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Senators Casey and Brown Introduce Bill Making Drastic Changes to TRIO

April 15, 2019

During the 2019 Policy Seminar, we spent a lot of time discussing threats to TRIO through bills designed to increase requirements around serving different target populations. Well, late last week, Senator Robert Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, introduced the Expanding Disability Access to Higher Education Act (S. 1176). This legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, would require the Department of Education to use $50 million out of the underlying TRIO appropriation to fund supplemental grants to increase the number of students with disabilities served by TRIO. (A copy of the bill text is available here Document is available for download (.pdf) and a bill summary is available here Document is available for download (.pdf).) Additionally, the legislation calls for increased reporting about the types of disabilities (i.e., sensory, physical, mental or “self-care”) of students served by all TRIO programs.

While the bill purports to authorize an appropriation of $50 million to fund these supplemental activities, only the Appropriations Committee has the authority to provide such funding. Consequently, should this legislation become effective, the Department of Education would have to raid the overall TRIO appropriation in order to fund these grants. To put this in perspective, only two states have more than $50 million total in TRIO funding — California ($127.3 million in TRIO funding) and Texas ($80.1 million in TRIO funding). Therefore, funding for many traditional TRIO grants would be put into jeopardy as funds would have to be reserved for this supplemental competition.

As introduced, the Expanding Disability Access to Higher Education Act poses an unnecessary threat to TRIO students and programs. Students with disabilities are already a target population served within TRIO. Yet, this legislation sacrifices overall program quality and undermines efforts to expand access opportunities for all low-income, first-generation students, imposes burdensome reporting requirements, and fails to account for the particular challenges and needs of students with disabilities. Therefore, all TRIO supporters, are urged to call their Senators — particularly Democratic Senators — to let them know that you are very concerned about this legislation and urge him/her not to support it as introduced. All Senate offices can be contacted by dialing the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Need a refresher on the talking points about proposed changes to the scope and focus of TRIO in the Higher Education Act? Here is a recap from the Policy Seminar:

REAUTHORIZATION (TRIO language in the Higher Education Act)
Message Rationale
Express concern about proposals to require all TRIO programs to shift focus from its core mission — providing supportive services to low-income, first-generation students. ● By failing to provide appropriate supports, these proposed requirements may actually render a disservice to those they are intended to help.

● TRIO professionals are educators. Efforts to expand the focus of TRIO — to different student populations and to include different types of services — do not account for the need to provide specialized services that require particular expertise.
Urge legislators to support policies that protect the integrity of the TRIO programs. ● Every change in scope diminishes the existing work and capacity of the TRIO programs.

This legislation is just another hurdle in what will be a long race towards the HEA finish line. Your immediate action will help assure our path to victory in this next battle.

Please contact Kimberly Jones (kimberly.jones@coenet.org) or Stephanie Salvador (stephanie.salvador@coenet.org) by e-mail or phone by calling (202) 347-7430 to share any feedback from your Senators’ offices or to receive assistance.