E-Update for the Week of October 12, 2021
- On October 7, the Senate passed on a party line vote of 50-48 legislation to increase the debt limit cap by $480 billion. The House is expected to pass the legislation this week.
- On October 6, the Senate confirmed by voice vote Gwen Graham as U.S. Department of Education (USED) Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs; Roberto Rodriguez as USED Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; and Elizabeth Brown as General Counsel.
- On October 6, USED announced an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which will be implemented over the next year.
Temporary deal on debt limit reached, Congress extends limit until early December: The Senate passed on a party line vote of 50-48 legislation to increase the debt limit cap by $480 billion. The House must now pass the measure and the short-term relief bill must be signed by President Biden. The temporary extension of the federal government’s borrowing authority will raise the debt limit until approximately December 3 – the same day that a Continuing Resolution (CR) to extend federal funding expires. Senate Republicans have expressed opposition to increasing the debt limit, in part, to protest the $3.5 trillion spending package being proposed by Democrats through the budget reconciliation process. The use of the budget reconciliation process will allow the spending package to pass on a simple majority vote in the Senate, avoiding a potential filibuster and providing Democrats the opportunity to advance the legislation with only Democratic support.
Despite their objections, 11 Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), joined with Senate Democrats to cut off debate and overcome a filibuster on the measure prior to a vote on final passage. This is being viewed as a temporary solution to avoid default on federal payments and will need to be revisited before early December.
October 7, 2021
Biden Administration Transition:
Nominations and Personnel:
Senate confirms three USED appointees, Lhamon nomination advances from procedural hurdle: The Senate confirmed by voice vote Gwen Graham as U.S. Department of Education (USED) Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs; Roberto Rodriguez as USED Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; and Elizabeth Brown as General Counsel. Following their confirmations, USED Secretary Miguel Cardona stated, “All of them recognize the life-changing power of a great education…I know they will work tirelessly in the best interests of the nation’s students, families, educators, and communities.” Additionally, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) noted that, “Together, [these confirmations] will help to advance the Department’s legal and policy efforts and ensure effective collaboration with the federal, state, and local officials who represent our shared constituents.” A press release from the Department is here, and a press release from Chairwoman Murray is here.
Separately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began the process of bringing Catherine Lhamon’s nomination to serve as USED Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights to a vote. The Majority Leader filed a motion to discharge the nomination from the Senate HELP Committee, which is required because her nomination received a tied vote in committee. Following four hours of debate, the discharge motion was approved by a party line vote of 50-49, but a confirmation vote will still be needed. In a statement of opposition to the discharge motion, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) issued the following statement: “Ms. Lhamon’s disastrous track record, partisan agenda, and inflammatory rhetoric make her an unacceptable nominee to lead the Office for Civil Rights. I strongly oppose her confirmation, and would urge my Senate colleagues to do the same.” A press release from Ranking Member Burr is here.
October 7, 2021
Coronavirus Updates (as related to education):
U.S. Department of Education (USED):
USED approves four more state ARP ESSER plans: USED announced the approval of Missouri, Arizona, Michigan, and Wyoming’s plans detailing each states’ proposed use of American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funding. With this most recent approval, 41 states and the District of Columbia have now received both tranches of their ARP ESSER fund allocations. The remaining states will receive their additional funds once the Department approves their state plan. A list of approved state plans is here.
October 7-8, 2021
USED requests information on implementing ARP maintenance of equity provision: USED issued a notice requesting information regarding implementation of the Maintenance of Equity (MOEq) statutory requirements for the ARP ESSER Funds that each State educational agency (SEA) and local educational agency (LEA) that receives funds must maintain. Since issuing initial guidance on the MOEquity provisions in June and August, USED has continued to engage with stakeholders to understand the opportunities and challenges related to the provision. This request for information (RFI) invites public comment until November 4 on a range of specific MOEquity implementation questions, which are detailed in the notice. Relatedly, USED is proposing to require that each SEA make publicly available information on how each LEA in the State is maintaining fiscal and staffing equity. The notice requesting information is here, and the notice on the proposed requirement is here.
