Legislative Activity

House Vote on ESEA Postponed to This Week

The House will continue to consider its Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill – the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) – that was brought to the House floor last week. Last Thursday, House members began floor consideration of 44 amendments to the legislation— 9 Republican amendments, 9 bipartisan amendments and 26 Democratic amendments. The House planned to vote on the bill last Friday, but the final vote was postponed due to consideration of the FY 2015 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill and concerns that Republican leadership did not have enough support for the bill.

The Student Success Act faces opposition from both sides of the political spectrum – from Democrats, for what they think to be weak accountability standards and portability funding, and from conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, for not going far enough to free states from annual testing and school performance ratings. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been very vocal about his opposition to the measure, and President Obama said last week he would veto the bill in its current form.

On the Senate side, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) are working closely to draft a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill. Chairman Alexander recently announced plans to mark up the bill in the Committee sometime in March.

Senate to Consider HEA Legislation by the End of the Year

Chairman Alexander plans to pass a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill through the Senate by the end of year. In the next few weeks, he will be working with Ranking Member Murray to lay out a process for reauthorizing HEA and will likely begin a series of hearings on various topics in April. Chairman Alexander hopes to mark up an HEA reauthorization bill in the Committee sometime just before or after the August recess. While the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) had previously indicated the House would introduce an HEA bill in early March, the timeline for HEA reauthorization in that chamber is less clear now due to the debate over ESEA.

Senator to Introduce Legislation to Repeal Burdensome Regulations

In the next couple of weeks, we expect Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) to introduce legislation that would repeal regulations on defining credit hours, state authorization, gainful employment, and teacher accreditation. This legislation is similar to the Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act (H.R. 970) that House Education and the Workforce Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced earlier this month.

Senators Reintroduce Sexual Assault Legislation

Last week, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and a group of 12 bipartisan Senators reintroduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). While the new version of CASA retains much of its original language from the 113th Congress, it has several new provisions based on additional input from survivors, students, colleges and universities, law enforcement and advocates. One new provision of note is the reallocation of financial penalties collected from universities in violation of Title IX process that would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program authorized in the bill. The program would be focused on researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses. Numerous stakeholders were present during the reintroduction of the legislation to reinforce their support for the bill including representatives from Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the American Federation of Teachers, and the Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY).

This Week’s Hearings

  • Wednesday, March 4: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education will hold a hearing on the Department of Education’s FY 2016 Budget.

Executive Branch Activity

Department of Education to Increase Monitoring over Private Collection Agencies

After a review of all private collection agencies with which the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) Office works, the Department announced last Friday that it will wind down contracts with five agencies that were providing inaccurate information to borrowers, particularly regarding the loan rehabilitation program. Additionally, due to FSA’s findings, the Department announced it “will provide enhanced Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices monitoring and guidance for all private collection agencies that work with the Department to ensure that companies are consistently providing borrowers with accurate information regarding their loans.” As such, the Department will issue enhanced guidance for the remaining 17 private collection agencies, increase internal FSA staff training, enhance the private collection agency manual, and refine its internal escalation practices.