SCICU in DC —
Every year SCICU participates in the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. This year we were virtual.
On February 10th, a delegation of SCICU presidents met via video link with members of Congress and their staffs – we deeply appreciate their making time to join us. We expressed four priorities for Congress this year.
- Additional COVID-19 relief. Our campuses have shouldered the cost of precautions for COVID-19, and they’ve experienced lost revenues. At the same tie they have increased institutional aid for students who are struggling financially because of the impact of COVID-19 on them and their families. Campuses require additional support to continue providing the high-quality living and learning experiences on which students depend.
- Doubling Pell Grants. Pell Grants are a federal program that provides aid to economically disadvantaged students. Demonstrating their commitment to access and opportunity, fully 45 percent of students at SCICU member institutions are Pell Eligible. Doubling the highest grant to about $13,000 would help ensure that students will be able to focus on their studies undistracted by financial concerns.
- Equity among the higher education sectors – rather than free public tuition double the Pell Grants and let students decide what institutions to attend.
- Concern that the autonomy of Christian colleges and universities as provided in law and federal regulations is threatened by the Equality Act.
What is budget reconciliation?
You may have read that the majorities in Congress are endeavoring to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through “budget reconciliation,” rather than as typical legislation. Why?
“Reconciliation” was created as part of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to allow a simple (50% plus one) majority to pass legislation in order to change policy on spending or taxes in order to keep the nation’s budget under control.
The key here is reconciliation allows the Senate to circumvent the typical 60-vote requirement to pass legislation. With the Senate split 50-50, the Democratic majority will be able to draft the relief package as they see fit, and pass it without any Republican votes, presuming all Democrats vote for it, with Vice President Harris casting the deciding vote in the Senate.
Reconciliation has been used in the past to move legislation. Since 1980, Congress has sent 25 reconciliation measures to the president – 21 were signed and four vetoed. They’ve been used for tax cuts, welfare reform, and healthcare reform.
There are limitations on reconciliation, known as the “Byrd Rule.” These include only policies that change spending or revenues can be included and committees cannot add provisions beyond their purview, and changes to Social Security are not permitted.
The House and Senate have approved a budget reconciliation resolution, which then serves as the vehicle for the legislation.
And here’s the good news. The House Education and Labor Committee has drafted its bill and it makes clear that independent colleges and universities as a sector will be included in provisions for higher education aid.
The bill, written as an amendment to the Coronavirus Relief and Response Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act which passed in December, includes $40 billion for higher education, and $130 billion K-12 education. It passed committee along party lines. The $40 billion breaks down to provide:
- $36 billion for institutions, half of which must be spent on student emergency grants
- $3 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions
- $396 million for proprietary institutions
- $198 million for institutions hardest hit by the pandemic
Once the legislation passes the House it moves to the Senate, which will have its own ideas and priorities. The two bills will then be brought to a conference committee where a compromise between the two houses will be hammered out.