House Passes Holocaust Education Bill. The U.S. House voted 393 to 5 to pass the Never Again Education Act, a bipartisan bill granting $10 million over five years to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The bill (HR 943) provides the funds to the museum in order to expand resources and programming to teachers for education about the Holocaust and preventing future incidents of prejudice. It also requires the museum to expand its website to include curriculum materials and professional development trainings for educators related to the Holocaust. The vote on the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Following a string of recent anti-Semitic attacks and Jewish people remaining the largest target of religious-based hate crimes, Congress and the states have been under increasing pressure to improve instruction on the Holocaust in schools. Politico reports.
Shaheen Introduces Bill to Centralize Student Loan Information. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced the Simplifying Access to Student Loan Information Act (S. 3243), per a news release. The bill, introduced originally in 2015 under the same name, calls for the development of a central online portal, where students can review all of their public and private loans—along with repayment options—in one place. Specifically, the bill amends the Higher Education and Truth in Lending acts to expand the National Student Loan Data System (the Department of Education’s own financial aid database) to include loans beyond federal ones—the only type currently available on the Education Department’s website. The bill seeks to address the increasing amount of student debt owed nationally, but also in Shaheen’s own state, where 76% of college students graduate with student debt. “College affordability demands our attention—and action—now,” saidShaheen. “This requires a comprehensive approach that should include helping students understand and manage their debt after they graduate—that’s what this bill does.”
House Votes to Pass Student Borrower Credit Legislation. The House voted 221 to 189 to pass legislation, the Student Borrower Credit Improvement Act (HR 3621), that would allow student loan borrowers to improve their credit following a delinquent or defaulted loan. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), allows borrowers to “rehabilitate” their loan upon making nine, on-time “affordable and reasonable” monthly payments. In addition, credit reporting agencies would have to remove any adverse marks on a borrower’s history after they complete the rehabilitation. “My bill will help us get one step closer to establishing parity among borrowers and a credit-reporting system that works for people when they need it most,” Pressley said. Read more in Congressional Quarterly.
Warren Writes Education Department and Private Education Companies. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education calling for the department to collect the $22.3 million that student loan servicer Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) owes the federal government. Navient manages almost $300 billion in federal student loans and has faced similar allegations for its student loan practices in a 2017 lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren’s letter refers to a 2009 audit conducted by the department’s Office of the Inspector General that found the provider had overcharged the Education Department after incorrectly claiming special allowance payments for ineligible student loans. The letter comes several months after Warren, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Major General Mark Brown in October to urge the department not to renew its contract with the lender at the end of 2019. “For years since this scam was revealed, Navient has continued to engage in predatory, improper and illegal behavior,” alleged Warren. “Instead of taking responsibility for costs to taxpayers resulting from its misconduct, Navient has instead devoted tens of millions of dollars to lobbying and influence-peddling at the Department [of Education] and in Congress.” Forbes reports.
Title IX Rules Expected from Education Department. At a Missouri Federalist Society conference in Jefferson City, DeVos spoke to the society on her future goals for the department, including her proposed reforms to Title IX procedures on college campuses. Enforced by the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education, Title IX of the Higher Education Act prevents discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment/violence. DeVos rescinded previous guidance on enforcement of the rule—a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter to universities across the country—in 2017, proposing a draft of new rules that would overhaul the previous guidelines. The proposed rule stresses placing the burden of proof on the school, working with a presumption of innocence, and requiring live hearings and cross-examinations. The proposed changes come as colleges across the country are facing increased scrutiny for their handling of Title IX policies and enforcement. “Our proposed rule recognizes that we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning due process,” she said. “Some mischaracterize these reforms as tilting the scales of justice, but we believe they will simply balance them,” reported the Columbia Missourian.
Maine Moves Ahead to Unify Accreditation. The University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to move forward with plans to attempt to become the first state university system in the country to have all of its seven campuses accredited together instead of separately. The vote now allows the system to figure out details of the move, such as how to ensure the quality of education at each campus. The plan will then be submitted for approval to the system’s regional accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education. UMaine’s decision comes as state funding is unable to keep up with rising costs, and projections suggest the number of students attending college in Maine will only decrease in coming years. The move, according to officials, could allow the system to create more program offerings that combine the resources and faculty of each campus. Concerned professors and other stakeholders worry that unified accreditation could diminish the uniqueness in Maine’s system. With a public liberal arts college at Farmington, the rural university at Fort Kent and more, UMaine’s system is diverse across educational offerings. Peter Ewell, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said Maine’s effort could “be very significant, and many university systems would want to emulate it because of both cost and the benefits of having a single financial aid eligibility.” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Hearings/Markups of Interest: The House Committee on Education & Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education will hold a hearing on Solving America’s Child Care Crisis: Supporting Parents, Children, and the Economy on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 10:15 a.m.
We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of Feb. 3, 2020. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.