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House Education Committee Passes Student-Loan Bill

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Without many fireworks or much fanfare, the House Education and Labor Committee approved a bill that would completely overhaul the federal student-loan program, using projected savings to direct new resources to school facilities, early-childhood education, Pell Grants, and community colleges.

The measure was approved on a partisan vote of 30-17, with just two Republicans, Reps. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania and Thomas Petri of Wisconsin, crossing over to vote with the Democrats.

The committee approved a few tweaks to the portion of the bill on early-childhood education, including amendments that would allow the government to take into consideration when doling out the $10 billion in available grants how well states' programs serve students with special needs and utilize behavior programs based on positive reinforcement.

And, under an amendment approved by voice vote, community colleges receiving grants under the measure would be encouraged to partner with area businesses to meet labor needs.

Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate Republican from Delaware, introduced an amendment that would have directed the more than $4 billion available for school facilities in the bill to special education. He said the feds should meet their existing commitments before creating new programs that will just compete for scarce dollars.

That sparked a back-and-forth with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the panel's chairman, who said that, over his decades in Congress, he's watched both parties pass up opportunities to increase funding for special education.

Castle ultimately withdrew his amendment, although I think it would have been pretty interesting to see which members supported it.

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As Rep. Petri's press secretary, I would like to note that Petri has been a persistent advocate for direct loans and an opponent of the wasteful FFEL program, with its subsidized middlemen, since 1983. He has played a key role in every advance for direct loans, starting with the first demonstration program approved in 1992. The one remaining piece of his 1983 bill yet to be enacted is IRS collection of income-contingent loan payments - a feature which makes very good sense, and for which he continues to work.

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