From Your Lobbyist: House Grills DeVos
February 28, 2020
Week of Feb 24-28
On Feb 27th, the House Labor HHS Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the President’s proposed FY21 education budget started calmly but ended just as acrimoniously as last year’s hearing before the same panel. Many Democratic members of Congress chastised DeVos for her agenda to privatize education and failure to protect students and minorities. In the end, the panel’s leaders – Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) – agreed that they work together to produce a bill far different than what the President proposed, which proposed massive cuts to higher education programs. Earlier this week, the Committee announced that the bill at issue here would be marked-up in the Subcommittee on April 29th, which will likely look very different than the one proposed by the Administration.
For higher education, the Secretary discussed the POTUS budget’s plan to consolidate 11 existing Minority Serving Institution programs into a single formula grant that would total $336.3 million. Title II funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities would not be included within that consolidation. She also spoke about consolidating the TRIO programs into a single state formula grant program, which members on both sides of the aisle took issue with and is also something AYA opposes.
She also went into detail on proposed expansions of Pell eligibility “to students enrolled in high-quality short-term programs offered by institutions that provide students with a credential, certification, or license in a high-demand field” and to “make Pell Grants available to certain incarcerated students to improve employment outcomes, reduce recidivism, and facilitate their successful reentry to society. She mentioned as well “crucial reforms to the Federal Work Study program to support workforce and career-oriented training opportunities for low-income undergraduate students.”
Secretary DeVos concluded by pushing changes in the Office of Federal Student Aid, including spinning it off separately from the Department of Education. On that subject, she stated: “Managing one of the world’s largest consumer loan portfolios requires a different set of skills than managing the distribution of grants to local and state educational agencies. Our Budget proposes to launch this overdue discussion by evaluating these issues in order to ensure that we best serve students and taxpayers alike.” While AYA is supportive of looking into how to improve the functions of the student aid office, we are skeptical of this Administration’s ability to do so without undermining student borrowers and their needs.
In statements and during the Question-and Answer period, Democrats and even Ranking Member Cole pushed back on the proposed budget. On higher education, Republicans supported the Pell Grant flexibility proposals while Democrats and Ranking Member Cole complained about some of the proposed consolidations and conversions to formula grants. Rep. Moolenaar applauded the proposed expansion for incarcerated individuals and Cole supported their application to short term programs. DeLauro objected to flat funding Pell. Cole focused mainly on his concerns with consolidating TRIO into a single formula grant program and consolidating the Minority Serving Institution programs.
On student debt, DeVos responded to a question by Rep. Moolenaar by describing the Department’s efforts to “provide light to what students can access through the college scorecard,” including first year earning potential and the ability to compare within schools/programs and between schools.” She hoped that the availability of more specific data might “prompt changes at higher education institutions.” While AYA is supportive of more transparency around student costs, it is obvious that DeVos’ response here is a canned talking point given the FY 2021 budget would cut $198 million in student aid and despite what DeVos says, data and transparency alone do not lower college costs –– an Administration who cares about tackling student debt and college affordability does that. For these reasons, AYA remains strongly opposed to the POTUS FY 2021 Budget!