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Programs aiming to help disabled students and student military veterans are slated for the scrap heap in the House GOP higher ed reauthorization bill. But many initiatives haven’t seen funding for some time, leaving Democrats and Republicans at odds over the significance of the proposed changes.
More than 60 programs would be eliminated by the House’s PROSPER bill (H.R. 4508), which cleared the Education and the Workforce Committee in December on a party-line vote. Of that group, only five are currently funded, according to list provided by the committee. The rest either were never funded since their inception, or haven’t been funded in recent years.
That hasn’t stopped some Democrats from objecting to putting the programs on the chopping block. While programs without authorizations can be funded by appropriators, a lapsed or repealed authorization makes that much less likely.
“Eliminating the authorization for Congress to use federal funds to address known challenges in the future does nothing to address the underlying issues impeding college access, affordability, and completion,” the committee’s ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said. “The goal of HEA reauthorization should be to better serve students, not cut programs for the sake of cutting programs.”
Republicans have countered that the lack of funding was an indicator of the quality of the programs.
“If congressional appropriators did not deem a program worthy of funds, then it was a clear sign to this committee that reforms to the program, or possibly its elimination, may be necessary,” committee spokesman Michael Woeste said in a statement.
“The committee strengthened programs within PROSPER that have remained funded, and especially those shown to help students and families achieve a high-quality education,” he said.
The biggest currently funded program on the list is Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. That program is aimed at helping low-income students and Democrats, student and college advocates, and some Republicans are fighting to preserve it.
Other programs that would be eliminated, such as “Teach to Reach,” which would have helped prepare teachers to work with students with disabilities, never saw any funding.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said it was frustrating to see “Teach to Reach” be authorized but never funded, but he said he also wasn’t surprised, blaming Republicans for not funding many of the programs in the August 2008 higher education reauthorization (Pub. L. No. 110-315) written by Democrats. Republicans have controlled the appropriations committee in the House since 2011.
“There’s generally not a lot of interest in higher education programs on the majority side, just never has been,” Yarmuth said. “When it’s new funding, it’s particularly difficulty with them.”
The same 2008 law also authorized “American History for Freedom” grants to help colleges develop programs to teach about threats to “free institutions” and the achievements of Western society.
“Just as it is important to preserve free speech and cultural diversity, it is just as important to understand where these basic American freedoms and principles come from,” then-Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said of the program, which also did not ever receive any funding.
Several programs went unfunded for years before receiving new allocations, such as a grant program to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) promote graduate degree programs.
Jonathan Fansmith, director of government relations with the American Council on Education, said something similar—unfunded programs springing to life with new funding allocations—could happen to other programs. One example he cited was the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership, or LEAP.
The program would be scrapped under the House bill, even though it has a history of being funded and is meant to get states to help students attend college.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable that it would not be funded again,” he said. “You want to keep something like that alive until there’s a better budget environment to bring it back.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he believes appropriators could decide to restart funding for the grant program for student veterans, called Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success. It gives grants to schools to help them coordinate services for veteran students. Reauthorizing the program would send a message to colleges and universities that veteran students were a federal priority, Grijalva said.
“Giving it the stamp of support and approval from the federal government, I think, becomes an incentive for a lot of colleges to do it.”
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