Legislative Activity

Charter School Legislation

Last Friday, the House overwhelmingly passed (360-45) legislation to rewrite charter school law, with an emphasis on supporting state efforts to start, expand, and replicate high-performing charter schools. The bill’s sponsors in the House are hopeful that such a strong vote will encourage Senate action on charter school legislation. Despite a bipartisan measure (S. 2304) introduced last week in that chamber, which largely reflects the House-passed bill and has the Business Roundtable’s endorsement, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) currently has no plans to consider charter school legislation in committee.

Legislation to Address Student Loan Interest Rates

Legislation to refinance rates on high-interest and private student loans was introduced in both chambers last week. According to a Congressional Research Service report, students who refinance under the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, would save thousands of dollars under three separate borrower scenarios. New rates for the 2014-2015 school year were set last week, after the 10-year Treasury note was set at 2.61 percent. As such, the following rates are expected:

  • Rates on new undergraduate federal Stafford loans will increase from 3.86 percent to 4.66 percent;
  • Rates for graduate students will increase from 5.41 percent to 6.21 percent; and
  • Rates for Direct PLUS loans will increase from 6.41 percent to 7.21 percent.

The legislation would allow existing borrowers with high-interest loans to refinance at current rates, while allowing borrowers with private loan debt to refinance under the Federal Direct Loan Program. The legislation enjoys leadership backing in the Senate, which has promised to bring the legislation to the floor this year, but House consideration is unlikely.

Campus Sexual Violence Roundtables

As a follow-up to her campus sexual assault survey sent to over 350 institutions of higher education last month, Sen. Clair McCaskill, in coordination with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), will host three roundtable discussions this spring in Washington, D.C. related to campus sexual violence reform:

  • Monday, May 19: Clery Act and Campus SaVE Act
  • Monday, June 2: Title IX issues
  • Monday, June 16: Administrative process and the criminal justice system

The Senators intend for the roundtables to keep momentum going on the issue and help inform legislation they are considering to strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault while also holding institutions of higher education accountable. Invitations are expected to go out soon to a number of witnesses including student survivors, prosecutors of sexual-related crimes, advocates, and university staff and representatives.

Upcoming Hearings:

  • Tuesday, May 13: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing titled “Strengthening Minority Serving Institutions: Best Practices and Innovations for Student Success.”
  • Wednesday, May 14: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing titled “Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” The hearing will explore how the National Collegiate Athletics Association is integrating intercollegiate athletics into higher education and whether the commercial operation of college athletics is unfairly exploiting college athletes.
  • Wednesday, May 14: The Senate HELP Committee will mark up draft early childhood education legislation, the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act” and will consider the nomination of R. Jane Chu, to serve as Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Regulatory Activity

No Child Left Behind Waivers

Last Friday, the Department of Education sent a letter to state chiefs of education that applied for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver extension. The letter notes that the Department plans to review states’ plans for reforming their teacher and principal evaluation systems separately from the rest of the NCLB waiver extension application. This will provide some flexibility to states that are not on track with the commitments related to their teacher and principal evaluation systems that were originally made in their NCLB waiver applications.

Early Childhood Education

Last week, the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services posted executive summaries for the Development Grants and Expansion Grants that are part of the $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition. This competition supports states to (1) build or enhance a preschool program infrastructure that would enable the delivery of high-quality preschool services to children, and (2) expand high-quality preschool programs in targeted communities that would serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. States with small or no state-funded preschool programs will be eligible for Development Grants, while states with more robust state-funded preschool programs or that have received a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant will be eligible for Expansion Grants. Comments on the executive summaries are due by 5:00 pm on Friday, May 16.

As noted above, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee also will be addressing early learning issues next week as it marks up the Strong Start for America’s Children Act. This bill was introduced in November 2013 and would expand access to high-quality pre-K programs and help states improve their early learning systems.

Guidance on K-12 Public School Enrollment Policies

The Departments of Education and Justice have updated its 2011 guidance, which aimed to clarify how public elementary and secondary schools’ enrollment policies must not deny students entry based on race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or the status of their parents/guardians. The Departments based their guidance on federal civil rights laws and the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe.

The updated guidance focuses heavily on the need for schools and school districts to be flexible in accepting documents from parents to prove their students’ ages and to show that they reside within their schools’ attendance areas. The Departments also explains what types of documents should not be considered under the enrollment process, because they would be the basis of denying students entry based on their parents’ immigration statuses. The guidance provides a letter to states and school districts, a fact sheet that includes specific examples of the types of documents that schools have accepted, and frequently asked questions.