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Department of Education Reviews Higher Education Regulations

Graduation Cap on top of U.S. CurrencyThis weekly Washington Update is intended to keep members informed on Capitol Hill activities impacting the educator preparation community. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.  

The Senate adjourned for the long weekend on Thursday and postponed next week’s scheduled recess to the week of January 24th. The chamber will return on Tuesday to continue debate on voting and election legislation. Behind the scenes, conversations surrounding FY22 appropriations are garnering more traction than they have in recent months. We expect the next month to be especially busy as we inch closer to the February 18th deadline for either passing FY22 appropriations or extending the Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown.

Biden Administration Embarks on a New Round of Negotiated Rulemaking

This week, The Department of Education continued with their massive review  of higher education regulations. In December, the Department completed the first step in that process as the negotiated-rulemaking committee concluded its work after months of debate over a range of proposals. At the time, the panel had reached agreement on four of the 12 proposals but ultimately failed to reach consensus on the remaining, more contentious plans. This week, the Biden administration began to circulate draft proposals for the remaining key components of its higher education accountability agenda. The Department of Education also finalized the 13 members of the rulemaking committee who will seek to achieve consensus over the policies put forth by the Administration. The Department is required to come to an agreement on the language in the proposals before it formally proposes the rules.

Among the most significant proposals is how the Department of Education plans to implement new funding requirements on for-profit colleges that Congress included as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Under the new law, for-profit colleges are prohibited from having more than 90 percent of their revenue come from various types of “federal education assistance funds.” The Biden administration’s initial proposal does not explicitly list which types of federal funds would count toward the 90 percent cap under the new calculations. Other key proposals include gainful employment, triggers for financially risky colleges, and a new career service requirement. Negotiations will begin on January 18th with additional sessions scheduled for February 14 and March 14. 

Members of Congress Press Biden Administration Officials on Plans for Supporting Schools to Stay Open; White House Expands COVID-19 Testing Plan 

On Wednesday, the White House unveiled a considerable COVID-19 testing expansion plan that promises to make 10 million additional tests available to schools each month-more than doubling the volume of testing that took place in November. The announcement comes as school districts across the nation grapple with short supplies, logistical challenges, and a seemingly insurmountable staffing crisis that has led some districts to ask parents to fill in as substitute teachers.

The CDC is also expected to release additional guidance on test-to-stay programs that allow children who were exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school as long as they are asymptomatic and follow the suggested mitigation strategies including wearing a mask and regularly test negative. The CDC will issue a school checklist and frequently asked questions guide for schools implementing the test-to-stay program.

This all comes following a hearing in the Senate on Tuesday, where members of the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee pressed Biden Administration officials  for details on their plans to support schools’ efforts to keep students learning in classrooms. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stressed the importance of keeping schools open stating, “Schools should be the first places to open and the last places to close.”

Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Ranking Member on the Committee on Education and Labor Rep. Virginia Foxx(R-NC) sent a letter  to Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona criticizing the Administration’s response to school closures across the nation. The Republican leaders highlight students declining performance on standardized assessments and the Administration’s lack of accountability measures for schools who have received American Rescue Plan Act funding but have transitioned to remote learning.    

One of the Largest Student Loan Companies Reaches $2 Billion Settlement with Bi-Partisan Group

On Thursday, Navient, one of nation’s largest and most controversial student loan companies  reached a $2billion settlement  with a bipartisan group of attorneys general from across the country. The settlement requires Navient to cancel the private loan balances of nearly 66,000 borrowers and to pay restitution to 350,000 federal student loan borrowers. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro led the settlement which includes 29 states and the District of Columbia. “Navient knew that people relied on their loans to make a better life for themselves and for their children — and instead of helping them, they ran a multibillion-dollar scam,” said Shapiro. The settlement is notable for how much Republican support it attracted. GOP attorneys general from Florida, Arizona, Tennessee and Georgia were among those signing onto it, making it one of the most sweeping bipartisan actions against the student loan industry in recent memory.

New Resources for Educators 

  • The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a report that examines the decreasing number of students enrolling in institutions of higher education. Continued enrollment losses in the pandemic represent a total two-year decline of 5.1% or 938,000 students since fall 2019.
  • The Joint Economic Commission issued a report highlighting the return on investment that early childhood education provides. The commission found that investments in preschool can generate nearly nine times the return on investment.
  • The Learning Policy Institute released a blog that explores the state of teacher shortages and presents evidence-based solutions that states and districts can implement to both address immediate need and build a strong and diverse workforce.

See you on Twitter @brennan_kait.  

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