October 5, 2021
U.S. Department of Education (USED):
USED revives Obama-era federal student aid enforcement office: USED announced the establishment of an Office of Enforcement within Federal Student Aid (FSA), led by Kristen Donoghue, who will directly report to FSA Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray. According to the Department, the new office will “strengthen oversight of and enforcement actions against postsecondary schools that participate in the federal student loan, grant, and work-study programs.” The action restores an office that was first established in 2016 but was “deprioritized” under the Trump Administration. The Enforcement Office will “proactively identify and address” major problems across institutions that “pose widespread risks to students and taxpayers,” and will work closely with the Partner Participation and Oversight Office on a risk-based approach to oversight and compliance. A press release is here.
October 8, 2021
USED announces changes to public service loan forgiveness program: USED announced an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which will be implemented over the next year. The loan forgiveness program was designed to allow student loan borrowers, who pay down their debts for ten years while working at a public-sector or nonprofit job, to have any remaining debt forgiven. However, many have criticized the program for rejecting applications from upwards of 95 percent of borrowers. Specifically, USED invoked emergency powers related to the COVID-19 pandemic to temporarily suspend some of the program’s requirements to cancel more borrowers’ debt. Some of the actions the Department is proposing include offering a time-limited waiver so that student borrowers can count payments from all federal loan programs or repayment plans toward forgiveness, automating PSLF eligibility, creating a path for borrowers to get errors corrected, and making it easier for active-service military members to earn credit toward forgiveness while they serve. A press release from the Department is here, and a fact sheet about the proposed actions is here.
In a statement reacting to the Department’s actions, House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) called the moves an “abuse of executive authority, [and] another step towards blanket student loan forgiveness.” Additionally, Ranking Member Foxx sent a letter to USED Secretary Miguel Cardona urging him to follow the law and work with Congress to reform PSLF. Ranking Member Foxx’s press release is here, and the letter is here.
October 6, 2021
Negotiated rulemaking committee begins work to define new higher education regulations: A Negotiated Rulemaking panel, which will meet over the next several months to discuss the Department’s higher education agenda, began considering proposals to overhaul the rules governing various student loan debt relief programs. Prior to meeting this week, USED released initial regulatory proposals for discussion and announced the slate of committee members for the rulemaking panel. Among several other proposals for consideration are making it easier for borrowers who are defrauded by their college to obtain loan forgiveness and reinstating a policy implemented under the Obama Administration that prohibits colleges from requiring their students to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. Of note, on the opening day of negotiations, the rulemaking panel rejected efforts to expand membership of the committee to include representatives of for-profit college student borrowers and consumer advocates. An article from POLITICO is here (note: a subscription to POLITICO Pro is required).
October 4, 2021
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ):
DOJ directs FBI to monitor, address increasing harassment of school staff: Citing an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies to address threats against school officials and teachers. According to the Attorney General’s memorandum, the Justice Department will launch a series of additional efforts in the coming days. Those efforts are expected to include the creation of a task force to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes. The Justice Department will also create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators. A press release is here, and the memorandum is here.
Relatedly, House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) led a letter from Republican Committee Members to USED Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Garland demanding a briefing regarding DOJ’s support to schools who are experiencing threats from parents. “Even when the subjects may be tough, it is important for school officials, elected officials, and teachers to understand and address parents’ concerns,” the lawmakers wrote. “Violence and threats of violence are never acceptable. Neither are school boards hiding behind law enforcement rather than dealing with parents’ sincere concerns.” Additionally, Ranking Member Foxx issued a statement calling the Attorney General’s memo “disgusting” for instructing the FBI to treat parents concerned about Critical Race Theory (CRT) as “domestic terrorists.” The full letter is here, and a statement from Ranking Member Foxx is here.
