Legislative Activity

R & D Tax Credits

On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to consider a bill (HR 4438) to permanently extend the research and development (R & D) tax credit while modifying the calculation method and the rate for the tax credit. As the temporary tax credit provision for qualified R & D expenses expired December 31, 2013, the bill:

  • provides a permanent simplified method for calculating the research credit with a rate of 20 percent, replacing the traditional 20-percent research credit calculation method;
  • provides a permanent basic research credit and energy research credit (both with credit rates of 20 percent); and
  • changes the base period for the basic research credit from a fixed period to a three-year rolling average.

While the bill is expected to pass, though with little Democratic support, it is unlikely to advance in the Senate as that chamber is pushing for a full package of tax provisions that expired in December. We expect the R & D credits, however, to be included should the chambers move to conference any tax extenders legislation passing separately in each chamber.

Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA)

Also to be considered on Wednesday, under suspension of the rules, the Strengthening Education through Research Act (H.R. 4366) would reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act, aiming to improve the federal research structure to better provide states with access to useful data that can help raise student achievement levels in the classroom. The bipartisan measure is likely to win support in the House, which will increase pressure on the Senate to consider what may be the only education reauthorization bill to pass this year.

Upcoming Hearings:

  • Tuesday, May 6: The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the FY 2015 Budget for the Department of Education featuring Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
  • Thursday, May 8: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Defining and Improving Success for Student Veterans.”
  • Thursday, May 8: The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Big Labor on College Campuses: Examining the Consequences of Unionizing Student Athletes.”

Regulatory Activity

First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative

The First Lady Michelle Obama announced her latest “Reach Higher Initiative” aimed at helping to make sure that all students have what they need to complete their education. The objectives of the Initiative are:

  • Exposing students to college and career opportunities;
  • Understanding financial aid eligibility that can make college affordable to students and families;
  • Encouraging academic planning and summer learning opportunities; and
  • Supporting high school counselors to ensure more students get into college.

The announcement did not include details on how the Initiative plans to meet the outlined objectives.  Currently, the Initiative promotes, all in one place, various resources that the Department of Education has already made available, including the College Scorecard, Net Price Calculator Center, and Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. We expect, however, that the First Lady’s Initiative will include events raising the profile of successful models throughout the country, as well as pushing for the completion of a Higher Education Act and other legislation that adopt the Initiative’s objectives.

Department of Education’s List of Colleges and Universities under Title IX Investigation

For the first time, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) publicly released the names of colleges and universities under Title IX investigation last week. According to OCR, the list, naming 55 schools, does not imply that these colleges or universities have or will be found to have violated the law.  Rather, some of the schools appear on the list because of an OCR-initiated complaint or investigation as part of a compliance review. OCR intends to update the list and make it available to stakeholders upon request. Additionally, due to criticism of the length of some of the investigations once the list was made public, we expect the Department to begin to work more quickly to close languishing cases.

White House Recommendations for Handling Sexual Assault on School Campuses

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, “Not Alone,” which is a package of recommendations on handling sexual assault on college and university campuses last week. The report follows the completion of the Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking on the Violence Against Women Act, where the committee reached an agreement on a draft regulation amending the Clery Act. The Department is expected to issue the proposed rule by this summer.

The Task Force’s recommendations result from an interagency effort by the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice and a series of listening sessions from earlier this year that involved stakeholders, including senior college and university officials, advocacy groups, Title IX coordinators, law enforcement officers, etc. The Task Force has made clear that the recommendations are part of the first report on the issue of sexual assault.

As part of the recommendations, the White House unveiled NotAlone.gov, which is a one-stop-shop for students, schools, and others to find resources on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses and in schools. The website also houses information on best practices and enforcement tools. The Department of Education also will release a list of Title IX coordinators at colleges and universities by next year, while the Department of Justice will push for pilot programs focused on campus sexual assault perpetrator treatment.

The Administration intends to require sexual assault climate surveys on college and university campuses by 2016 and currently seeks campuses to voluntarily use the surveys for this upcoming school year, which raises some concerns with stakeholders. The American Council on Education has concerns with the surveys because a “one-size-fits-all” survey could be problematic. Discussions will likely progress about the surveys and other issues as Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have indicated that they may work together to introduce a bill incorporating some of the Task Force’s recommendations, including the climate surveys, enacting enforcement provisions related to Title IX, and authorizing the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to levy certain fines or other sanctions for Title IX violations. To date, the Department has not pulled a college or university’s federal funding for failing to comply with Title IX because of the drastic impact it would have on students campus-wide.  However, this action may be coming as Tufts University announced its intention to withdraw from its Title IX agreement with the Office of Civil Rights.

As the White House works with stakeholders to implement its recommendations, federal officials plan to host additional listening sessions to receive feedback on how the recommendations are being implemented. These listening sessions may likely inform an additional Task Force report assessing the implemented recommendations and resulting best practices. In the interim, the Administration plans to release public service announcements (PSAs) to help stop sexual assaults. Last week, the White House released a PSA featuring President Obama, Vice President Biden, and celebrities, including Steve Carell, Seth Meyers, and others.

Department of Education Guidance on Title IX

The day after the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its recommendations, the Department of Education issued guidance answering questions from colleges and universities on topics including a school’s obligation to respond to sexual violence, clarifying those students protected by Title IX, reporting requirements, investigations and hearings, and handling student requests for confidentiality.

The Federal Grant Process & Burdensome Regulations

The National Science Board’s Task Force on Administrative Burdens published a report titled, “Reducing Investigator’s Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research” that recommends policy actions based on findings, including:

  • Focusing the peer-review process and post-award oversight on merit and achievement;
  • Eliminating or modifying regulations that are ineffective or inappropriately applied to research in order to avoid waste of federal research funding and to accelerate scientific discovery and innovation;
  • Creating consistency and standardization within and among agencies in all aspects of grant management; and
  • Disseminating effective practices and models to create efficiencies that reduce Principal Investigator’s administrative workloads.

These findings will likely inform current discussions occurring on the Hill regarding the National Science Foundation reauthorization and other discussions related to burdensome regulations. Although we do not expect standalone bills addressing some of the reports’ findings to move through both chambers of Congress this year, various aspects of the report will likely be pushed by education and research stakeholders, including the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Universities. Both associations support the overall findings.

Big Data & Student Privacy

The White House released its report, “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values,” which is part of the Administration’s comprehensive review of policy issues at the intersection of big data and privacy. The report explores the changing nature of privacy as technology has advanced. The report also follows up on President Obama’s speech at the Department of Justice in January about changes in technology that are used for national security purposes and what these technologies mean for privacy on a broad scale. In the speech, the President called for this broad 90-day review of big data and privacy and how big data is being used by universities, the private sector, and the government.

Much of the report’s section on education mirrors what the Department of Education’s ‎Office of Educational Technology has already discussed and issued on the subject of privacy. For example, one of the report’s recommendations calls for the federal government to ensure that privacy regulations protect students against having their data shared or used inappropriately, especially when the data is gathered in an educational context. The report states that the privacy regulatory framework under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) should be updated to ensure that students are protected against their data being shared inappropriately while also ensuring that innovation in educational technology has opportunities to flourish.

Many aspects of the report may serve as guidance in forming Members’ of Congress arguments and legislative actions as it relates to privacy in education, especially as both education committees prepare to release blueprints of the Higher Education Act (HEA) later this year. HEA, however, will not fully address all of these issues.