The two most important laws concerning education are far past due for an update, and while many agree they each need rewrite, every recent attempt to do so has failed.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was last reauthorized in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Higher Education Act (HEA) was last authorized in 2008.
The Senate Education Committee is currently considering a change to the ESEA's funding formula, which is the main federal support for teachers and principals that work with low-income students.
Sen. Richard Burr writes for The Hill that he proposed the Every Child Achieves Act, introduced by Chairman Lamar Alexander, which he thinks should replace a provision in the bill that had frozen federal support to states based on their population since 2001. He argued that if the clause is removed, resources would be allowed to reach disadvantaged students who need them based on where they currently live as opposed to where they were living in 2001.
However, the idea was met with resistance from other senators who felt the move would cost their states too much money, although they did acknowledge that the policy as it stood was hurting low income students in other areas.
Alexander also recently introduced the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act, which would help colleges and universities encourage their students to borrow only what they need, graduate on time, and repay their loans.
"If colleges and universities have this incentive, it may not only help students make wiser decisions about borrowing, it could help reduce the cost of college — thereby reducing debt," Alexander said.
It currently takes the average college student six years to complete their degree program. In addition, the Department of Education released data suggesting that around 70% of those who default on their student loans do not complete their education, writes Michelle Corbet for The Memphis Business Journal.
"The University of Tennessee-Knoxville now requires all students to pay for taking 15 hours a semester," Alexander said. "That's higher than the 12 hours per semester required today to receive federal aid. The UT Knoxville chancellor tells me that students are finishing college faster – and that means with less debt."
Alexander would also like to see colleges introduce three-year degree programs. He also proposed that students be allowed to use federal Pell Grants year-round. Each of these moves would allow students to complete their programs more quickly, minimizing student debt.
Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray is working with Alexander in an effort to address all issues relating to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
"The Higher Education Act provides critical protections and support for our nation's students. As we work to reauthorize and improve the law, I am going to be focused on making college more affordable, reducing the crushing burden of student debt, strengthening protections so that all students have a safe learning environment without the threat of sexual assault or violence, and ensuring all students have clear pathways into and through higher education. I look forward to working with Senator Alexander and our colleagues on a bill that helps all students succeed."