When it was first introduced in 2013, the Affordable College Textbook Act offered the promise of funding for universities that started open textbook pilots (like Virginia's community colleges, or UMUC in Maryland).
Sadly, that bill died a quiet death, but The Cite reports that it has been revived. Congress is working on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and:
The act, sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) in the U.S. Senate and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) in the House of Representatives, would encourage the use of open-access textbooks by providing grants to schools to make free or low-cost digital content available to professors, students, and researchers.
The grant process would allow schools to conduct pilots aimed at expanding the use of open educational resources as a way to lower college expenses to students. Applicants would have to provide estimates on the potential cost savings, with priority placed on programs that save students the most.
Publishers would be required to make all textbooks and educational materials available for sale as individual pieces of content, rather than as a bundle. It also requires the Government Accountability Office to provide updates on price trends of college textbooks.
That last detail is probably why the bill was killed before, and it will likely kill the bill this time around. Textbook publishers don't want to stop exploiting students, so they'll use some of their ill-gotten gains to hire lobbyists.
And that's a shame, because we could use this bill now even more than in 2013. Textbook prices haven't gone down any in the past couple years, and textbook publishers keep coming up with new ways to get schools to subscribe - and not buy - curricula.
Those are problems that open textbooks can fix, if only schools had the resources to experiment.
To be clear, you can already find free digital textbooks; organizations like the CK-12 Foundation fund support the development of CC-licensed textbooks and other open educational resources which can be customized to meet the specific requirements of a school.
That gave the several states (including Calif., Wash., and more) with digital textbook archives a head start, and it also helps the efforts being led by the universities themselves, including the Open Source Textbook Initiative at the university of Illinois, or the two mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.
And if this bill passes, more schools will be able to launch open textbook programs, saving money both for the school and student.