Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Legislative Update-October 10

Legislative Notes
October 10, 2007

Legislators learn of facility needs
Over the last three weeks, legislators have been learning about the current and future facility needs of our campuses, as they make their way through bonding tours across the state. The condition of campus facilities, along with emerging program needs, are being reviewed at system institutions as lawmakers and Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson, determine where the need is greatest. Both the House and Senate Capital Investment committees will be traveling through November and will then visit metro campuses in December and January. We will continue to update you as the metro dates become known.

Legislative funding for flood victims
Gov. Pawlenty called a special session September 11, 2007 to provide some relief for flood victims in Southeastern Minnesota. Included in the bill passed by legislators and signed by the governor was $3.7 million for the Department of Agriculture to allocate funding according to need to many programs and agencies, including grants to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees for mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators through farm business management programs.

Federal Update
When Congress returns next week from a brief recess, it is anticipated that they will be taking up the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, as well as the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations bill. The full House approved its fiscal year 2008 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill in July and the Senate committee approved its bill in June, but the bill has not gone to the Senate floor for a vote. President Bush has threatened to veto any spending bill that exceeds his proposed discretionary spending levels, so there is talk about a veto to the Labor, HHS, Education bill once it passes both bodies.

Two weeks ago, October 1, 2007, marked the beginning of fiscal year 2008 in Congress. A stopgap measure was passed that allows Congress to continue operating until November 16, 2007. While many appropriation bills passed one body or the other, fiscal year 2007 ended without agreement by both bodies on most appropriation bills. This continuing resolution allows government to be funded through mid-November until the spending bills for fiscal year 2008 are finalized.

College Cost Reduction and Access Act
Certainly not new news, but worth reporting is that Congress passed the Budget Reconciliation bill, or the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (HR 2669), by a vote of 292-97 in the House and 79-12 in the Senate. President Bush signed the bill into law on September 27, 2007. This legislation will amend the Higher Education Act (HEA), making major changes in federal expenditures for the Pell Grant program, as well as making significant changes in other parts of the HEA that impact federal costs, student benefits, and institutional aid. Funding for provisions in the bill would come from the savings in lender subsidies. The bill provides new funding for the Pell Grant program to fund increases in the maximum Pell Grant award. The Pell Grant will increase by $490 for award years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, by $690 for award years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, and $1090 for award year 2012-2013. This increase will help the 81,816 Pell Grant recipients attending Minnesota post-secondary institutions (2004-2005 data).

Also included in the bill are newly created incentives to encourage teachers to teach in high-need schools. The TEACH Grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) program will provide scholarships of $4,000/year for high-achieving undergraduate and graduate students who commit to teaching a high-need subject in a high-need school.

The bill also lowers the student interest rate for new undergraduate subsidized loans beginning in July 2008 from 6.8 percent to 6 percent, in July 2009 to 5.6 percent, in July 2010 to 4.5 percent, and to 3.4 percent in July 2010. The bill also attempts to make student loan payments more manageable for borrowers by guaranteeing that borrowers will not have to pay more than 15 percent of their discretionary income in loan repayments, and allows borrowers to have their loans forgiven after 25 years. And the bill provides loan forgiveness after 10 years for public servants, including military service members, first responders, firefighters, nurses, public defenders, early childhood educators, librarians, and others.

According to a September 2007 report issued by the Institute for College Access and Success, Minnesota ranks fifth highest in the nation in student debt, with an average debt load of $23,375. You may view the complete report at http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/State_by_State_report_FINAL.pdf This new legislation is an attempt to alleviate some of that pressure facing new graduates not just in Minnesota, but around the country.

Higher Education Act
The latest update on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, is that Congress has yet to reauthorize the bill. Last Thursday, House Republicans presented a 400-plus-page bill that mirrors legislation that the House passed in 2006, when the chamber was under Republican control. It also contains some new language, including repealing a provision of the budget reconciliation bill singed into law by President Bush late September, that would test the concept of using an auction to set rates on student-loan subsidies. House Democrats have yet to introduce their reauthorization bill, but are expected to do so in the next few weeks. You may recall, the Senate passed its version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation in July. Once the House passes its version, a conference committee will convene to iron out the differences. Stay tuned.

American Council on Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education accepting nominations for 2008 Leadership Awards

The Office of Women in Higher Education (OWHE) at the American Council on Education (ACE) is accepting nominations for its annual leadership awards, the Donna Shavlik Award and the ACE Network Award for the Advancement of Women in Higher Education. The nomination deadline is Nov. 16, 2007.

The Shavlik Award is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated, at both the state and national levels, sustained and continuing commitment to women’s advancement in higher education. Award recipients will have demonstrated leadership and commitment to the advancement of women through actions or initiatives enhancing leadership development, career development, campus climate and mentoring programs for women.

Discussion continues over No Child Left Behind

The Associated Press reports today that President Bush said he is open to new ideas for changing the "No Child Left Behind" education law but said he will not accept watered-down standards or rollbacks in accountability. Lawmakers in both parties want changes to the five-year-old law, which faces a tough renewal fight in Congress. In a statement yesterday he said, "There can be no compromise on the basic principle: Every child must learn to read and do math at, or above, grade level." He also added that “…there can be no compromise on the need to hold schools accountable to making sure we achieve that goal." Bush listed several ways for enhancing the law; give local leaders more flexibility and resources; offer other educational options to families of children in low-performing schools; increase access to tutoring programs; reward good teachers who improve student achievement in low-income schools; expand access to advanced placement courses and improve math and science instruction.

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