House and Senate Continue Legislative Action Addressing Sexual Assault
Last week, Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA), along with 25 other members, re-introduced a bipartisan measure from the 113th Congress titled the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on Campus Sexual Violence Act (HALT Act). This piece of legislation would, among other actions, (1) allow students to bring civil lawsuits against colleges that violate the Clery Act; (2) provide additional funding for the Department of Education staff to address sexual violence; (3) require more safety notifications for students; and (4) create an interagency task force to examine survivor resources and Department efforts to carry out investigations.
Moreover, the Senate continues to prioritize sexual assault through the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization process. Most recently, the HELP Committee announced it will hold a hearing in the coming weeks on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). While the Committee designated sexual assault as one of its HEA issue working groups, Sen. Gillibrand is working hard to secure 60 votes for CASA so that the bill can move independently of the HEA process if needed.
We expect the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the Higher Education Act (HEA), with a focus on accreditation, on Wednesday, June 17.
Executive Branch Activity
Department of Education Seeks Comments on Cash Management Regulations
On Monday, May 18, the Department of Education issued proposed rules that would ensure students have convenient access to their federal financial aid funds without being forced to incur unreasonable fees. The rules also would prevent students from being led to believe that they must open a particular type of account to receive their financial aid. Specifically, the Department is proposing to:
- Explicitly reserve the right for the Secretary to establish a method for directly paying credit balances to students;
- Prohibit schools from requiring students to open an account into which financial aid credit balances must be deposited;
- Require that the school get consent from students and parents before sharing financial information with financial institutions; and
- Mitigate fees incurred by students by requiring reasonable access to surcharge-free ATMs.
As part of the rulemaking, the Secretary also is proposing to clarify how previously passed coursework is treated for Title IV eligibility purposes and streamlining requirements for converting clock hours to credit hours. The deadline for submission of comments is July 2, 2015. The proposed regulations did not address the state authorization of distance education and state authorization of foreign locations of domestic institutions issues, also related to the PII rulemaking; however, the Department continues to examine these issues, and we expect a separate proposed rulemaking to address them in the future.
Department of Education Issues Dear Colleague Letter on Ability to Benefit (ATB) Alternatives
The Department of Education recently released a Dear Colleague Letter on the partially restored “ability to benefit (ATB) alternatives” included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 that went into effect on December 16, 2014. These ATB alternatives allow for students who did not receive a high school diploma (or its equivalent) to be eligible for Title IV financial aid through a combination of ATB alternatives and enrollment in an eligible career pathways program. Additionally, the letter provides helpful information on the following:
- The definition of an eligible career pathway program that a student must be enrolled in to qualify for the ATB alternative;
- General ATB alternative requirements students must meet;
- Information regarding the retroactive provisions of the new law; and
- The alternative Pell disbursement schedule for students who first qualify for this provision on or after July 1, 2015.
Investing in Innovation (i3) Final Priority Notice and Applications for New Awards
On June 5, the Department of Education published its Final Priority notice on its Investing in Innovation (i3) program. Taking into consideration the public comments it received after its earlier March 17th notice of proposed priority (NPP), this final notice provides an analysis of those comments and of any changes in the i3 program priority since publication of the NPP. Of note, the Department states that its Final Priority “includes language that expands the types of schools in which applicants may propose to implement comprehensive high school reform strategies.” Also released on June 5 were the Department’s applications for new awards for the i3 program’s Validation Grants and Scale-up Grants. The deadline for Notice of Intent to apply for both grants is June 25, 2015 and the final deadline for applications is August 4, 2015.