Higher Ed Legislation Moves through Congress

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

Since its inception in 1965, the Higher Education Act (HEA) has authorized federal funding for post-secondary education primarily through financial assistance for students. Federal dollars are also provided to colleges and universities for specific purposes, such as improving K-12 teacher preparation and supporting higher education institutions that serve underrepresented populations. The Higher Education Act has been reauthorized and revised eight times since the 1965 bill was signed into law, most recently in 2008. Congress is currently in the midst of reauthorizing HEA again, presenting an opportunity for NAfME to engage lawmakers and encourage support for music education in higher education policy.

istockphoto.com I Rattankun Thongbun

NAfME Legislative Asks

NAfME’s main priority is aligning the Higher Education Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to establish greater continuity between K-12 and postsecondary education policy. ESSA explicitly specifies ‘music’ as part of a well-rounded education, thereby empowering school districts to improve their music education programs through federal grant money.

  • Ensuring Title II of HEA supports recruiting and preparing the teaching workforce for
    all well-rounded education subjects;
  • Ensuring Title IV provisions for student loan forgiveness and cancellation are available for teachers of all well-rounded education subjects; and,
  • Ensuring Title III and Title V support increased diversity and cultural responsiveness in music education by aligning teacher preparation programs in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) with all well-rounded education subjects. 

Aligning HEA with the well-rounded subjects enumerated in ESSA provides clarity to Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) which can use HEA funding (Title II) to enhance teacher prep programs in all well-rounded education subject areas, including music. It also opens the door to more equitable student loan forgiveness programs for any well-rounded education subject that is designated as high need by a state or local district, not just those that have been traditionally viewed as high need.

Increasing the quality of music education also necessitates diverse, culturally competent music teachers. The Department of Education finds that “HBCUs and alternative routes to teacher certification tend to enroll a more racially diverse population of teacher candidates.” HBCUs and MSIs, which have a history of supporting the pipeline of diverse teachers, therefore play a positive and important role in increasing the diversity of the music education profession. If better aligned to ESSA, Title III and Title V funding from HEA could be utilized for curriculum development within teacher preparation programs specific to music and arts.

Current Reauthorization Proposals

On October 15, the College Affordability Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-3). The Education and Labor Committee, of which Representative Scott is the Chair, spent three days debating and voting on amendments before passing it out of committee on October 31. The bill represents a “comprehensive” attempt at reauthorization, meaning it makes changes to all parts of the Higher Education Act as it currently exists.

The College Affordability Act incorporates several NAfME legislative asks. New language under the Title II-A Teacher Quality Partnership Program would require participating school districts to report the percentage of teachers hired who teach in high-need academic subject areas, including “reading, science…or any other well-rounded education subject.” Additionally, language under Title II-B establishes competitive priority for programs which recruit, enroll, and prepare teacher candidates in high-needs fields including “science, technology, engineering, music, arts, mathematics, or computer science.”

This priority would apply to four funding programs under Title II-B, including the Hawkins Centers of Excellence grants, which strengthen teacher prep programs at HBCUs and MSIs, and the new “Well-Rounded Teachers Grant,” which would support dual-certification programs that license teachers in special education and another teaching area. Throughout Title II, there is an emphasis on inclusive practices and culturally responsive teaching, language that NAfME advocated for and is proud to support.

The College Affordability Act seeks to streamline teachers’ eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, so that educators with various types of federal loans can be more successful in having loans cancelled after meeting program requirements. The bill leaves in place loan forgiveness programs that favor teachers in math, science, and special education through broader eligibility requirements and by forgiving larger amounts of debt for teachers in those subjects.

Meanwhile, Senate negotiations for reauthorization of HEA have been limited to the leadership of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA). Following reports that those negotiations had broken down, Senator Alexander introduced the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 on September 26. That bill consists of amendments to parts of HEA known to be priorities for Senator Alexander, who plans to retire when his term ends in 2021.

The Student Aid Improvement Act would expand PELL Grants for short-term training programs and makes them available to incarcerated students. It includes simplifications for the FAFSA form – the application students must complete to qualify for federal student aid – as well as financial aid letters which notify students of their qualifications. While certain provisions of the bill garner bipartisan support, Alexander took a “piecemeal” approach, meaning his legislation leaves much of the current statute unaddressed, including provisions for teacher preparation.

As the education community awaits a potential compromise in the Senate, the House’s College Affordability Bill next heads to the floor for consideration by the full House of Representatives. NAfME will continue to work with members of the House to support the bill’s inclusion of a well-rounded education and music, as well as look for champions to support an inclusive approach to student loan forgiveness for all educators. As Congress has emphasized the importance of a well-rounded education, so should Congress support student loan forgiveness for teachers of all high-need subjects.

NAfME Public Policy Staff, November 25, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)