Hispanic Democrats release priorities for education bill

Hispanic Democrats release priorities for education bill
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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) announced Tuesday it will push for aggressive expansion of access to higher education in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

The CHC put out a list of priorities for higher education, including increasing college accessibility and affordability, support for teachers, oversight of the higher education system, and renewed support for minority serving institutions (MSIs) as well as diversity in education.

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Congress is expected to debate reauthorization of the HEA when it comes back from recess mid-October. The landmark law sets guidelines for how federal funding is distributed in higher education.

The CHC's guidelines include access to post-secondary education, including federal and state aid for undocumented migrants and beneficiaries of programs like Temporary Protected Status who have graduated from a U.S. high school.

The CHC's wish list also includes proposals to increase funding levels for Hispanic Serving Institutions and MSIs in general, programs for reduction of sexual violence on campus and oversight of lending institutions.

The guidelines also seek to strengthen social assistance programs across the board — for instance, providing information for students about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — as many family aid programs have been shown to increase student retention and graduation rates.

“Hispanic students should have a strong education system that serves their needs and considers the structural inequities that have historically held our communities back. CHC’s Priorities will help ensure equal opportunity and equal access to a quality higher education for all students," said CHC Chairman Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLawmakers argue for national Latino museum The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising MORE (D-Texas).

Education has historically been a top issue among Hispanic voters, along with health care and access to job opportunities.

But in the latest Univision poll of Hispanic voters, conducted by Latino Decisions, only 9 percent of likely voters said improving K-12 education was their top priority, and four percent marked lowering college costs as their top priority.

Still, Hispanic dropout rates have been consistently falling over the past decade, and nearly one million U.S. Hispanics turn 18 every year, making education a top priority for the demographic group.

The debate over HEA reauthorization is rankling the House Democratic Caucus's powerful Tri-Caucus — the CHC, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — which jointly released its own set of HEA priorities Monday.

The White House is seeking to curb student lending, blaming excessive regulation for high education costs and seeking an outcome-oriented approach to student aid.

The CHC plan, meanwhile, would tighten oversight of the Department of Education, focusing on setting stricter rules on organizations that provide student loans, while simplifying the aid application process for students.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP braces for impeachment brawl McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows GOP senator: 'Inappropriate' to discuss opponents, but impeachment a 'mistake' MORE (R-Tenn.) is expected to present a proposal soon that would align with Democratic wishes on simplifying access to aid, but would stop short of the HEA overhaul sought by most Democrats.

Alexander's approach met the most criticism from minority groups for holding back funding for MSIs, particularly historically black colleges and universities.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the CHC's education task force, told The Hill the group's guidelines would likely clash with priorities set forth by Senate Republicans and the Department of Education, but would align well with state and local trends to increase access to higher education.

Grijalva added that the set of priorities will serve as a guideline for House Democrats, regardless of the ethnic composition of their electorate.

"[These] principles don't only apply to Latino students," said Grijalva.

"More and more middle class people, regardless of race, are looking at affordability," he added.