Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap-Up: October 31

Here’s a quick look at the news from last week (October 24-28) in Washington.

The Department of Education issued several Federal Register notices this week:
(1) Negotiated rulemaking on Title II of HEA and TEACH Grants. The Negotiated Rulemaking notice calls for nominations for the negotiating committee, establishes a schedule for meetings, and identifies key areas the negotiations will focus on: modifying current data requirements for teacher preparation programs to identify low performing teacher preparation programs under Title II of HEA and defining high performing programs eligible to participate under the TEACH Grant program.

(2) Experimental Sites; the notice seeks applications from institutions of higher education to test new ways of delivering Federal student aid, including eligibility of students with bachelor’s degrees who enroll in vocational or career programs; eligibility of students enrolled in short-term training programs; single disbursement of a one-term loan for study abroad students, early disbursement for study abroad and foreign institution students, limiting unsubsidized loan amounts for Direct Loan program loans; PLUS loans for parents of students with intellectual disabilities, and eligibility of students with intellectual disabilities who are also enrolled in high school. The experimental sites notice does state that IHEs which have high cohort default rates or for-profit IHEs that are close to violating the 90-10 rule would be ineligible to apply.

(3) Negotiated Rulemaking on student aid issues.  The notice establishes a Negotiated Rulemaking committee to focus on a handful of issues related to loan program administration.

In addition, the President announced a series of administrative actions to reduce costs on student loans for qualified borrowers by: (1) Allowing borrowers with loans split between the FFEL and Direct Loan programs to consolidate their loans in the Direct Loan program and receive up to a 50 basis pt reduction in their interest rate, (2) Accelerating the implementation of the Income Based Repayment (IBR) program changes that were made as a part of last year’s reconciliation legislation.  These changes reduce the maximum amount a qualified borrower must pay from 15 to 10% of their income, and reduce the period of time when a student’s loan is forgiven from 25 to 20 years.

Next week the Department is expected to release National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) recommendations for higher education reauthorization related to accreditation.

Meetings continue as Chairman Kline works toward a possible mark-up on the remaining parts of ESEA that have not yet been marked-up.

Senate and House Leaders have begun to discuss their final appropriations strategy to complete the 2012 appropriations process. One idea being discussed includes bundling together appropriations bills in a series of “minibuses” (as opposed to an omnibus, which is a single inclusive bill). It is not clear however, how the Labor HHS Education Appropriations legislation moves as a part of this process.

Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi have called for floor action on the recently passed Senate ESEA bill by Thanksgiving. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to hold an additional hearing on the bill on November 8 before it goes to the Senate floor.