What do student loans and early childhood learning have in common with health care? Everything, if congressional lawmakers successfully attach a student loan reform bill – that would also create a $1 billion-a-year Early Learning Challenge Fund – to the package of fixes lawmakers hope to enact in a budget reconciliation bill that is part of the complex federal health care overhaul.
Sensing that some Senate lawmakers were wavering in their support of the House-passed Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which would, among other things, put the federal government fully in charge of direct student loans, House lawmakers and some senators in recent days began advocating to include SAFRA in a planned health care reconciliation measure. Reconciliation bills can pass the Senate with a simple majority vote as opposed to a 60-vote margin, which the Democratic leadership does not have.
Many youth development advocates have endorsed SAFRA. It eliminates subsidies to banks that offer student loans and redirects the savings to increase Pell grants and other student loan programs, support the Early Learning Challenge Fund, cut the deficit and simplify financial aid processes, among other initiatives. The legislation, which passed the House last September, would provide $1 billion a year for competitive grants to states to build evidence-based early learning programs, boost training requirements for providers and adopt standards for teacher-child ratios in early learning settings, according to a House Committee on Education and Labor fact sheet.
Multiple news organizations have reported heavy lobbying by opponents of the measure, which is a key priority of the Obama administration. As reports surfaced about balking senators, lawmakers, led by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), took to the airwaves to press for including the bill in the reconciliation package.
The health care reform process is so delicate, however, that adding a controversial student loan bill to the mix may be seen unrealistic or unwise at this late stage. In the end, if health care moves – far from guaranteed – students might have to wait for another day.