House Democrats unveil education proposals in $3.5T reconciliation bill

House Democrats on Wednesday released the text of the sweeping education proposals that will be included as part of their $3.5 trillion legislative package to carry out President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chair of the House education committee, said that the bill would make “historic investments that will lower costs for nearly every family, create good-paying jobs for American workers and provide our nation’s children the strong foundation they deserve.”

The proposal fleshes out the details of $761 billion in spending proposals that the committee was instructed to make as part of the Democrats’ budget resolution that passed earlier this summer. The process, known as reconciliation, allows Democrats to pass the legislation without needing GOP votes.

In most cases, the House Democrats’ proposal includes less funding for education priorities than Biden has proposed and it's possible they’ll be forced to cut back further amid pressure from moderate Democrats who have expressed unease with the overall price tag of the bill.

School infrastructure: The proposal includes $82 billion in new federal funding to build and repair K-12 schools, less than the $100 billion that Biden had proposed. More than half of the nation’s public school districts need to update or replace at least two building systems, according to a GAO report last year.

The funds could be spent on a wide variety of initiatives including facility upgrades, energy efficiency and new construction. Districts may also use the funding to eliminate health and safety hazards such as lead, asbestos or mold. But eligible projects exclude buildings mostly used for sports contests, vehicles and school district buildings that aren’t used for the primary purpose of educating students.

State governments could have to kick in a chunk of their own funds to access the bulk of the federal funding, most of which would be doled out in the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years.

In addition, the bill sets aside $2 billion for grants to expand research and development infrastructure at the nation’s minority-serving colleges and universities.

Higher education: The bill would create a new federal program that would give states money to eliminate tuition at the nation’s community colleges. And it would send new funding — $1.5 billion — in direct aid to historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

House Democrats are proposing a new $9 billion fund to help states and colleges boost retention and completion in higher education. That’s less than the $62 billion that Biden had proposed.

The bill would also increase the Pell Grant by $500.The Biden administration has proposed a total $1,800 increase in the Pell Grant, which it has called a down payment on its campaign promise to double the amount. The maximum Pell Grant for the current academic year is $6,495.

The proposal would make undocumented students who are protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program eligible to receive federal student aid through the 2029-2030 school year.

In addition, the bill would expand Public Service Loan Forgiveness for some military service members.

Child care and preschool: The plan includes approximately $450 billion to carry out an expansion of federal support for child care and universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Child nutrition: The bill would also invest $35 billion in child nutrition programs, some of which would be used to increase the number of children receiving free school meals by nearly 9 million students. Funds would also be dedicated to update school kitchen equipment and create a “Summer EBT” program for low-income children.

GOP response: Republicans oppose the legislation, which Democrats are seeking to pass without needing any GOP votes.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), the top Republican on the committee, blasted Democrats’ proposal as an “irresponsible spending scheme that will double down on the inflation crisis and allow the federal government to infringe on Americans’ liberties.”

What’s next: The committee plans to hold a markup of the text on Thursday and Friday.

Democrats have set a soft deadline of Sept. 15 for compiling from various committees the legislative text of proposals that comprise their sweeping $3.5 trillion plan.