The U.S. Education Department (ED) won’t hold off on issuing new higher education regulations while lawmakers negotiate on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, according to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
During a Senate education appropriations committee hearing Thursday, ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) asked DeVos if the department would consider holding any major regulation changes as Senate Democrats and Republicans worked to craft a bipartisan HEA bill. ED is in the midst of negotiated rulemaking on regulations pertaining to accreditation, distance learning and more.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any final rules prior to Memorial Day, but we’re going to continue with our time line,” DeVos said.
Murray said she was disappointed in DeVos’ response, noting it would make things more difficult in their bipartisan HEA discussions. Murray added that she would discuss the matter with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who chairs the committee that is drafting the HEA legislation. Murray is the ranking member on that committee.
Raising CTE awareness
Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), chair of the education appropriations committee, asked DeVos what more could be done to raise awareness of careers in the trades as well as career and technical education (CTE). The secretary highlighted the administration’s proposed Education Freedom Scholarships program, which would provide federal tax credits to encourage voluntary donations that would go toward scholarships for elementary and secondary school students. States could use the scholarships to expand public school options, including CTE, dual enrollment programs and apprenticeships.
DeVos agreed with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) that students should be allowed to explore CTE in earlier grades to allow their families to make informed choices on potential careers and the required postsecondary education for those jobs.
“Waiting until they are in 11th and 12th grade is almost too late,” DeVos said.
Cutting proven programs
During the hearing, DeVos was criticized by subcommittee members for the department’s proposal to nix funding for Special Olympics, but lawmakers also questioned its plan to cut funding to TRIO programs by $110 million and eliminate funding for the GEAR UP program, which received $360 million this fiscal year. The budget also would halt funding for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which currently receives $840 million.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) noted a student who visited her this week who would not have gone to college if it wasn’t for TRIO. She is currently in a job counseling 9/11 first responders.
DeVos said the department’s plan consolidates the programs, which offer similar activities. It would also change how the TRIO grants are disbursed, as nearly all the funding goes to the same colleges each year and don’t necessarily serve students most in need, she said.
“States that are closer to the students they are serving would be better able to target those resources and would save administrative costs in the process,” DeVos said.
Shaheen said proposed cuts to proven programs are short sighted.
“Those kind of cuts ultimately undermine what the department is trying to achieve by helping those students, particularly those who come from lower-income families and those students who are the first generation in their families to go to college, who have more difficulty in succeeding,” she said.
Earlier this week, House education appropriators on both sides of the aisle also criticized ED’s proposal to cut TRIO programs.