E-Update for the Week of September 24, 2018

E-Update for the Week of September 24, 2018

Highlights:

  • On September 18, the Senate adopted the fiscal year (FY) 2019 final conference report for the appropriations minibus (a combination of 2-3 bills) for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Defense-Labor/HHS). The Senate adopted the report by a vote of 93-7. The House is expected to consider the report when they return from recess the week September 25.
  • On September 17, in recognition of Constitution Day, U.S. Department of Education (USED) Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) all delivered remarks at events on the topic of the first amendment. All three discussed the importance of free speech on college campuses and called for the preservation of spaces to express diverse opinions and perspectives.
  • On September 19, USED released new data regarding the current claims submitted under the borrower defense rule. As of June 30, there were approximately 106,000 claims pending review by the Department. Thus far, the Department has approved 47,942 applications for loan discharges, but those applications also included those granted by the Obama Administration.

Budget and Appropriations:

Senate adopts FY2019 Defense-Labor/HHS package, House expected to vote this week: The Senate adopted the fiscal year (FY) 2019 final conference report for the appropriations minibus (a combination of 2-3 bills) for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Defense-Labor/HHS). The Senate adopted the report by a vote of 93-7. The House is expected to consider the report when they return from recess the week September 25. A press release from the Senate Appropriations Committee is here. A press release from Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) is here.
September 18, 2018

Congress:

Scott, Murray urge DeVos to suspend rulemaking for Federal Student Aid programs: House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to USED Secretary DeVos urging her to suspend the negotiated rulemaking process for the Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs. The letter, which is co-signed by 32 Senate and 76 House Democrats, states “As you know, the responsibility for making substantive policy changes to the integrity of financial aid programs is and remains the responsibility of Congress. We therefore urge you to abandon this aggressive deregulatory agenda that overrides Congressional intent to protect students, taxpayers, and the integrity of the federal financial aid programs, and defer to Congress as it works to achieve a comprehensive reauthorization of the [Higher Education Act].” The full letter is here. A press release from the House Education and Workforce Committee Minority is here.
September 17, 2018

Senate:

HHS nominee advances out of Senate Finance Committee, no vote scheduled in full Senate: The Senate Finance Committee advanced the nomination of Elizabeth Darling to serve as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Commissioner on Children, Youth, and Families. Darling was approved by a unanimous vote. A vote by the full Senate on Darling’s nomination has not yet been scheduled. A press release from the Senate Finance Committee is here.
September 18, 2018

House:

Foxx commends DeVos actions on borrower defense rule: House Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sent a letter to USED Secretary DeVos regarding the Department’s proposed institutional accountability regulations and the proposed borrower defense to repayment rule. Borrower defense to repayment rules allow student borrowers to seek relief from student loan payments due to fraud or other misrepresentation by their college or university. The letter reads in part, “Students defrauded by an institution of higher education must have a clearly established and navigable process to submit a claim… I am pleased to see your proposal seeks to correct the negative impact the prior rules would have on the student aid system.” The Chairwoman did express disappointment in that the comment period is only open for 30 days, but otherwise expressed her support for the Department’s efforts. The letter is here.
September 19, 2018

Administration:

U.S. Department of Education (USED):

Less than 100 individuals have successfully had loans forgiven under public service loan forgiveness program: POLITICO reported only 96 individuals have successfully had their student loans forgiven under the federal public service loan forgiveness program. According to data released by USED, more than 28,000 applications were received, with the Department having rejected more than 70 percent due to the borrower not having met program requirements. The POLITICO article is here.
September 20, 2018

USED releases new Special Education framework: USED Assistant Secretary of the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Johnny Collett published a blog post titled, “Rethinking Special Education.” Within the post, Assistant Secretary Collett calls for a reevaluation of how special education services are provided in the nation’s public schools. Specifically, Collett highlights the need to have an “unwavering commitment to address barriers that stand in the way of improving opportunities and outcomes for each child.” The blog post is here.

As part of the post, Collett announced a new framework for how OSERS will operate. The framework includes three core aspects – (1) supporting states in their work to raise expectations and improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities; (2) provide states flexibility, within the constructs of the law, in implementing their programs to raise expectations and improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities; and (3) partner with parents and families, and diverse stakeholders to raise expectations and improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The framework is here.
September 20, 2018 

More than 100,000 borrower defense claims yet to be reviewed by USED: USED released new data regarding the current claims submitted under the borrower defense rule. As of June 30, there were approximately 106,000 claims pending review by the Department. Thus far, the Department has approved 47,942 applications for loan discharges, but those applications also included those granted by the Obama Administration. The full data set is here. A letter from USED to Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding the data is here. A statement from Ranking Member Murray and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in response to the data is here.