October 4, 2021
House education panel explores impacts of HBCUs: The House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment held a hearing titled, “Homecoming: The Historical Roots and Continued Contributions of HBCUs.” The purpose of the hearing was to explore the unique role that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) play in expanding access to affordable high-quality education. During the hearing, House Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee Chairwoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) highlighted the important role that HBCUs play in providing “ladders of economic and social mobility and safe havens for generations of Black students.” Additionally, the Subcommittee Chairwoman called attention to funding for HBCUs included in the Democrats’ proposed social spending package as a “critical step [toward] addressing decades of systemic underinvestment.” However, she noted, “we still have a long way to go to correct historic inequities in HBCU funding.” House Subcommittee Ranking Member Gregory Murphy (R-NC) also acknowledged that HBCUs are “an important and critical landscape to that of higher education…provid[ing] Black Americans with unique opportunities to pursue their degree and become a vital part of the workforce.” He went on to say, “While we fully support these institutions, we believe that they must develop sustainable funding mechanisms on their own to ensure their longevity. This goes for HBCUs as well as all other educational institutions.” A recording of the hearing is here, Subcommittee Chairwoman Wilson’s opening statement is here, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Murphy’s opening statement is here
October 6, 2021
House Education and Labor Committee Democrats release report on potential impact of budget reconciliation legislation: House Education and Labor Committee Democrats released a state-by-state analysis measuring the potential impact of the Build Back Better Act on child care costs for families. According to the analysis, the child care entitlement investments in the legislation could save a typical family of four using center-based child care “thousands of dollars every year.” “As our communities recover from a pandemic that only worsened the child care crisis, we have a responsibility to make bold investments that will expand access to quality child care and help working parents return to work,” said Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). “The Build Back Better Act will lower child care costs for families across the country and provide children with high-quality early childhood education.” The analysis is here, and a press release is here.
October 6, 2021
Upcoming Events (Outside Organizations):
- On October 11 at 2:30 pm, the Washington Post will hold an event titled, “Race in America: HBCUs with Ruth J. Simmons, PhD.” The event will feature a conversation with Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University, about the state of HBCUs and her journey from growing up in a segregated Texas town to becoming a top leader in higher education. More information and registration is here.
- On October 14 at 2:30 pm, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold an event titled, “Common Grounds: Spotlight on Affordable Child care.” The event will feature a conversation with Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) about opportunities for consensus, legitimate policy differences, and pathways to compromise, with a focus on affordable child care. More information and registration is here.
- On October 5, the U.S. Census Bureau published a report titled, “Despite COVID-19 Pandemic, School Spending in 2020 Increased in Most Categories.” The report analyzed recently released data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances to find that elementary and secondary school revenues and spending increased in most areas in fiscal year (FY) 2020. Key findings include identifying that all but two of 36 reporting areas, spanning 35 states and Washington, D.C., had increased revenues for public school systems; that because of the pandemic, the two areas that had 1-year declines (student transportation and food services) had slower growth in 10-year spending than other categories; and that increased spending in instruction and teacher salaries offset the notable decreases in spending on student transportation and food services. The full report is here.
- On September 27, the GAO published a report titled, “Challenges Locating and Securing Charter School Facilities and Government Assistance.” In the report, the GAO examined the extent to which charter schools had access to public facilities and the costs associated with such access. The report concluded that while both the number of charter schools and the number of enrolled students increased dramatically in recent years, charter schools continue to face challenges locating and security facilities. Key challenges identified include limited access to state and local funding and affordable private loans as well as rising real estate costs and renovation expenses; difficulty finding safe and secure building space due to limited access to public or private buildings; lack of consistent support by local governments and school districts for charter school facilities’ needs; and limited capacity to manage facilities. The full report is here.
Publications (Outside Organizations):
- On October 8, the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at the University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs published its 2021 Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap. The report provides guidance to state leaders on the most effective investments states can make to support the development of infants and toddlers. Key guidance provided in the roadmap supports states in implementing the most effective state-level policies and strategies to date that foster nurturing environments and promote equity; monitoring the state’s progress toward adopting and fully implementing these effective solutions; and measuring the well-being of infants and toddlers in each state. The full report is here.
- On October 8, the RAND Corporation published a report titled, “Does Four Equal Five? Implementation and Outcomes of the Four-Day School Week.” In the report, researchers addressed knowledge gaps about the four-day school week (4dsw) by conducting a large-scale study of the implementation and outcomes of the 4dsw that involved the collection of original data in numerous districts across Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Key findings include identifying that on average, 4dsw districts had longer school days, but fewer of them and fewer instructional hours over the course of a school year; that students on 4dsw schedules in grades K–6 and 7–12 reported having 4 hours and 3.5 hours of more free time per week, respectively, than 5dsw students; and that superintendents and school board members in districts visited by the researchers said that cost savings were the major motivation for adopting the 4dsw. The full report is here.
