Blunt on certain funding requests

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (right), Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Chair Sen. Roy Blunt and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray arrive for a hearing to review the funding request for the U.S. Education Department. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Much like last year, don’t expect Senate appropriators to go along with everything in the Trump administration’s funding request for education.

That’s what Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), chair of the Senate education appropriations subcommittee, told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a hearing before the panel Tuesday on the department’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 request.

Both Blunt and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) noted that the administration’s request for next year is similar to the one the administration pitched for FY2018 — which the subcommittee rejected. Blunt said the panel won’t pass a bill that would eliminate large formula grant programs supporting after-school programs and teacher professional development. He also noted his support for the TRIO program, which the administration wants to consolidate with Title III and Title V programs supporting minority-serving institutions into state formula grants.

“Staying continuously enrolled in school, having support from programs like TRIO and access to financial aid through Pell and campus-based aid programs will help more students stay on track for graduation, enter or re-enter the workforce sooner and graduate with less debt,” Blunt said.

The subcommittee chair — as well as several other panel members from both parties — said that he supports the administration’s proposal to let students use Pell grants for eligible short-term postsecondary programs, but he asked DeVos how those programs would be defined. The education secretary said the department would work with Congress to develop “guardrails” to determine eligibility for high-quality, short-term programs. DeVos added that flexibility and innovation is needed in student aid in order to find ways to help students keep down the costs of college.

Thumbs up on year-round Pell

Blunt noted that this will be the first summer that most students can tap the year-round Pell Grant, which Congress reinstated two years ago. It is expected to serve about one million students nationwide each year, he said, including 20,000 in Missouri, where one-third of students receive a Pell Grant.

“When I was in Missouri last month visiting community colleges and universities, I heard from students about the benefits of being able to take classes continuously,” he said.

Checking out apprenticeships in Europe

Several subcommittee members asked DeVos about the administration’s push to use apprenticeships more for workforce development and to provide students with career paths. The secretary said the model is not used as much in the U.S. as it could be, adding that nearly 70 percent of students in Switzerland go through apprenticeships.

DeVos on Wednesday kicks off a 10-day tour of Western Europe, beginning with a keynote in Zurich before the International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training and examining the country’s apprenticeship programs. She then will visit the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

FAFSA changes expected this fall

The Education Department expects to begin testing its online application for federal student aid in July, with a goal to roll it out nationally by October 1, DeVos said. She was responding to a query from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) regarding the status of simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which the former education secretary said should be “as simple (to apply for) as buying a plane ticket on a phone.”

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.