Legislative Activity

Markey-Hatch Student Data Privacy Bill

Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) circulated a draft bill last week to amend and modernize the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). The bill is intended to increase protection for student information, especially data held by third parties, but has yet to be officially introduced. The Senators plan to work with stakeholders to review the bill and consider revisions based on the feedback they receive in the coming weeks. Among the changes to current law that are found in the bill, schools receiving federal funds would be required to do the following:

  • Adopt adequate policies and practices to protect student data;
  • Require contractors, volunteers, consultants and others who store or maintain student data to comply with the school’s data protection policies and procedures;
  • Keep records identifying each third party given access to student records;
  • Ensure that each third party provides at least the same level of privacy protections for the student data as the agencies and schools;
  • Ensure that the third parties have mechanisms to correct and update the student data; and
  • Require third parties to destroy personal student data after a student is no longer enrolled in the school or served by the agency.

Student Loan Policy

As we reported last week, Senate Democratic leaders plan to press for a floor vote on legislation introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to refinance rates on high-interest and private student loans within the first two weeks of June. Democrats are united on the measure, which they are pushing as part of their pre-election “fair shot” agenda, while Republicans are adamantly opposed – primarily due to the pay-for provided by a tax increase on the wealthy. The measure is likely to set up a bitter partisan debate on the issue when it hits the floor.

A bicameral letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent last week by Sens. Warren, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Jack Reed (D-RI) and Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) urged the Department to issue guidance with respect to the collection of a federal student loan owed by a borrower who has filed for bankruptcy and requested the loan be discharged because of undue hardship. The authors argue that while federal law does currently allow for such a discharge, that path is frequently blocked by the Department’s contracted debt collectors.

Senate HELP Committee Priorities

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) identified the following priorities for the remainder of the year:

  • Early childhood education. Last week, the Committee approved the Strong Start for America’s Children Act on a party-line vote of 12-10. The bill would create two separate funding sources – formula grants for states that already have existing full-day, high-quality preschool programs and competitive grants for states that do not currently have such programs but plan to use the funding to create effective pre-K programs. While Chairman Harkin would like to bring the bill to the Senate floor before he retires at the end of 2014, an already-ambitious Senate agenda in an election year with fewer legislative days may prevent him from doing so.
  • Workforce Investment Act reauthorization. Chairman Harkin also has expressed great interest in moving the Workforce Investment Act reauthorization bill (S. 1356), which was approved by the Committee in July 2013, but has stalled since. We expect action as early as next week on the measure, which has bipartisan support from Committee members.
  • Education Science Reform Act (ESRA). With broad bipartisan support in the House, ESRA is likely to pass the Senate should it come to the floor; however, Committee staff have indicated they are first waiting for the House to move on the Senate-passed Child Care and Development Block Grant renewal.

Upcoming Hearings:

  • Monday, May 19: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight will hold a roundtable discussion on the Clery Act, Campus SaVE Act, and policies to combat rape and sexual assaults on college campuses. This is the first of three roundtables on the topic planned by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
  • Thursday, May 22: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining Access and Supports for Servicemembers and Veterans in Higher Education.”

Regulatory Activity

Program Integrity and Improvement

The Department of Education will hold its fourth and final session for the 2013-2014 negotiated rulemaking efforts related to program integrity and improvement on Monday and Tuesday. During this session, the Department will try to finish reviewing draft regulations on the definition of “adverse credit” for Direct PLUS Loan eligibility, State Authorization for Distance Education, and Cash Management. The Department also will try to reach consensus on the full package of issues (clock to credit hour conversion, state authorization distance education, state authorization foreign locations, cash management, retaking coursework, and definition of adverse credit for Direct PLUS Loan eligibility). Given disagreement over draft regulatory language for some of the issues, complete consensus is not expected. If overall consensus is not reached, the Department is likely to proceed with issuing proposed rules based on the draft language.