This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Foxx (R-NC) that would have eliminated the entire “American Graduation Initiative”, a new twelve billion dollar program to reform and expand U.S. community colleges, from the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. The American Graduation Initiative was designed to help adjust community college curriculums so that Americans would learn the skills needed to compete with workers from other nations, create new online learning opportunities for students, and modernize community college facilities. The Initiative was proposed by President Obama, who said it would increase the effectiveness and graduation rates of community colleges.
Rep. Foxx began her remarks by noting that her background had been in education and that she is a strong supporter of community colleges. She claimed the American Graduation Initiative would be “duplicative of programs already authorized under the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act”, and that eliminating it would reduce spending by $680 million between FY 2014 and 2019.
Foxx referred to the new provisions in H.R. 3221 that authorize federal grants to develop online course curricula, which her amendment would also have eliminated, as “a step towards (a) federal curriculum for schools and colleges.” She claimed those provisions would interfere “with the authority of states and localities to determine the curriculum that schools provide”. She further argued that it would waste “taxpayer money to federally fund an online course initiative that's already being provided by 1,000 colleges and universities across the country.”
Foxx went on to say that the programs her amendment would have eliminated were effectively “a welfare program for the states and the community colleges . . . .” She added that “community colleges already have programs where they evaluate what they're doing. They have to justify their programs, and the state should be setting priorities and funding those things that are most needed in the state.”
Rep. Andrews (D-NJ), opposed the amendment. He cited a statement of support for American Graduation Initiative from the head of the Business Roundtable, which is the association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies. That statement read, in part: “This Community College Initiative and the President's American Graduation Initiative reflect the fact that community colleges have emerged as important institutions where acquiring skills for new jobs and new careers will take place.'' Andrews added: “(T)he United States cannot compete without the most highly skilled and motivated workers in the world, and . . . our odds of achieving that goal in the workforce are severely compromised if our community college sector is not strengthened.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 126-301. All one hundred and twenty-six “aye’ votes were cast by Republicans. Forty-five other Republicans joined all two hundred and fifty-six Democrats and voted “nay”. As a result, the new twelve billion dollar program to reform U.S. community colleges remained in H.R. 3221.