Counseling Today, Washington Update

House student aid bill includes loan forgiveness for school counselors

July 2, 2007

On July 11, the U.S. House of Representatives passed sweeping legislation that would bring some of the biggest changes to student aid policy in a generation. The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 would provide the single largest increase in college aid since the GI Bill. The new legislation would be financed by cutting excess subsidies paid by the federal government to lenders in the student loan industry. The bill, H.R. 2669, was passed by a vote of 273-149, marking the first step in the journey through the legislative process.

Of key interest to the American Counseling Association and its members, the bill would add school counselors to a list of high-need professionals — including early childhood educators, foreign language specialists, nurses, librarians, speech-language pathologists and child welfare workers — eligible for loan forgiveness under the Higher Education Act. If Congress enacted the legislation into law and appropriated sufficient funds, school counselors working full time in disadvantaged schools (i.e., Title I-eligible schools) would be eligible to receive a maximum of $5,000 in loan forgiveness for an outstanding Federal Stafford Loan or Federal Direct Stafford Loan on a first-come, first-served basis.

H.R. 2669 would also provide loan forgiveness for eligible Federal Direct Loan borrowers who have been employed in the areas of public safety (including first responders, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians), public health or public interest legal services for 10 years and made 120 income-contingent payments on their direct loans.

Last month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved its own version of student assistance legislation. While the Senate version does not include the loan forgiveness language for school counselors, it also would create loan forgiveness under the Federal Direct Loan Program for certain borrowers working in public sector jobs. Negotiations between the House and Senate are expected to take place this fall to work out the many differences between the respective versions.

It is important to note that counselors cannot receive loan repayment at this time as a result of the House vote. The House-passed language must also be approved by the Senate, signed into law by the president, outlined under regulations developed by the U.S. Department of Education and funded by Congress before any money can be disbursed to borrowers. ACA will be working to accomplish these goals and will keep members informed on our progress.

School counseling grant recipients announced

The U.S. Department of Education announced in June the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program grant recipients for the 2007-2008 school year. For a complete list of the awardees, go to www.ed.gov/programs/elseccounseling/fy2007awards.html.

More than $11.4 million in new ESSCP grants will be provided to 35 school districts in 21 states to improve elementary school counseling programs. The Education Department continues to fund the 62 school districts that were awarded grants in 2005 and 2006.

Funding for next year’s ESSCP remains uncertain at this point. As mentioned in July’s Counseling Today, the House education spending bill proposes funding ESSCP at a record $61.5 million, while the Senate education appropriations bill would fund the program at $40 million for next year. While both bills propose an increase in funding, only the House bill would allow funds to be used to support counseling programs in secondary schools. Under the current requirement, the first $40 million appropriated for the program must be devoted solely to supporting elementary school counseling services.

ACA has been working diligently to gain as large an appropriation as possible for ESSCP. In June, ACA Past President Marie Wakefield and American School Counselor Association President Carolyn Stone sent a joint letter to Senate Appropriations subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The letter thanked the senators for increasing funding for ESSCP in the Senate spending bill and encouraged them to work with their colleagues to support the House-approved funding level of $61.5 million in the final Fiscal Year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill.

Counselors are encouraged to go to the ACA Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/counseling and send a message to their U.S. senators and representatives urging them to support the House-approved funding level of $61.5 million for ESSCP in the final appropriations bill. For more information, contact Chris Campbell at 800.347.6647 ext. 241 or ccampbell@counseling.org.