This Week In Washington
Please note there will be no Roundup next week due to the Congressional recess. We will return on January 4th for the exciting start of the 116th Congress.
Whether the federal government shuts down at midnight tonight is still an open question. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a short-term spending bill to fund the government until February 8, 2019. But on Thursday, the House passed a bill that included $5 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, a priority backed by President Trump, but a likely non-starter in the Senate. If the two chambers cannot agree on a bill that President Trump will sign, the government will partially shut down until Congress can reach an agreement. However, recall that the education funding bill was already signed into law earlier this year, thus federal education programs (including federal financial aid programs) will be unaffected.
Also, the Senate passed via voice vote the Faster Access to Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Act of 2018. Recall, this bill solidifies a data sharing agreement between the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education (ED). The bill was introduced by both the chair and ranking member of the Senate education committee, and they have been aggressively seeking its passage. The bill’s fate in the House is a little less certain because influential Republicans, who currently control the House of Representatives, are skeptical and might oppose its passage.
On Wednesday, Sectary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke with higher education leaders at the American Council of Education. In her remarks, she said the U.S. must “rethink” higher education by turning its focus to individuals’ outcomes and improving innovation. She attacked her own Department’s accreditation policies, saying they were “costly” and that they “stymie competition.” DeVos said ED plans to engage in an “ambitious negotiated rulemaking effort” to “restore shared responsibility in higher education oversight and to encourage new approaches and new partnerships.” In tandem with her remarks, ED also published two white papers outlining ED’s principles for accreditation and higher education reform. However, the documents provide only broad statements and do not include specific policy proposals, which could be addressed in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, will not seek reelection in 2020. This is important because it gives him additional incentive to complete a rewrite of HEA during the 116th Congress. He hopes to accomplish another bipartisan feat as he and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) did in 2015 with the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Having served as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. Secretary of Education, Chairman Alexander is well respected in the higher education community, and experts believe his retirement will leave a large void in higher education policy.
Late last week, ED officially announced it would cancel approximately $150 million in federal student loans for around 15,000 students whose institutions had closed after November 2013. The forgiveness is the result of changes made to the closed school discharge rules by the Obama-era Borrower Defense to Repayment (DTR) regulations that are now in effect. Recall, ED tried to delay the DTR regulations and write new ones, but a federal court deemed the delay unlawful, and ED missed the deadline to enact its new regulations on July 1, 2019. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member on the Senate HELP committee, said in a statement that she is disappointed it took so long for borrowers to get relief, but that “this is a good first step.”
News You Can Use
There were no relevant student-aid related bills recently introduced for consideration by the 115th Congress (2017-2018).