In the current run-up to the 2020 election, education is a hot topic on candidates’ tongues. Beto O’Rourke wants to increase student loan forgiveness programs, especially for teachers. Bernie Sanders wants free tuition in public colleges and universities. Warren wants free community college for all, and a plan to cancel all extant federal student debt. De Blasio, who dropped out of the race several months ago, actually proposed a constitutional amendment ensuring everyone’s rights to a solid education.
In the light of all of these high platforms, the current actions of the Democratic-majority House may seem lightweight. But on October 15, House Democrats released a legislative package to work towards reforming policy around funding for higher education.
Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Education Committee, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should be able to support the package, particularly since it contains aspects of education reform legislation that have received support from both Democrats and Republicans. It is a “necessary and sensible response to the challenges that students and families are facing every day,” he told The Washington Post about the tuition relief measure.
The bill focuses on increasing federal investment to lower college costs and make schools more accountable for student success. Expected to cost around $40 billion a year over 10 years, the money would go towards grant aid and support services for lower-income students, removing financial barriers to education. At the same time, colleges whose students consistently do poorly after school would face tough scrutiny and new regulations.
While this bill is aimed at secondary education in general, it comes in the wake of a rising number of scandals and closures of for-profit schools. Many, like the Corinthian chain of colleges, have closed in disgrace after being slammed for promising their students unrealistic post-education salaries and hiring rates.
The proposal “improves the quality of education by holding schools accountable for their students’ success, and it meets students’ needs by expanding access to more flexible college options and stronger support—helping students graduate on time and move into the workforce,” Rep. Scott said.
The legislative package is extensive, weighing in at 1,200 pages, but it still doesn’t go as far as many pro-education advocates would like it to go. In addition to efforts to lower college costs, the measure seeks to grow the Pell grant with inflation. However, some critics of the legislation complain that the Democrats’ proposal does not include plans to lower interest rates on student loans or cap interest rates, both of which keep students in debt long after their education has been paid for.