Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap-Up: December 5

Here’s a quick look at the news from last week (November 28 – December 2) in Washington.

The Administration has stepped up their public discussion of the issue of college costs with Secretary Duncan making a speech at the FSA conference touting the Administration’s accomplishments on making college more affordable or providing additional student aid.

The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance released its final report on 15 regulations which IHEs found burdensome.  The report recommends Congress require the Secretary to establish review committees to provide advice on these regulations to see if alternatives can be instituted that are less burdensome and also asks the Department to review them as well.  Page 6 of the report lists out the regulations which the Committee focused on, with all of them largely focused on administrative aspects of operating within Title IV programs.  Gainful employment, State authorization and Credit hour regulations were not the subject of this focus.

We expect the Department of Education to announce the Negotiated Rulemaking participants for both the Title II/Teach Grant and Title IV panels by early next week.  Department staff were getting internal sign-off on a slate of panelists this week.

The Department released a report on 2008-09 school-level expenditures they says shows that more than 40% of low-income, Title I schools are being shortchanged because school districts are inequitably distributing state and local funds.

Meetings on ESEA reauthorization continue between Committee staff on both sides of the aisle.  The Committee does seem focused on moving legislation in the early part of next year.

The House Education & the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Higher Education held a hearing focused on the issue of college costs.  The main takeaway from the hearing was that institutions need to do more, including using technology, to hold down the costs of college rather than the Federal government.

Senate staff continue to finalize the ESEA bill passed by Committee in late October for filing.  Senate staff are focused on finding floor time for this legislation in the new year.

With the inaction by the Super Committee, House and Senate leadership seem focused on completing all remaining 2012 appropriations work this year through an omnibus bill.  This bill is also likely to carry other ‘must pass’ issues for which deals can be finalized, such as UI (Unemployment Insurance) extension, SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate – preventing cuts in physician payment rates under Medicare from going into effect) fix and payroll tax extension.  Staff conversations have begun between House and Senate on a Labor/HHS/Education bill for inclusion in the Omnibus.  Significant policy riders on labor, higher education and other matters continue to complicate the resolution of a Labor/HHS/Education bill, as well as differences in overall funding levels between the House and Senate versions of this legislation.