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Senate to Vote on Workforce Training Bill; Harkin Unveils Higher Education Plans

UPDATED

Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is gearing up for one hectic day: His committee's bipartisan workforce training bill is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor, and he plans to introduce the Democrats' proposal to overhaul the Higher Education Act.

We reported last week that lawmakers reached an agreement on which amendments would be allowed when the workforce training bill is brought up for debate. None of them impact the small section of the bill that deals with education specifically -- a provision that would increase opportunities for graduates with special needs.

The Senate is expected to pass the bipartisan proposal, which some members have spent more than a decade working on.

[UPDATE (3:45 p.m.): The Senate passed the workforce training bill Wednesday afternoon, 95-3.

"Now that it has been approved by the Senate by an overwhelming majority, I urge the House of Representatives to take up and pass this bill swiftly so that the President can sign it into law," said Harkin.

In a press release blasted out after the Senate passage, Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee predicted swift action in the House: "I commend our colleagues in the Senate for passing our bipartisan, bicameral agreement. This compromise is the result of a long negotiation process, and I am delighted it's passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. I am confident the House will send this bill to the president's desk without delay."]

It will then move to the House, where Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said it should see swift passage on the House floor.

Today, Harkin will also drop a discussion draft of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, the gargantuan law that includes the entire federal student loan system, just one day after Kline announced House Republicans will begin introducing a series of bills this week aimed at overhauling the higher education law.

The only real similarity between the two emerging proposals is that they would increase the flexibility of the Pell grant program, provide better information on costs to students and parents, and strengthen loan counseling. Where Kline's plan would condense repayment plans into two options, Harkin's proposal would streamline them into just one income-based repayment option.

Harkin's draft largely focuses on protections and saving for students, such as allowing private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy and eliminating origination fees on federal loans in order to save students money. Kline's package of bills, meanwhile, focuses more on eliminating federal regulations in order to save taxpayers and students money.

Harkin's proposal also includes provisions directly aimed at reigning in bad practices of for-profits colleges, and would authorize several programs to reform and improve teacher and school leader preparation. As for teacher prep in Kline's forthcoming bills, it appears as though they'll try to move the Teacher Quality Enhancement grants into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. More analysis of that last point to come once we actually see language from Harkin and Kline.

For more information on Harkin's higher education plan, click here, and for the actual discussion draft language, click here.

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