September 19, 2018

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):

HHS reallocates FY2018 funds to increase shelter for unaccompanied migrant children: HHS Secretary Alex Azar sent a letter to Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to provide notice the Department will be reallocating $266 million in FY2018 funding to the Unaccompanied Alien Children program. Secretary Azar explained there has been a steady increase in children in HHS custody, and due to that increase, as well as the needed time to safely release the children to sponsors, the Department will be using its transfer authority to reallocate $186 million from other FY2018 HHS resources, including cancer research programs, HIV/AIDS prevention programs, Medicare and Medicaid program operations, maternal and child health programs, and from Head Start. Additionally, the Department will transfer $80 million from refugee programs within the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The funds will be used to increase shelter capacity and provide care to all unaccompanied migrant children. The letter is here.
September 5, 2018

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ):

Sessions, DeVos, Alexander call for college campuses to protect free speech: Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke during the Department of Justice (DOJ) Forum on Free Speech in Higher Education. The Attorney General described the freedom of speech and expression as being “under attack on the college campus.” Continuing, the Attorney General expressed the DOJ is concerned about the “suppression of speech” and described its efforts to support the first amendment on college campuses. Specifically, the Attorney General mentioned the Department’s continued efforts to file statements of interest in legal cases that revolve around the first amendment. The Attorney General’s full remarks are here.

USED Secretary DeVos spoke at the National Constitution Center’s Annual Constitution Day. During her remarks, the Secretary highlighted the importance of the first amendment, and the critical need to support free speech on college campuses. The Secretary urged college and university administrators to address the “heckler’s veto” and support opportunities for diverse – even if controversial – perspectives to be shared on campuses. The “heckler’s veto” refers to the interruption of presentations or speakers by protests forcing an event to close. The Secretary’s full remarks are here.

Lastly, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) also spoke at the DOJ Forum on Free Speech in Higher Education. During his remarks, Chairman Alexander urged for no federal action in order to encourage free speech on college campuses. “What the federal government should not do is pass a law trying to solve all this. Conservatives do not like it when judges try to write laws and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution,” the Chairman stated. Chairman Alexander went further to urge college leaders to support efforts to make “your campus a campus where having people of many different points of view is routine.” Chairman Alexander’s full remarks are here.
September 17, 2018

Upcoming Events (Congressional & Administration):

  • On September 25 at 10:00 am, the Senate HELP Committee will hold a full committee hearing titled, “The Every Student Succeeds Act: States Leading the Way.” It is expected the hearing will focus on implementation of ESSA at the state level. Witnesses include Matthew Blomstedt, commissioner of the Nebraska Department of education; Susan Bunting, state education secretary for Delaware; Molly Spearman, superintendent of instruction for South Carolina; and Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform. The hearing announcement is here.
  • On September 25 at 11:00 am, the Congressional Baby Caucus is hosting an event titled, “Influenza and Infants: Immunization for Resilient Populations.” The event will be hosted by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN). The event will focus on how policy makers, healthcare providers, and communities are working to protect young children from the threat of communicable diseases. To RSVP, email Alanna Purdy at alanna.purdy@mail.house.gov.
  • On September 26 at 10:00 am, the House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a full committee hearing titled, “Examining First Amendment Rights on Campus.” No witnesses have been announced. The hearing will be webcast here.
  • On September 26 at 10:00 am, the House Oversight Committee will hold a joint subcommittee hearing, titled, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Fraud.” The hearing is held by the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs and the Subcommittee on Healthcare, Benefits, and Administrative Rules. No witnesses have been announced. More information will be posted here.

Upcoming Events (Outside Organizations): 

  • On September 27, the Hoover Institution’s Education 20/20 Speaker Series will hold a discussion titled, “Double Standards on Discipline Will Widen the Racial Divide.” The event will feature Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, who will share her perspective on race-based discipline reform, including why it hurts the children it purports to help and how it cuts against one of the core purposes of schooling. Registration and more information is here.

