US Ed Dept Calls for Remaking University Middle East Programs with More Focus on “Positive” Aspects of Judaism and Christianity

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

Ed Dept Orders Two Universities to Overhaul Middle East Programs. The U.S. Department of Education ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake their Middle East studies program run jointly between the two schools. The letter sent to the universities reveals that the Education Department found the program to have a biased curriculum that did not present a substantial amount of “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region. While the department has broad authority to demand changes of universities that accept federal grants and financial aid, the letter represents a rare instance of federal intervention on college course content. In her tenure as secretary of education, Betsy DeVos has taken an unprecedented role in addressing what the Trump administration refers to as “pervasive anti-Israel bias at colleges and universities.” Read more in The New York Times.

Senate Appropriators Release FY 2020 Labor-HHS-Education Bill. The Senate released its $178.3 billion FY 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. The bill represents an overall increase of 1%, as did the FY 2019 bill in comparison with FY 2018. The markup of the bill was scheduled for last week but was suddenly canceled when Sen. Patty Murray (D- WA) announced her plan to propose an amendment to overturn the Trump administration’s Title X abortion funding rule. Republicans believed they had reached a budget agreement with Democrats before the August recess that excluded the use of any “poison pills.” Appropriations Chair Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) draft of the bill has received pushback from Democrats who are unsatisfied by what they view as insufficient funding to health, education and various social programs. Republicans have been accused of prioritizing new funding under the 2019 budget agreement to support President Trump’s border wall. The Senate bill level-funds several longstanding education programs, while the House’s version, passed in June, gave those programs large funding increases. Overall, the GOP Senate disregards the several drastic cuts to the department as proposed by the Trump administration’s FY 2020 budget blueprint. It marks a third year Republican Senators have dismissed the requests for large education cuts from Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The bill provides a total of $71.4 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Education Department, which is virtually the same as the 2019 enacted level. The maximum Pell Grant was increased by $135, to $6,340 total, to keep the pace with inflation. Career and Technical State Grants, Federal TRIO Programs, Federal Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants all stayed at their 2019 enacted level. The Senate bill is reportedly not expected to move anywhere quickly. Major disagreements between Republicans and Democrats, particularly in regard to the Health and Human Services section of the bill, are expected to stall the process. The House passed a continuing resolution to keep funding for the agencies, including the Education Department, past the end of the fiscal year, September 30, to November 21st, and it is expected to clear the Senate next week for Trump’s signature.

House Holds Hearing on Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness. A House panel held a hearing to examine public service loan forgiveness as complaints about rejections gain more attention. The Trump administration, which has called on Congress to eliminate public service loan forgiveness, claims to be faithfully carrying out the law as it currently exists. The Department of Education cites Congress’s complicated set of criteria as the reason for any unexpected application denials. Witnesses included Jeff Appel of the Education Department, Melissa Emrey-Arras of the Government Accountability Office (GAO); Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Yael Shavit, Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute, and Kelly Finlaw, a New York City teacher currently suing the Education Department. House Education Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) had invited James Steely, president and CEO of student loan servicing company Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), to speak at the hearing, but Steeley turned down the invitation. The CEO’s refusal to attend the hearing has come under criticism as PHEAA is one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers. According to a 2019 GAO report, over 99% of Public Service Loan Forgiveness applications have been denied since it began in 2007. Committee members agreed that the program is failing at its intended goal, but remain divided on who to blame. Republican House members believe the Obama-era program’s requirements are too confusing for the Education Department to execute them properly. However, Emery-Arras of the GAO stated that the Education Department is not doing enough. “If people are applying for programs they’re not eligible for, it’s because they’re confused, so it’s really important that the department helps them understand what the requirements are,” she testified. Read more in Politico and Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

House Passes Funding Bill for HBCUs, but it’s Stalled in Senate Over HEA. The House unanimously passed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) and Mark Walker (R-NC). The legislation would permit historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-servicing institutions, and other minority serving institutions to continue to receive $255 million of annual government funding. The funds are needed to improve academic quality and ensure financial stability of the institutions, as well as maintain and improve various high-demand field programs and majors. The mandatory funding, authorized under Title III, is set to expire on September 30. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) objected to a unanimous passage of the FUTURE Act and instead proposed a long-term extension of Title III, Part F, along with a package of bipartisan higher education bills. The package included a streamlined FASFA process, lifted restrictions on Pell Grants for some incarcerated students, and expanded Pell eligibility. Democrats, however, want a much more comprehensive Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization that includes accountability and affordability. Inside Higher Ed reports that the gridlock makes the possibility of extending HBCU funding before the deadline unlikely. The chair’s move illustrates his urgency to pass major higher education legislation before his retirement next year. HEA reauthorization has been stalled for several months due to partisan disagreements, and Alexander believes the Senate should pass his smaller bill “while [they] continue to work on a larger package.” The ranking Democrat on the Committee Patty Murray, expressed disappointment in the chairman’s proposal and called for a clean passage of the FUTURE Act through the Senate. Read more in Inside Higher Ed and Politico.

Senator Warren Investigates Private Equity Buyouts of For-Profits Colleges. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) began an inquiry into what she describes as ‘the destructive role of private equity funds in for-profit higher education.’ Warren, alongside Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), wrote letters to six private equity firms, including KKR and Apollo, to request they turn over a range of information about their financial management of colleges and universities. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

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 Sept. 23, 2019. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.

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