Community & Government Relations Report, August 14, 2008

Federal Government

The U.S. House of Representatives recently gave final approval to an overhaul of our nation's higher education laws, advancing key reforms that would address the soaring price of college and remove other obstacles that make it harder for qualified students to attend college.
The bill, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (H.R. 4137), was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 380-49 in the House and 83-8 in the Senate. It is now being sent to the president for his signature.

George Miller, D-Martinez, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, hailed the legislation.

"Today's students face daunting obstacles on the path to college, from skyrocketing tuition prices to predatory student lending tactics," Miller said. "This landmark bipartisan legislation will address these challenges and create a higher education system that is more consumer-friendly, fairer, and easier-to-navigate."

Miller went on to say, "Already, this Congress has taken historic steps to make college more affordable and accessible. With today's vote, we are saying that in our nation's higher education programs, the needs of students and families must always come first."

However, not everyone shares Miller's enthusiasm for this legislation. According to the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities' Week in Perspective, "Congress, exercising what passes for wisdom these days, is about to adopt the worst reauthorization of the Federal Higher Education Act (HEA) in its history. As a community, higher education did a poor job explaining the issues to Congress and Congress did an even worse job trying to understand them. NAICU successfully eliminated some of the most absurd parts, but plenty remain."

An October 2007 report from the College Board showed that tuition and fees have increased across the board over the last five years, at public and private colleges and at two-year and four-year colleges. These increases have consistently outpaced increases in inflation and in families' ability to pay, creating a college cost crisis that threatens to prevent qualified students from pursuing a higher education.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act addresses these affordability challenges by encouraging colleges to rein in price increases, ensuring that states maintain their commitments to higher education funding and providing students and families with consumer-friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases.

Consistent with the bill's focus on consumer empowerment through transparency, the legislation also strengthens provisions previously approved by the House to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs. The bill's new provisions include requiring better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans.

Specifically, the Higher Education Opportunity Act would:
• Streamline the federal student financial aid application process
• Make textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester
• Allow students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships
• Strengthen college-readiness programs
• Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families
• Improve safety on college campuses and help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster
• Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities
• Strengthen our nation's workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology and foreign language educational opportunities.

However, the legislation does include some undesirable provisions - most notably, a large number of new regulations, recordkeeping and reporting requirements that will be imposed on colleges and universities, including Saint Mary's.

The Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 1998. The current law expired in 2003.

State Government

The state budget deadlock continues. State legislators are at a standstill in their efforts to close a record $17 billion deficit. Because California is only one of three states which require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to pass a budget bill, it will take votes from both parties. Neither side appears willing to forge a compromise at this time.

Cal Grant Funding: According to Erin Gable, Higher Education staff to Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Contra Costa), the status of the Cal Grants remains the same as it did after the May revisions were released: the entitlement program remains fully funded ($800 million), while the competitive Cal Grant program may be reduced or eliminated. Negotiations continue between the governor and legislative leaders.

Local Government

Like so many cities in California, Moraga will have its town council elections this November. Current council members' terns are up, including those of Lynda Dechambault, Rochelle Bird '91 and Mike Metcalf. Dechambault and Bird decided not to seek another term, leaving Metcalf as the only incumbent seeking reelection. New faces seeking council seats include Howard Harpham, Dennis Wanken, Brad Kvederis '03, Janice Colby, Anthony Rodriquez and Karen Mendonca.

There will be a candidates' forum on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Soda Center. All Moraga residents and Saint Mary's community members are welcome and encouraged to participate in this important local event.

Local measures. Two competing local measures will be on this November's ballot. For a summary of each, click on these links:


• Moraga Initiative Expanding Open Space and Residential Land Use Designations and Adopting Development Agreement

• Title and Summary

MOSO 2008
• Moraga Initiative Expanding Open Space and Imposing Development Restrictions
• Title and Summary

The Moraga pipeline project continues and is on schedule. The road closure component is complete and Moraga Road is now open.

What many had feared would be a monumental traffic nightmare turned out to be a well- managed public works project. To be sure, some of us had to wait at intersections and change our route around Moraga, but for the most part, the project went much smoother than anyone would have imagined. Kudos to Nora Harlow and the entire East Bay MUD staff involved with this project.

Coming in September: How to get tickets to the 2009 Presidential Inauguration