Legislative Activity

Speaker Ryan’s Education Outlook

Last Thursday, the House voted to confirm the current House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the 54th Speaker of the House. Rep. Ryan is a 16-year veteran of the House and received the support of all but nine of his Republican colleagues. As Speaker Ryan took the gavel on Thursday, he indicated his term as Speaker would be the beginning of a new time in the House where compromise and regular order would reign over the partisan turbulence that has marked the 114th Congress.

Many education stakeholders are watching closely to see if the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) conference report will be among the priority agenda items for Speaker Ryan this year. He has close relationships with House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), which may bode well for the ESEA reauthorization legislation.

Speaker Ryan’s past positions on education certainly range as seen in his budget proposals, which have generally cut the Department of Education’s spending or focused on consolidating federal programs into block grants. In addition, he has been critical of the growth of Pell Grants and has recommended tighter eligibility rules for the grants, among other changes. The new Speaker also has championed student loans reform for low-income borrowers and advocated for K-12 school choice.

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act Reauthorization

Last Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing titled “Improving Career and Technical Education to Help Students Succeed in the Workforce.” Several common themes and areas of focus emerged for the subcommittee to consider during reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act. The committee highlighted its interest in understanding best practices for changing the public perception of career and technical education as well as what language and educational opportunities should be utilized when describing CTE opportunities to students and parents. In addition, there is considerable interest in models that institutions of higher education and/or industry are using to forecast emerging jobs to help meet future and current workforce demands. While the House Subcommittee has not outlined a timeline for reauthorization, it is encouraging stakeholders to engage in sharing best practices and models in the areas noted above.

Additionally, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee also has begun its reauthorization process and has asked stakeholders to comment on eight bipartisan CTE principles. While the comment period closed on Wednesday, October 28, interested stakeholders are still encouraged to submit feedback.

Senators Seek Extension of Perkins Loan Program

Nearly one month after the Senate allowed the Perkins Loan Program to expire, a group of Senators is hoping to bring back the federal loan program for students as soon as possible. Yesterday, 54 Senators, including 11 Republicans, sent a letter to Senate leadership expressing strong support for the Perkins Loan Program. The letter urged the chamber to take up and pass the House bill extending the program, the Higher Education Extension Act, which the House passed by a voice vote on September 28. Passing a companion bill of the House version is a “simple solution,” according to the Senators, as it would not add any new costs because it limits the length of student participation in the program. The letter urges immediate action to pass the extension, welcoming debate at a later time to discuss further improvements to federal financial aid for students. The lead signor of the letter, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), explained that students cannot afford to wait for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to see the extension of their Perkins loans. HELP Committee Chairman Alexander has not indicated a willingness to extend the program apart from HEA reauthorization, however.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, November 4: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “The Value of Education Choices for Low-Income Families: Reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

Regulatory Activity

Cash Management/REPAYE Final Rules

Last Friday, the Department of Education published two final program integrity and improvement regulations that are aimed at protecting students that use debit or prepaid credit cards for their financial aid and helping borrowers pay back their student loans. The first is the final cash management rule that dictates how institutions of higher education work with companies that offer debit or cards for financial aid to students. The second final rule expands the current income-based repayment programs to additional federal student loan borrowers under a new program named the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE).

Cash Management Final Rule: This rule was originally proposed in May and has been updated to allow students to be able to choose how they receive their federal student aid refunds and ensure that they are receiving accurate and unbiased information about their financial aid disbursement options. .

REPAYE Final Rule:  The second regulation stems from President Obama’s June 2014 Presidential Memorandum on federal student loan repayments that called on the Department to propose REPAYE regulations to expand income-based repayment options to an additional five million Direct Loan borrowers. The proposed rule for the REPAYE plan was issued in July.

Consumer advocates, public interest groups, and student advocates have generally praised the final regulations that were released, but banks and financial institutions have expressed concerns about the Department overstepping its authorities in regulating financial products. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) issued a statement that echoed similar concerns and said that the Department continues to “micromanage” higher education. In the statement, they also note the best way to improve higher education is to update the Higher Education Act (HEA), which they are working to do, though it is unclear when they will issue a draft HEA bill.

