Legislative Activity

Minor Changes to Congressional Education Committees

In the Senate, Republicans maintained their control and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will most likely remain chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is expected to remain on as Ranking Member after easily winning her re-election. The composition of the HELP Committee will change as a result of Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) losing his race to Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

In the House, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the frontrunner to replace retiring chairman Representative John Kline (R-MN). Representative Foxx is a former community college president and has chaired the Higher Education Subcommittee. She is hopeful to get a Higher Education Act reauthorization passed in the next Congress and has said working with a Trump Administration would be a “dream” compared to working with the current Obama Administration. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) will likely return as the Ranking Member in the next Congress.

Regulatory Activity

Obama Administration Announced GI Bill Update

To celebrate Veteran’s Day, the Obama Administration announced on November 11 that Federal Student Aid and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have signed an agreement to share data that will be used to calculate cohort default rates, median loan debt, and repayment rates at the aggregate and institutional level for veterans and their beneficiaries using the GI Bill and who also borrow federal student loans. The Administration has also taken other steps that include introducing a legislative proposal seeking to ensure veterans who use the GI Bill to pay for licensing and credentialing are properly charged.

Stakeholders, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, have said that the most pressing education issue for veterans is proposed cuts to the GI Bill’s housing benefit. The House passed a package earlier this year that would cut the housing allowance in half for children who will use their veterans parent’s GI Bill Benefit, and a Senate version would make the same housing allowance cuts. Tom Porter, legislative director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “These efforts, should they become law, would be a breach in trust with the military and veterans who were promised these benefits when they entered the service.”

Trump Education Transition Team

President-Elect Donald J. Trump has begun forming an education transition team that is composed primarily of former Bush Administration officials. High profile members of the transition team can be found below.

  • James Manning is leading the education transition team and formerly served as chief of staff to Deputy Education Secretary Bill Hansen. After serving as a political appointee during the Bush Administration, he worked at the Office of Federal Student Aid under the Obama Administration.
  • Gerard Robinson is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former state education official in Virginia and Florida.
  • Townsend McNitt worked at the Department of Education during the Bush Administration.
  • William Evers, currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution, formerly worked as a senior advisor to Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush.

Potential Candidates for Secretary of Education and Regulations for Higher Education for the New Administration

Names of possible candidates to head the Department of Education have begun to circulate following Tuesday’s election. Immediately, Dr. Ben Carson was named as the most likely pick, but William Evers, discussed above, has also been suggested. Betsy DeVos and Kevin Chavous, both from the American Federation for Children, may also be under consideration for the position. The American Federation for Children is an advocacy organization that supports school choice and has been advising President-Elect Trump on K-12 policy.

President-Elect Trump has said he will greatly reduce the influence of the Department of Education, but has given little insight about how he will approach federal rules on colleges and universities. He has indicated he plans to scale back federal regulations, so he will likely target higher education rules established under President Obama.

  • Student loan repayment: President-Elect Trump has called for a new income-based repayment option that would cap borrowers’ monthly payments at 12.5 percent of their income and forgive any remaining debt after borrowers make payments for 15 years. Currently, monthly payments are capped at 10 percent of their monthly income and loans are forgiven after 20 years. While President Obama expanded these benefits through regulation, it is unclear if President-Elect Trump would act through executive authority or work with Congress to make a change.
  • State Authorization: The Department of Education is finalizing a rule to require state regulators to be more aggressive in overseeing online college programs in their states. The rule is not set to take effect until July 2018, which will give the new Trump Administration plenty of time to make changes or completely eliminate the somewhat controversial rule.
  • Borrower Defense Repayment: Last week the Obama Administration finalized a rules package to make it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to seek debt forgiveness that is set to take effect in July 2017. During the campaign, President-Elect Trump sympathized with those struggling to repay student loans, but he has not given details on a plan to help with debt relief for defrauded borrowers.