House Panel Spars Over Scope, Cost of Education Investments in Biden’s Infrastructure Agenda

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As President Joe Biden marks his first 100 days in office, the House Education and Labor Committee wasted no time in delving into his newly unveiled proposal, the American Families Plan, and how the size and scope of those policies would impact the economy.

Committee leaders in their questions to a panel of education and workforce experts took diametrically opposed views on infrastructure, with Democrats largely praising the federal investments and Republicans decrying fiscal irresponsibility.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) expressed optimism in the potential for an economic recovery from the pandemic, citing the rates of vaccine distribution, but warned that the government would need to address rates of unemployment and the rising costs of higher education to ensure equity.

“These challenges have hit some communities harder than others. This is particularly true for low-income individuals and people of color who entered the pandemic with inadequate access to quality child care, education, health care, and workplace protections.” Scott said. “We cannot be satisfied with a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. We have the responsibility to build back an even better economy.”

Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) was not assuaged and argued that Democrats’ definition of infrastructure was an effort to “twist the English language” and would mostly just succeed in driving up the federal deficit.

“Despite allocating trillions in education spending over the last several decades, student outcomes are underwhelming,” Foxx said, arguing that Congress cannot continue to “blindly” throw money into the education system. “Remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic have only driven home the importance of targeted, local intervention in student success.”

Two economists during the hearing also cited concerns over the size of Biden’s proposal, with Brian Riedl, a senior fellow in budget, tax, and economics at The Manhattan Institute, calling Biden’s $2.6 trillion dollar plan “fiscally irresponsible.”

“America’s main infrastructure policy challenge is not funding, but rather the slow, bureaucratic, high-cost implementation of the policies,” Riedl said. “Spending another $1 trillion without making these programs more effective is a poor use of taxpayer dollars.”

Scott largely rebuffed those concerns, arguing that every Republican administration since former President Richard Nixon has left office with a greater deficit than when he began his term, and said the policy priorities outlined by the Biden administration play a critical role in helping long underserved students.

“Unemployed and underemployed workers do not care if job training programs are branded as infrastructure — they care that investments in job creation are paired with investments in the training they will need to access those good jobs,” Scott said. “Our students, parents, and school staff do not care if school buildings or community colleges are called infrastructure — they care about whether or not all students have access to a quality education.” 

Mark Mitsui, president of Portland Community College in Oregon, praised the calls for new investments and urged the committee to help higher education meet the needs for the new economy.

“Postsecondary credentials are the new minimum,” Mitsui said. “As we look to build back better, to create an inclusive economy, we need to create pathways for individuals to develop the skills and earn postsecondary credentials. Unfortunately, about half of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 lack this new minimum.”

Mitsui warned that without federal assistance in upscaling opportunities, half of U.S. adults would be at risk of being locked out of the next economy.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce, largely praised Mitsui and said his work serves as a “textbook example” of where a number of committee members are trying to go, as far as free community college.

“By investing in the students who cross the bridge, and by investing in the bridge itself, we can help keep America on the forefront of the world economy and create a more equitable recovery,” Mitsui said. “The community colleges are a key part of a functioning economy.”

Stay tuned to Today’s News for more details on the higher education policies being crafted through Biden’s infrastructure plan, which includes the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.


Publication Date: 4/29/2021

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