DC Shuttle …
Higher Education Act Reauthorization. The House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing entitled, “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System.” Lawmakers held the hearing to gain more input from education experts as they move closer to a reauthorization attempt for the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Republicans on the committee have outlined their principles to guide the reauthorization process in 2014 and Chair Virginia Foxx (R-VA) reiterated these proposals in her opening remarks. The panel of witnesses made many recommendations to the subcommittee including: cutting regulations, streamlining institutional accreditation, encouraging states to increase funding, and investing in innovative educational tactics, such as the “Flip the Classroom” initiative at Purdue University wherein students watch lectures on their own time and spend class time on projects and interactive activities. Student debt was a topic on many of the lawmakers’ minds as well. The panelists outlined many ways the government and institutions can prevent and minimize student debt including simplifying the student aid application process by cutting questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and by switching to a prior-prior year (PPY) formula for determining aid, which would allow students applying to college to learn the aid entitlement earlier. The panel also recommended requiring increased counseling for student loans and cutting the current eight loan repayment plans down to two simple ones. The lawmakers were also interested in learning how to make data available and useful to students to help them make informed decisions about their future. The panel recommended providing more information to students about colleges and explaining why each data point matters. Witnesses also pointed out that the data doesn’t reflect “nontraditional” students adequately and can also unfairly penalize institutions which tend to attract larger numbers of minority, poor or first-generation students and recommended that data be more tailored to reflect the differences between student populations.
Student Aid Bill of Rights. Since President Obama proposed the Student Aid Bill of Rights to improve and simplify the student loan system, the administration has been advertising and further explaining the plan, including via a blog post from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a weekly address from the president. The media have started to weigh in on the action, with TIME providing a simple breakdown of what the proposals will mean and the Washington Post running an op-ed outlining further steps the government could take in solving the student loan crisis.
Education Proposals in the House and Senate Budgets. Both chambers of Congress released their draft budgets last week. The House budget would freeze the maximum Pell Grant award level for the next 10 years and roll back some expansions of the Pell Grant program, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It would also eliminate K-12 programs deemed “unsuccessful and duplicative” and “place a strong emphasis on returning the power to make education policy decisions to state and local governments.” After its release, President Obama said of the House budget, “What we’re seeing right now is a failure to invest in education … and research.” The Senate budget would not freeze Pell Grants but would subject them to similar cut-backs as under the House budget. Both would eliminate mandatory money for the fund, making it necessary to fund Pell Grants during the annual appropriations process.
Obama Reiterates Education Spending Priorities. Obama spoke with a group of urban school superintendents about his education priorities and the pending reauthorization of the Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Washington Post reports that the president called for funding education beyond sequester levels and for Title I portability to be removed from current drafts of ESEA reauthorization. Education Secretary Duncan weighed in on ESEA reauthorization on a call with reporters. Responding to a recent report that found that in 23 states, richer school districts get more money than poor ones, Duncan said that Title I portability would exacerbate the problem.
Testing Debate Continues. As testing season continues in schools across the country, opponents of standardized tests are continuing to boycott, presenting a unique challenge to the U.S. Department of Education, as Education Week reports. The anti-testing saga is covered in a recent op-ed from the Washington Post. Meanwhile, schools are preparing parents and students to receive scores that are expected to be lower than those from previous assessments.
States Apply for Waivers. States are preparing to file their No Child Left Behind waiver requests. Education Week reports that most states with waivers now are planning to file renewal requests. New Hampshire was recently granted the right to conduct pilot local assessments in four districts in place of state tests by the U.S. Department of Education within its waiver, according to the Union Leader.
College Ratings Could Be Divided Into 2 Systems. A U.S. Education Department official said this week that the department is considering creating two ratings systems. The first would be geared toward consumers and the second toward policymakers and researchers. The systems would consider different data and factors to better serve their intended audiences, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
Loan Refinancing Act Introduced. A group of lawmakers introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act in both the House and Senate. Similar legislation under the same name was voted on during the 113th Congress and fell just short of passage. The act would allow students to refinance their loans at a lower interest rate. The bill was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT). It has the support of many New England lawmakers, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).
School Climate Act Introduced. Six lawmakers teamed up to introduce the Supportive School Climate Act of 2015. The legislation would work to reduce suspensions, expulsions and other harsh disciplinary actions to attempt to address the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ and improve outcomes for students. The bill was originally co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep, Bobby Scott (D-VA). Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) joined to introduce the legislation. The lawmakers issued a press release after the introduction.
Maternal Home Visiting Program Up for Renewal. The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program faces a deadline of March 31. The program provides for home visits for low-income families with pregnant mothers and young children, according to the Brookings Institution. A bill was introduced in the House by Representatives Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Dave Reichert (R-WA) to provide funding for the program for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to the lawmakers’ press release.
Student Data Privacy Bill Expected. Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Luke Messer (R-IN) are expected to release their draft of a student data privacy bill this week. The bill will likely be based on the Student Privacy Pledge and proposals from President Obama.
Districts May Not Sue States over IDEA Procedures. A U.S. Court of Appeals determined that districts may not sue states over procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a U.S. law which ensures services to children with disabilities, Education Week reported.
Poor Student High School Graduation Rates. The Washington Post released a report detailing where poor and minority students are most likely to graduate from high school. Nationwide graduation rates are up to 81% and 73% for low-income students.
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 23, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.