By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Here in Washington, D.C., we policy wonks often dream that as we near the end of the legislative session, the year’s work will wrap up just like a holiday gift, tied with a bow. Wouldn’t it be great to receive such a gift as the 116th Congress concludes its first session and heads out for a long holiday / district work period?
But in the policy world, that happy picture is seldom our reality, and more often, we close the year with loose ends. While a handful of legislative days remain, it is likely that we end with unfinished business that will impact students and institutions of higher education, along with increased uncertainty about what is in store for 2020. There are several consequential issues that will require us to return to in the new year with renewed commitment to engage, inform, educate and lend our voices to these debates. Here is a list of outstanding issues and our hopes for 2020:
FY 2020 Appropriations
The 2020 Fiscal Year began on October 1, but Congress is still grappling to reach agreement on final federal spending levels for all government agencies. While House and Senate appropriators have agreed on 302 b allocations (a term that is named after a section of the Budget Control Act requiring the chairs of the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate to set their respective top line numbers for each of the appropriations bills) for the twelve appropriations subcommittees, there are significant hurdles for reaching a final agreement on the allocations for specific programs within each of the individual spending bills. The current continuing resolution expires on December 20, and appropriators continue to work on their funding packages in hopes of moving them (not individually but in some combined form) before the deadline.
Hope for 2020: Our advocacy will have paid off and for FY 2020, there will be significant increases in funding for federal education programs in the Labor, HHS and Education appropriations account.
Higher Education Act Reauthorization
Now that the House Education and Labor Committee passed the College Affordability Act (HR 4674) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee renewed their reauthorization conversations, the Higher Education Act (HEA) is finally receiving greater consideration for reauthorization. While many issues remain unresolved, it is still possible that a reauthorization bill could be signed into law in the 116th Congress.
Hope for 2020: As key Congressional committees continue to prioritize and make progress on HEA, AJCU hopes that Committee leaders will stand by their commitment to increase federal investments in student aid and continue to engage with advocates to further improve their reauthorization proposals.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
On Tuesday, November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on three cases pertaining to DACA. That morning, AJCU – in partnership and solidarity with DACA recipients and faith leaders – stood witness outside of the Court. The Court’s decision on DACA will impact the approximately 700,000 Dreamers who came to the United States when they were young. The current program (launched by President Obama in 2012), grants temporary protection to individuals who meet certain requirements and pass a background check, allowing them to work and go to school.
Hope for 2020: AJCU hopes that the Supreme Court will rule to protect and preserve DACA. If the Supreme Court declares DACA illegal, AJCU will advocate that Congress must act immediately to protect all Dreamers.
The U.S. Department of Education has yet to release final regulations with implications for schools and students. Expanded reporting requirements of foreign gifts for institutions of higher education (Section 117) will burden all schools receiving Title IV funds. Final Title IX regulations establishing new guidelines for how colleges must handle allegations of sexual misconduct on campus (currently under final review from the Office of Management and Budget [OMB]) are certain to make a significant impact on students and campuses. Public meetings are scheduled at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs through January 30. It is not clear if the final regulations will be released before those meetings are held.
Hope for 2020: Working in partnership with other higher education associations, AJCU will inform key Congressional leaders and the U.S. Department of Education about the effect of these regulatory changes on campuses, in hopes that they will address these concerns.
Several tax issues that arose in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 remain of concern to the higher education and larger nonprofit communities. These problematic tax provisions include the Kiddie Tax, Parking Tax, Endowment Tax and the extension of the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses. Some provisions, like the Kiddie Tax, have wide-spread, bipartisan support, yet still have not been able to find a path forward on the Congressional agenda.
Hope for 2020: With Congress working toward finalizing the must-pass appropriations bills by the end of December, advocates (and congressional staff) are eyeing those bills as the vehicle to advance tax policy changes.
What does this mean for AJCU? The message is clear for us and for all other organizations that care about higher education issues related to student access and success: We must continue our strong engagement, strategic advocacy and continued partnerships to advance opportunities for all students seeking growth and advancement through education.
But is there some additional advice we can rely on today? What might St. Ignatius recommend? “Act as if everything depended on you. Trust as if everything depended on God.”
We must continue to work hard every day to be voices for our students, faculty and institutions, and have faith that good will come. That is the way we hope to wrap up 2019 and start the new year.