Congressional leaders are back to sifting through their annual spending bills and on Thursday heard testimony from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who walked through the administration's higher education priorities for fiscal year 2023.
The House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) Subcommittee convened the hearing to dive into the Department of Education’s (ED) requested budget and discussed a wide range of policies concerning higher education, including funding for the Pell Grant program, the ongoing student loan moratorium, waivers impacting repayment plans, resources for student parents, as well as borrower defense and the ongoing negotiated rulemaking process.
The White House’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 — impacting award year 2023-24 — includes $88.3 billion in discretionary funding for ED programs, which is a 17% increase from the 2022 enacted level, including $26.3 billion for federal student aid programs. Specifically, the budget proposal would commit to doubling the maximum Pell Grant by 2029, starting with an increase to $8,670 for the 2023-24 award year, $1,775 more than the 2022-23 maximum award.
Cardona used his remarks to reiterate many of ED’s higher education initiatives aimed at maintaining a posture of support for all students.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs both the subcommittee and the full appropriations committee, praised the department’s limited waiver expanding the eligibility requirements of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and changes to income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, and used her remarks to tout the investments congressional Democrats enacted through the American Rescue Plan. DeLauro also thanked ED for its work on borrower defense claims and cracking down on predatory institutions.
“We need to build on these critical investments,” DeLauro said of the recently enacted omnibus for fiscal year 2022, adding that she was “pleased to see such a strong budget request” from the White House.
Ranking Member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he was glad to see the fiscal year 2023 budget cycle starting earlier than it did last cycle, and committed to work though the budget within the fiscal year — or at least aim to have negotiations wrapped up by the end of the calendar year so the next Congress will not need to be tied up with the process.
However, Cole reiterated his concerns over the size of the budget for ED and said he feared the currently proposed increase will saddle the next generation with debt, and called for a more moderate approach to spending levels. He also said the ongoing student loan moratorium added to inflation and that members with their own student loans should not be able to have their balances canceled through executive action.
Cole reiterated his longstanding support for the Pell Grant, TRIO, and Gear Up programs, which he said “help first-generation college students chart a course for a better future into the middle class.”
“We need to continue to help these students not only enroll but also graduate and find good paying jobs,” he added.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) asked Cardona to focus on non-traditional higher education routes and to ensure proprietary institutions were not adversely maligned in the negotiated rulemaking process, advocating that ED look into expanding Pell Grant eligibility to these programs.
Cardona expressed strong support for career pathway programs and committed to engaging with all institutions in higher education.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) sought an update on FAFSA simplification and how the department was going about reducing barriers to completing the process.
“I couldn’t agree with FAFSA simplification any more after having gone through the process with my own son,” Cardona said. He also highlighted that although the department is utilizing a delayed, phased implementation process for FAFSA simplification, several provisions have early implementation options.
Throughout the hearing, members also garnered Cardona’s thoughts on a wide range of educational issues touching on K-12 education, charter schools, and more education-related crises tied to the impact of the pandemic.
The House has tentatively planned to begin subcommittee markups of its 12 respective spending plans in early June.
Publication Date: 4/29/2022