The cash management regulation will go into effect on July 1, 2016. The new REPAYE repayment plan will be available to borrowers starting this December. Additionally, the provisions within the REPAYE final rule related to FFEL loans will go into effect on July 1, 2016.

White House Open Education Initiative

Last Thursday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Education hosted an Open Education Symposium and announced the launch of the #GoOpen initiative. This campaign is aimed at encouraging states, school districts and educators to use open educational resources (OER) in the classroom. As part of the symposium, the Department proposed a new regulation that would require all Department of Education grantees that are awarded direct competitive grant funds to openly license to the public all copyrightable intellectual property created with Department grant funding. The notice of proposed rulemaking does note that the regulations would not apply to grants that provide funding for general operating expenses; grants that provide support to individuals, such as scholarships and fellowships; or peer-reviewed research publications that arise from research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences grants. In its request for feedback on the rule, the Department asked for comments on the following questions:

  • Should the Department require that copyrightable works be openly licensed prior to the end of the grant period as opposed to after the grant period is over? If yes, what impact would this have on the quality of the final product?
  • Should the Department include a requirement that grantees distribute copyrightable works created under a direct competitive grant program? If yes, what suggestions do you have on how the Department should implement such a requirement?
  • What further activities would increase public knowledge about the materials and resources that are created using the Department’s grant funds and broaden their dissemination?
  • What technical assistance should the Department provide to grantees to promote broad dissemination of their grant-funded intellectual property?
  • What experiences do you have implementing requirements of open licensing policy with other Federal agencies? Please share your experiences with these different approaches, including lessons learned and recommendations that might be related to this notice.

Testing Action Plan

Last weekend, the Obama Administration directed the Department of Education to review its policies and undertake several actions to reduce over-testing in schools. This directive followed the release of a Council of the Great City Schools report revealing significant over-testing and redundancy among the nation’s school systems – the average student takes roughly 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12. Additionally, the report states most tests are not aligned with college- and career-ready standards.

The Department of Education will work with states and school districts to address seven key principles of test-taking to ensure that assessments are: worth taking, high quality, time-limited, fair, transparent, just one of multiple measures, and tied to improved learning. To implement these principles, the Administration is providing states and school districts with funding, guidance and expertise, and flexibility through waivers of federal regulations. These resources and tools are described more fully in the Department’s fact sheet published on October 24.

Additionally, the Administration is urging legislators in Congress to consider the issue of over-testing as they work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The fact sheet outlines the following specific recommendations that should be included in ESEA:

  • Cap testing time
  • Require school districts to provide better information
  • Ensure the use of multiple indicators to measure student success
  • Provide funding for innovative assessments
  • Provide funding for state and local assessment audits
  • Continue to require federal collaboration with external assessment experts
  • Maintain meaningful accountability for vulnerable students

In an open letter to parents and teachers, President Obama further explained the directive and his reasoning behind the effort to reduce over-testing. He welcomed the public to submit their thoughts on standardized testing in schools on a White House web form.

Experimental Sites for Dual Enrollment

Next week, the Department of Education will publish a Federal Register notice inviting universities to apply to participate in an experiment to allow high schools students to use Pell Grant funding for their dual enrollment courses. This experiment will be the third experiment announced this year as part of the Experimental Sites Initiative from the Department of Education, which aims to test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating institutions disbursing Title IV student aid. The Department expects that this experimental site will benefit up to 10,000 low-income high school students who will be able to take college courses while they are in high school but will not have to pay out-of-pocket for the courses.  Colleges must apply in with a public secondary school or local education agency as their partner. The Department will be looking for schools that require high school students to take courses that will count toward a degree program, allow students to earn at least 12 credits, provide support services, ensure students are prepared for college-level coursework, and assist the students in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).