Let Them Eat Cake?

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

School Nutrition Rules Released. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a final rule on school nutrition, relaxing some requirements put in under the last administration. Schools in the national school lunch and breakfast programs will be allowed to serve flavored, low-fat milk, which is prohibited under existing standards. The requirement for the portion of grains that must qualify as whole-grain-rich will also be relaxed. Schools will also get more time to cut back on sodium in their meals. The final rule follows a pledge Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made in May 2017 to give schools more flexibility on dairy, sodium and whole-grain standards.

Senators Write to Secretary DeVos with Student Loan Servicing Concerns. Senate Democrats wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, saying they want the Trump administration to release more information about how the Education Department plans to award new contracts to student loan servicers in the coming months. They also wrote that the department should create higher performance standards under the contract and allow “independent regulators” to oversee the companies. The letter was led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the HELP Committee and signed by 23 other Senate Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The Trump administration is in the process of deciding from among more than a dozen finalists which companies should receive contracts to build out the new loan servicing platform. The department has been hit with legal challenges by companies accusing officials of unfair practices during parts of the government procurement process. A federal judge has ordered the department to decide by Dec. 14 whether officials plan to take any “corrective action” to resolve the companies’ concerns.

College Chain Closes Abruptly. Education Corporation of America (ECA) announced it would be closing its campuses after months of financial and regulatory problems, the New York Times reports. The Trump administration is criticizing the decision. The change will impact the education of nearly 20,000 students at dozens of for-profit campuses across the country. The Trump administration had been “in daily conversations” with the company about trying to help students find a way to complete their programs, according to Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill. “Instead of taking the next few months to close in an orderly fashion, ECA took the easy way out and left 19,000 students scrambling to find a way to finish the education program they started,” she said in a statement. Taxpayers will likely cover the cost of canceling the federal student loans of students at the company’s schools who do not transfer their credits elsewhere. Students who are enrolled at ECA schools, or who recently withdrew, will be eligible for a “closed school” discharge of their federal loans.

Senate Bill Introduced to Fully Fund Low-Income and Disability Education. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced a bill to fully fund Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Those programs are the majority of federal education funding for schools serving low-income students and special education, respectively. The bill is called the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers Act, or PACT Act. Van Hollen said that when IDEA was passed, the federal government promised to pay 40% of the cost of special education, but federal funding actually covers about 15%, with states covering the rest of the cost. Van Hollen’s bill would require the federal government to fully fund the law for 10 years.

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 Dec. 10, 2018. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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