the pressure on colleges to ensure that they are not just admitting students, but getting them to degrees. Discussing community college graduation rates, Miller said that the "statistics are currently not acceptable to the administration or the Congress," and said the legislation was designed to ensure that "community colleges change and adapt to the needs of our society and our families. That test will be on the community colleges."
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