On the federal front, as so often happens, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is support in the House of Representative for student financial aid…
The bad news is the House passed the so-named “Equality Act,” which, while it may have laudable intent, would have very negative consequences for numerous SCICU institutions.
Federal funding for student aid has made a great start, but still has far to go.
Earlier this month the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education released its FY 2020 spending bill, and it includes much good news for student aid:
- Increases the Pell Grant Maximum by $150 to $6,345
- Increases the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) by $188 million to $1 billion
- Increases Federal Work Study by $304 million to $1.4 billion
- Increases TRIO by $100 million to $1.1 billion
- Increases GEAR UP by $35 million to $395 million
This is a very important first step, but it’s just that. The bill must be approved by the Appropriations Committee, followed by the full House. The Senate will write its version of student aid funding in June.
Also clouding the impact of the potential student aid funding increases is that they’re subject to sequestration. Unless Congress raises the statutory spending caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021 laid out in the Budget Control Act of 2011, student aid funding would be cut along with other “discretionary” spending.
Last week the House approved an LGBT rights bill, “The Equality Act” (H.R. 5), which could have the effect of prohibiting students at single-sex institutions from receiving federal tuition assistance, and could be construed so as to render the institutions illegal.
While H.R. 5 has passed the House, it is not likely to do so in the Senate. It is opposed by Senate Republicans (and President Trump), and Senate Democrats are not united behind the bill.
Title VI currently forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin against recipients of federal financial assistance – H.R. 5 would add “sex” to that list. Title VI lacks the exemptions contained in Title IX that allow for single-sex institutions, and H.R. 5 would not insert similar exemptions into Title VI.
The Equality Act also adds “sex” (including sexual orientation and gender identity) to the list of protected characteristics in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also expands the definition of “place of public accommodation” to include “any establishment that provides a good, service, or program,” which could be interpreted to include single-sex private colleges and universities, as well as religious institutions with admissions policies contrary to the spirit of The Equality Act.
While the sponsors have assured NAICU (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities) that their intention is not to close down single-sex institutions, they have not inserted the exemptions to safeguard them. Specific language in the bill provides that it would even supersede the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
If you have any questions regarding federal legislative impacts on higher education in South Carolina, please call Jeff Perez, SCICU president and CEO, at 803-799-7122.