- On October 7, the First Five Years Fund released results from its October 2021 National Poll on Child Care & Preschool Support. The poll found that a strong majority of voters, including suburban women, independents, and other voter groups whose votes are crucial in key elections, are supportive of the child care and preschool investments proposed in the Build Back Better Act. Other key findings include identifying that voters – whether they have children or not – overwhelmingly say that we should be doing more in the realm of early care and education (ECE); that 77 percent of voters say the child care and preschool components in the Build Back Better Act would benefit their communities specifically; and that Voters soundly reject the suggestion that the Build Back Better Act is a “federal takeover of child care.” The full report is here.
- On October 7, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a report titled, “The College Payoff: More Education Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings.” The report explores how lifetime earnings vary by education level, field of study, occupation, industry, gender, race and ethnicity, and location. Key findings include identifying that the lifetime earnings of a full-time, full-year worker with a high school diploma are $1.6 million, while workers with an associate’s degree earn $2 million; that bachelor’s degree holders earn a median of $2.8 million during their career, 75% more than if they had only a high school diploma; and that master’s degree holders earn a median of $3.2 million over their lifetimes. The full report is here.
- On October 7, the Postsecondary Value Commission published a report titled, “Equitable Value: Promoting Economic Mobility and Social Justice Through Postsecondary Education.” The report analyzes newly available data and insights to propose a new approach for measuring the value of education after high school and recommends actions that stakeholders at varying levels can take to improve those returns and make them more equitable. Key recommendations include a new way of measuring value that takes into account minimum economic return; earnings premiums and parity; economic mobility and security; and wealth parity. The report also found that value varies greatly by who a student is (race/ ethnicity, income, gender), which institutions and programs they attend, and whether they complete a credential. The full report is here.
- On October 5, the Manhattan Institute published a report titled, “Accountability and Private-School Choice.” The report explores what regulatory conditions ought to apply to private schools that receive public funds. Key recommendations include that regulations should aim to give parents the information needed to make wise choices, thereby enabling them to hold schools accountable through enrollment decisions; and that accountability regulations ought to advance the goal of providing parents with access to more and better schools. The full report is here.
- On October 5, the EdResearch for Recovery project in partnership with the Annenberg Institute at Brown University published a report titled, “Structural Supports to Promote Teacher Well-Being.” The brief highlights evidence-based strategies to help promote teacher well-being and reduce teacher burnout and demoralization, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Key findings include that burnout and demoralization are meaningfully different forms of work dissatisfaction that each affect teachers’ ability to do their jobs and influence decisions to remain in the profession; that teachers who do not feel supported in their work and who are not provided with the necessary resources are more likely to leave the profession; and that evidence is growing that the pandemic has increased demoralization and burnout among many teachers. The full report is here.
- On October 4, the RAND Corporation published a report titled, “Educating Newcomers: K–12 Public Schooling for Undocumented and Asylum-Seeking Children in the United States.” The report aims to help various stakeholders understand the broad range of issues and implications related to population increases in undocumented and asylum-seeking children over the southwest border. Key findings include identifying that growing numbers of undocumented and asylum-seeking children from Central America and Mexico are arriving in the United States; that California, Texas, Florida, New York, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana together account for about 75 percent of the recent arrivals; and that to support these recent arrivals without changing teacher-student and staff-student ratios, school systems in each of seven states would have needed to hire at least 1,000 additional teachers and at least 1,000 additional other teaching and administrative staff. The full report is here.
A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to permit a Federal student loan borrower to elect to terminate repayment pursuant to income-based repayment and repay such loan under any other repayment plan for which the borrower is otherwise eligible.
Sponsor: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
A bill to establish that a State-based education loan program is excluded from certain requirements relating to a preferred lender arrangement.
Sponsor: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)