A bipartisan group of senators introduced two pieces of higher education legislation. One would consolidate loan repayment options into two plans. The second would simplify the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid:
- Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced The Repay Act, along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The proposal would offer two repayment plans: a fixed repayment plan, based on a 10-year period, and a single, simplified income-driven repayment option.
- Sen. Burr, joined by Sens. Alexander, Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and King, introduced The FAST Act, a bill aimed at simplifying the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid to attend college. The legislation would limit the FAFSA to two questions: household size and household income and proposes only "One Grant-One Loan-One Work Study." The legislation would eliminate the Perkins and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant programs.
The current HEA authorization is set to expire on September 30, 2015, and lawmakers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will continue to propose new programs, such as President Obama's recently announced community college proposal, throughout the year with reauthorization in mind. If Congress cannot complete a rewrite before the fall deadline, it will pass temporary extensions until an agreement can be struck.
Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House committee that oversees education policy, has made reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) a priority for 2015. The Senate is expected to act swiftly on ESEA legislation as well. Sen. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, released a draft ESEA bill on January 13 and also intends to mark up HEA legislation this spring.
Even though HEA reauthorization tops agendas, it remains unclear whether Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can actually work together to hammer out compromise legislation that the White House will support by September 30.
With the next presidential election quickly approaching, party politics may impede progress on compromise higher education legislation, especially if the battles over the ESEA rewrite prove bruising.