Budget Proposal Includes Cuts to Education Department. The Trump administration released its budget proposal for 2021, a $4.8 trillion request that significantly cuts non-defense spending, especially for safety-net programs and domestic discretionary spending. Funding for the U.S. Department of Education under the proposal would decrease by $5.6 billion, a 7.8% cut from 2020’s enacted levels. Other highlights from the proposal include new block grants under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), increased support for career and technical education (CTE) with state grants and expanding Pell Grant eligibility. The budget does not, however, propose any ways to address student debt, instead cutting billions from the department’s programs to forgive student loans. The proposal follows President Trumps’ election-year push for his education items, such as school choice (through the use of Education Freedom Scholarships) and increasing access to vocational and technical education. It also comes after the White House’s 2020’s proposal originally cut Education Department funding by $7.1 billion (or 10%) from 2019, but eventually was enacted by Congress as a $1.3 billion increase in funding after congressional disapproval. The budget is thought to be unlikely to be considered in its entirety by Congress. The Washington Post and CQ have more.
Senate Delays Vote on Borrower Defense Rule. Senate Democrats postponed a vote on their legislation (S.J. Res. 56) that would prohibit Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from enacting changes to the 2016 borrower defense rule. DeVos’s proposed changes would enact stricter standards regarding when the department will wipe debt owed by former students of now-closed for-profit colleges who claim their school misled them. The vote had been expected following the House’s passage of its version of the resolution (H.J. Res. 76) last month, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that debates on legislation regarding Iran and the War Powers Resolution cut into time available for the resolution. Durbin told reporters that he believed there was “a good chance” Senate Democrats could win over some of their GOP colleagues, saying he spoke to eight or nine GOP senators who seemed “open” to the measure. The administration, however, threatened a veto should the resolution pass in the Senate. The vote is expected to be taken up after next week’s recess. Read more in Politico.
Education Department Opens Inquiries into Colleges in Crackdown on Foreign Funding. The Department of Education announced an investigation into two New England universities that it claims failed to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts. Letters written to Harvard and Yale universities are part of larger Education Department investigations into U.S. colleges and universities receiving funds from foreign countries, including China, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Since this push began last summer, the department claims about $6.5 billion from more than ten institutions have been reported, as schools face increased scrutiny on the handling and reporting of foreign funds. In response to the opening of the investigations, Republican senators reintroduced their Foreign Influence Transparency Act, which would amend the Higher Education Act to require institutions to disclose foreign gifts and contracts totaling $50,000 or greater, lowering the current $250,000 requirement. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times report.
District Court Strikes “Unlawful Presence” Rule Affecting International Students. A District Court judge for the Middle District of North Carolina, Judge Loretta C. Biggs, ruled that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could not change its rules on determining “unlawful presence” for international students. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by several colleges—which received widespread support among other institutions—saying the rule change discourages international students from studying in the U.S. and increases anxiety among current international students. Under the initial policy, international students begin accruing “unlawful presence days” when they are notified that they have committed a status violation, such as failing to update their address or registering for a course load below the mandated minimum. The change, initiated in 2018, would begin the calculation the moment a violation is committed, allowing students to collect these days without their knowledge. When a student reaches 180 days, they can be banned from the country for three years. Biggs wrote that, under the proposed policy change, “unlawful presence accrues sooner and more frequently, adding that it was “a significant change from past practice” and ran “afoul of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s plain text.” Read more in Education Dive.
Congressional Budget Office Releases Report on Income-Driven Repayment for Student Loans. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new report on income-driven repayment (IDR) plans for federal student loans. These repayment plans, offered beginning in 2010, aim to make monthly payments for borrowers affordable based on income and family size. The report’s highlights include the projection that the federal government will issue about $1 trillion in federal loans over the next decade, with $208 billion of it expected to be forgiven. Through IDR, the government will lose 16.9 cents for every dollar it disperses, as opposed to a 12.8 cent gain per dollar under standard repayment plans. The report also notes how popular the program is: The volume of federal loans being repaid through IDR plans increased from 12% to 45% between 2010 and 2017. Senate Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY), who called for the report, claimed the new report “confirms the explosive growth of income-driven repayment plans is unsustainable” in a press release. Forbes and Inside Higher Ed have more.
Senators Question NCAA on College Athlete Pay. Members of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection held a hearing with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert and others on the association’s lack of progress on regulation regarding compensating student athletes. The debate centers around the use of an athlete’s name, image and likeness (NIL) without paying the student for that use. The hearing follows California’s first-in-the-nation policy issued in September that allows student athletes some tools to be compensated from their NIL being used. While the NCAA has formed a working group on the issue of athlete compensation, Emmert said a final vote would most likely not come until next year, sparking bipartisan questions on whether or not the body could be trusted. “This whole system has to be reformed,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), ranking member on the subcommittee. “The NCAA has a role to play, but only if it gets into the game, which, right now, it is failing to do.” Read more in The Hill and the New York Times.
Senators Introduce Bill to Fund School Nutrition Programs. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Food and Nutrition in Schools Act (S.3293) to allocate federal funding to programs that educate students on healthy food practices and connect them to nutritious foods. The bill would focus especially on areas with higher rates of diet-related illnesses and schools in which more than 40% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The bill comes as the Trump administration seeks to reduce food assistance and roll back school nutrition programs. The senators cast the bill as both a chance to provide “equitable access to food and nutrition education” and “programs that educate children to make healthy choices, which can help lower the incidence of disease linked to obesity and, in turn, save taxpayer money.” The Hill reports.
Senators Write to Lender over Potential Discrimination in Loans. Five senators—including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Financial Services Committee, and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—wrote a letter to student loan lender UpStart, following a report released by the Student Borrower Protection Center that found the financial services company might be charging higher interest rates to borrowers from historically black or predominantly Hispanic colleges. The report, titled “Educational Redlining,” found that UpStart applicants who attended these institutions paid about $3,500 more in interest and fees over the course of their five-year loan. The senators wrote that the report raised “serious concerns that Upstart’s use of educational data may have a disparate impact on borrowers of color.” Read more in NPR and American Banker.
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. 18, 2020. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.