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With HBCU Funds Hanging in the Balance, Alexander Pushes for Higher Ed Reform Package

The chairman of the Senate’s education committee is blocking legislation to provide federal funding to HBCUs in order to get components of the Higher Education Act reauthorization passed in the short term.

Federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities is set to run out on Sept. 30, but Senate Republicans are putting the funding at risk to pass a larger bill that would also address some of the big-ticket items in the Higher Education Act reauthorization where there is a bipartisan consensus.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wants to get a version of the HEA package signed into law before he retires in 2020. Senate Democrats are backing the FUTURE Act, which was approved in the House, to provide immediate funds to support HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions for the next two years.

Alexander introduced a bill on Thursday that makes yearly funding for HBCUs permanent, simplifies the Free Application for Student Aid process and expands the number of students who can utilize Pell Grants. He argued that the Department of Education has enough funding to support HCBUs through the next fiscal year, which should give Congress enough time reach a consensus on a larger HEA package.

"Ensuring that Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions continue to receive federal funding is something that we all want to do," Alexander said. "However, instead of a short-term patch we should pass a long-term solution that will provide certainty to college presidents and their students. I am ready to do this, in conjunction with a few additional bipartisan higher education proposals from 31 Senators — 19 Democrats and 12 Republicans."

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, is urging her colleagues to pass the FUTURE Act now before the funding lapses at the end of the current fiscal year and to address HEA reforms in a comprehensive bill. She wants the HEA reauthorization to address "affordability, accessibility, accountability and campus safety."

"I believe that we have a real opportunity to reach a comprehensive agreement that helps students in need, and we ought to take it. In the meantime, there is no excuse for playing politics, holding up the FUTURE Act, and exposing students and schools nationwide to uncertainty and to dysfunction," said Murray Thursday on the Senate floor.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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