On June 14, 2012, on a part
y line vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY13 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. It is unclear when the House will mark up its version of the legislation.
Also uncertain is the timing of Senate floor action on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations measure. The bill is among the most controversial of the annual spending bills, and this year it includes funding associated with the 2010 health care measure, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Detractors of the ACA are expected to seek to prohibit funds from being spent to implement the health care overhaul, making agreement and final passage of a stand-alone measure difficult or even impossible.
The $158.8 billion measure would increase funding for the National Institutes of Health by $100 million and, by maintaining the discretionary portion of funding to the program, would increase the Pell Grant maximum by $85 to $5,635. The legislation sets the discretionary maximum Pell Grant award at $4,860 for the 2013-2014 academic year, but a scheduled increase in the mandatory portion of the Pell Grant program allows for the higher award in the FY13 budget.
By and large, other higher education and student aid programs are level-funded.
The Senate bill would also restore eligibility for federal financial aid to students without high-school diplomas or GEDs who have passed an "ability to benefit" test. As a part of the FY12 spending bill, Congress ended aid to such students.
The bill does not provide funds for the President's Race to the Top proposal for higher education. President Obama had called for a new competitive grant program, based on the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund for K-12 institutions—and included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—to incentivize states to revamp the structure of state financing for higher education, facilitate on-time completion, and maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education.
The Committee noted, however, “that the concerns the administration has raised about rising college costs are very serious ones, and agrees that action is needed to reduce burdens on families and improve outcomes for students.” The Committee “supports the [Administration’s] proposals in principle but believes they deserve more deliberation in Congress.”
The Committee bill does provide $40 million for the President’s First in the World initiative. The Administration had requested $55.5 million for this grant program in its FY13 Budget to “develop, validate, or scale up innovation and effective strategies for boosting productivity and enhancing quality on campus.”
The Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill also includes report language that provides $1 million for the Secretary of Education to commission the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of federal regulations and reporting requirements that affect colleges and universities. The report states:
“The study shall include information describing, by agency, the number of Federal regulations and reporting requirements affecting institutions of higher education, the estimated time required and costs to institutions of higher education (disaggregated by types of institutions) to comply with the regulations and reporting requirements affecting institutions of higher education, and recommendations for consolidating, streamlining, and eliminating redundant and burdensome Federal regulations and reporting requirements affecting institutions of higher education. The study shall be submitted to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations, as well as the Committee on HELP and the Committee on Education and the Workforce not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this act.”