It’s still not clear who will lead the education and workforce committees in Congress. But changes are coming on the Senate side.
Senator Patty Murray
, the Washington Democrat, is expected to swap her leadership role in the HELP Committee for one in appropriations. Her Republican counterpart, Richard Burr
of North Carolina, is retiring.
They likely will be replaced by two strong personalities: Senators Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul.
As Linda Jacobson wrote for The 74
, this “odd couple” would feature a Vermont Progressive who believes in free college for all and a libertarian-leaning Kentuckian who wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.
If Republicans take the House, Representative Virginia Foxx
would need a waiver from her party to once again lead the chamber’s Education and Labor Committee, reports Politico
’s Juan Perez Jr.
It’s not a sure thing that the North Carolina Republican and former community college president will get the nod. But the smart money is on Foxx reclaiming the gavel
for what she would rename
as the Education and Workforce Committee.
Foxx has said higher education and workforce policy will be top priorities for the committee, says Lindsay Fryer
, a senior vice president at the Penn Hill Group. Bipartisan agreement won’t be easy, especially considering the leadership changes in the Senate.
Yet Foxx has a relatively good working relationship with the committee’s current chair, Representative Bobby Scott
of Virginia. She “works hard to engage her members and build momentum to at least get Republicans interested in these issues,” says Fryer, a former Republican Hill staffer.
Foxx recently made her case
for opening up Pell Grants to education programs that take less than 15 weeks to complete. She described the GOP’s proposal
for “workforce” Pell Grants as an “alternative to a baccalaureate degree.”
A Workforce Pell proposal
had some bipartisan momentum last year. And while sticking points remain on quality standards
and for-profit eligibility, several observers say they expect broad support for short-term Pell in the new Congress.
“There continue to be key differences in the details to be worked out,” says Julie Peller
, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates. “But the need and support for quality short-term programs will grow, especially as the number of in-demand jobs continues to grow along with a workforce in need of training or upskilling to fill those roles.”
More than half of U.S. companies now offer education benefits
, with more joining their ranks
seemingly every week. The federal government incentivizes these corporate “free college” programs through a tax break for participating workers, who can exclude from their income up to $5,250 per year in employer education contributions.
The $5,250 cap, which has been in place since 1986, fails to cover the full costs of some quality education programs. SHRM, a national HR organization, says many businesses would spend more on educational benefits
if Congress increased the cap.
Proposals with bipartisan support would more than double the annual amount, lifting it to $12K.
Supporters say such a move would be pro-worker, popular, and could happen in coming months, perhaps as part of a business tax policy change
. This scenario may be more likely in a divided Congress. And it doesn’t hurt that a co-sponsor of one of the bills
to raise the cap is a contender
to lead the powerful Ways and Means Committee if Republicans take the House.
Funding for Apprenticeships:
The Biden administration has been a big backer
, with the U.S. Department of Labor recently spending $380M on work-based learning programs.
Republicans are in search of a clear alternative to college, says Ryan Craig
, managing director of Achieve Partners. And if Democrats continue to bleed support from adults without college degrees
, “look for them to acquiesce to Republican demands for a more balanced approach to funding postsecondary education,” says Craig, who recently co-founded the nonprofit Apprenticeships for America
Likewise, Craig predicts a federal shift from grant funding for apprenticeships to “more reliable” formula-based support
, where employers typically receive funds for each apprenticeship they create. This approach has support from both sides of the aisle, he says, pointing to California’s announcement last month that it will use a pay-per-apprenticeship model with $175M in funding