House Weighing “Truly Devastating” Ed Cuts

DC Shuttle …

Hearing on Education Budget. The House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing to discuss potential budget action. Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) said that $20 billion in cuts is expected to spending on labor, education and health programs. “There’s no part of this budget that can escape unscathed if we have $18-to-$20 billion dollars cut,” he stated. For education, that could mean cuts in the early childhood Head Start program and Pell Grants. Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said $18 billion in cuts would be “truly devastating … We couldn’t sustain the needs of the programs that are under our jurisdiction.”

Two Ed Bills Get Attention, Including Terminating Ed Dept. Two education bills have been gaining attention under the administration’s new priorities, though one seems much more attainable. A bill supporting school vouchers (H.R. 610) was introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in January and would turn all education funding into block grants to the states. States could then distribute vouchers to students for use at private and public schools. It would also repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bill has been discussed as a possible route to implement President Donald Trump’s voucher proposal. Another bill introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in February would also eliminate the Education Department (H.R. 899). While many Republicans have long sought the demise of this agency, the bill would likely face opposition in both the House and Senate, including from Republicans. This bill’s text is just one sentence stating that “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

Lawmakers Ask DeVos for Details of Potential Ed Dept. Cuts. Rep. Bobby Scott (R-VA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) wrote a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asking for more details about plans to look for ways to reduce the role of the Department of Education. In the letter, the lawmakers express concern about DeVos’s comments to a Michigan radio talk show earlier this month that she would be auditing the department’s programs, and that she was confident there were unnecessary programs at the department, Edweek reports.

Sen. Enzi Writes Letter to DeVos on Student Loan Data. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, released a letter asking DeVos to conduct a comprehensive audit of all student loan-related data maintained by the Department of Education. Enzi cited a Government Accountability Office report from last fall that found that the projected cost of income-driven student loan repayment (IDR) had been underestimated. The report says that there had been an underestimation of the portion of students likely to sign up for IDR.

Sen. Feinstein Writes Letter to DeVos on LGBT Protections. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to DeVos requesting new federal guidance to ensure LGBT students aren’t facing discrimination in school after the Trump administration reversed the Obama administration directive. “I have significant concerns about making it the sole responsibility of states and local school districts to protect LGBT students,” she writes in a letter, referencing the Trump administration’s approach. “Federal guidelines are needed to help states and local school districts create a safe learning environment for all young people,” she writes. The LATimes reports.

President Calls for School Choice Expansion. In his address to a joint session of Congress last week, Trump called on Congress to support school choice legislation. “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” Trump said. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.” One possible approach that the Trump administration is considering is a federal tax credit scholarship program to expand school choice. That program could be capped at a level as high as $20 billion and help send low-income children to private, religious schools. It could be part of a larger tax reform bill and pass through the budget reconciliation process, requiring 51 votes in the Senate. This approach could be easier than passing a $20 billion school voucher plan that Trump had called for. As an example, Trump cited Denisha Merriweather, who twice failed third grade at a Florida public school switching to a private school. She paid tuition with help from Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program, which gives corporations tax breaks when they donate to nonprofits that then distribute the money in the form of scholarships to private and religious schools. The president also called education the civil rights issue of our time, as EdWeek reports. The Washington Post reports that President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan had also used this terminology.

President Signs Executive Order on HBCUs. Trump signed an executive order on historically black colleges and universities, after meeting with leaders of HBCUs at the White House Monday. The order moves the White House Initiative on HBCUs into the White House from the Department of Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

MA AG Sends Letter Directing Schools Not to Discriminate on Citizenship Status. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wrote a letter to public schools stating that enrollment practices that single out students based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status violate state and federal law. In the letter, Healey says it is critical for school districts to make sure all children have equal access to public education by allowing them to enroll and attend school regardless of immigration status. She says that schools must avoid asking for information about citizenship.

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 March 6, 2017. For more information, please visit:


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