Publications (Congressional and Administration):

  • On September 18, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a reported titled, “Private School Choice: Requirements for Students and Donors Participating in State Tax Credit Scholarship Programs.” The report analyzed the 22 “tax credit scholarships” (TCS) across the country and found states had awarded more than $856 million in private school scholarships to elementary and secondary school students during the 2016-2017 school year. The report also found that 11 of the programs allowed donors to claim 100 percent of their donation to these scholarships as state tax credits. The full report is here.
  • On September 17, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a report titled, “Students’ Computer Access and Use,” based on the 2015 results of the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP). The report described results of the questionnaire that accompanies the NAEP, in which students were asked various questions to assess their level of access to technology. Key findings of the survey include students who have access to computers at home had a higher score on the math NAEP compared to those without access; home computer access was positively correlated to socioeconomic status; public schools were more likely to have computer access in school compared to private schools, and non-charter public schools had greater access than charter schools. The full report is here.
  • On September 17, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspector general published a report titled, “EPA Needs to Re-Evaluate Its Compliance Monitoring Priorities for Minimizing Asbestos Risks in Schools.” The report found the agency is not conducting needed inspections to minimize asbestos exposure in schools. The agency is responsible for investigating school district procedures to ensure they conduct building investigations. The report found that between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, the EPA had conducted only 13 percent of inspections. EPA Region 6, which covers Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico had zero investigations between fiscal years 2012 and 2016. The full report is here.
  • On September 13, the Senate Budget Committee Republican Staff released a Budget Bulletin titled, “The Complex Case of Pell Grant Budgeting.” The report describes the evolution of the grant program’s funding structure, as it includes a mix of discretionary funding and two separate mandatory funding streams. The report also mentions Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi’s (R-WY) failed amendment to the FY2019 Defense-Labor/HHS appropriations bill that would have required any future mandatory costs associated with award increases were to be offset. The full report is here.

Publications (Outside Organizations):

  • On September 19, the Fordham Institute released a report titled, “Grade Inflation in High Schools (2005-2006).” The report examined the rate of grade inflation by comparing report-card grades to state test scores. Key findings of the report include noting that many students received good grades, but few earned high scores on statewide course exams; grade inflation was more severe in schools attended by affluent students than in those attended by lower-income students; and Algebra I state test scores were more indicative of performance on the math ACT compared to class grades. The full report is here.
  • On September 18, the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) released a report titled, “Student Debt and the Class of 2017.” The report is an annual review of student loan debt of recent graduates from four-year colleges. Key findings of the investigation include 65 percent of college seniors who graduated in 2017 had some level of student loan debt; on average borrowers owed $28,650; and about 15 percent of the debit was comprised of nonfederal loans. The full report is here.
  • On September 18, Third Way released a report titled, “Is College Worth It? Going Beyond Averages.” The report examined the benefits of a college degree compared to the cost to attain the degree. Key findings of the report include the net value of a college degree is $344,000 over an average person’s lifetime; 60 percent of students who start college do not graduate; there is a 78 percent chance a student attending college will have the degree “pay off” if there are no costs associated with attending, but that decreases to 50 percent if annual costs are over $50,000; and students studying arts and humanities at a private college have a 50 percent chance the net present value of their college investment will be positive. The full report is here.
  • On September 18, the Education Commission of the States released a policy-brief titled, “Work-Based Learning: Model Policy Components.” The brief examined current practices to implement high-quality work-based learning opportunities for students. The brief provides recommendations for states to coordinate with regional programs. Such recommendations include: (1) having a clear, singular definition of a work-based learning experience; (2) developing a state strategic plan for work-based learning; (3) designating entities to coordinate state and regional efforts; (4) establishing state or regional intermediaries; (5) developing and disseminating effective, vetted employer outreach and support strategies; and (6) communicating critical employer logistics. The full brief is here.

Legislation:

H.R.6830
A bill to provide temporary impact aid construction grants to eligible local educational agencies, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ)

H.R.6833
A bill to provide support to develop career and technical education programs of study and facilities in the areas of renewable energy.
Sponsor: Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)

S.3446
A bill to amend the American History and Civics Education program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to require inclusion of programs that educate students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights.
Sponsor: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

S.3447
A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide information about whether educational institutions allow individuals to stay enrolled in courses of education pending receipt of educational assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD)

S.3467
A bill to permanently reauthorize mandatory funding programs for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.
Sponsor: Senator Doug Jones (D-AL)

S.3471
A bill to direct the National Science Foundation to support STEM education research focused on early childhood.
Sponsor: Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)

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