Senators Seek Action on Racial Disparities for Student Borrowers

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

Senators Write to Education Department Over Racial Disparities in Student Borrowing. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) asking how the office plans to address racial disparities in federal student loans. The letter cites studies that have shown black students are 20% more likely to borrow from the federal government for their education, borrow more and default at double the rates of their white counterparts. Additionally, the senators noted that these disparities affect Latinx and Native American borrowers as well. The letter calls for an investigation into the role of OCR and colleges themselves in this discrepancy, among other demands.

Senate Education Committee Gives Timeline for HEA Authorization. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said he wants a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) passed in his committee by the end of March, while recognizing that the legislation would have a long way to go before reaching President Trump’s desk. Although negotiations continued during the holidays and impeachment trial, they still face challenges in areas such as Title IX reform. Read more in Inside Higher Ed.

Rep. Hayes, Speaker Pelosi and Others Support Sen. Reed Bill to Bolster School Infrastructure. U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ), along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, held an event to add a bill to Democrats’ slate of infrastructure improvements that would improve school infrastructure. The bill, the Rebuild America’s Schools Act (H.R. 865), originally introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) as S.266, would allocate $100 billion to repair and improve physical and digital infrastructure in public schools across the country. Read Pelosi’s remarks here.

Colleges Begin Preparations for COVID-19 Outbreaks. Colleges and universities across the country are bracing for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, to arrive on their campuses, as study-abroad programs are cancelled and students return from spring break. Some institutions, as well as the Department of Education and the American College Health Association, are developing task forces to prepare for the virus, and even considering how to continue operations with its spread—or if they should even remain open at all. Institutions are reminding students of important preventative measures, such as hand-washing and covering coughs. The Wall Street Journal has more.

Secretary of Education DeVos Testifies to Senate on FY 2021 Budget. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies to defend the president’s budget proposal for fiscal 2021. DeVos insisted the budget, which features a more than $6 billion cut to the Department of Education, will “unleash new innovation at the state and local level and continue to expand proven reforms.” She was met with harsh criticism from Democrats on the subcommittee. Even some key Republican lawmakers, including Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), expressed reservations about the proposal, especially with regard to the budget’s plan to consolidate 29 elementary and secondary education programs into one block grant for states. The Hill reports.

Ed Dept Delays Rural School Funding Cut Following Bipartisan Pushback. After a letter, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and signed by 20 other senators, was sent to DeVos, the department reversed course on a rule change that would cut funding for over 800 rural schools. The Rural and Low-Income School Program change would have required schools to utilize the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates to determine program eligibility, rather than allowing schools to use other, more expansive, metrics as a proxy for poverty rates. CNN has more.

Student Groups Call for Education Department to Erase Loans of Disabled Borrowers. Student loan representatives from seven states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to Devos and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul asking them to forgive the federal loans of permanently disabled student borrowers. The letter comes after a 2019 NPR investigation revealed that only 28% of eligible disabled borrowers from 2016 to 2019 had their loans erased or were on track to have them erased. The letter claims that the application process—needed to secure loan erasure by borrowers with disabilities—prohibits eligible borrowers from receiving the forgiveness they deserve; only 200,000 of the 555,000 qualified borrowers applied to have their loans erased between 2016 to 2019. Since 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has also urged the Department of Education to discharge loans of disabled borrowers. Read more at NBC and Inside Higher Ed.

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 9, 2020. For more information, please visit:


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