ED Review (10/15/21)

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October 15, 2021


FEDERAL STUDENT AID

Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

It has been a busy month concerning federal student aid. 

First, October 4-8, the Department held its initial negotiated rulemaking session focused on college affordability and student loans.  Among other issues, committee members discussed the process for granting total and permanent disability discharges, improving access to closed school discharges, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness application process (see below), the adjudication process for borrower defense to repayment, and creating a new income-driven repayment plan.  The committee will reconvene in November and December. 

Separately, the Department signaled an intent to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to regulate on what is commonly referred to as the 90/10 rule. 

Second, on October 6, the Department announced an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program that it will implement over the next year to make the program live up to its promise.  This policy will result in 22,000 borrowers with consolidated loans -- including previously ineligible loans -- being immediately eligible for $1.74 billion in forgiveness without the need for further action on their part.  Another 27,000 borrowers could qualify for $2.82 billion in forgiveness if they certify additional periods of employment.  All told, the agency estimates that more than 550,000 borrowers who had previously consolidated their loans will see an increase in qualifying payments, with the average borrower receiving two years of progress toward forgiveness.  And, more borrowers will see progress as they consolidate into the Direct Loan program and apply for PSLF (press release, fact sheet, and Twitter thread). 

Soon after the announcement, Secretary Cardona and Under Secretary James Kvaal met with a group of public servants who stand to benefit from the changes, including a math teacher and an epidemiologist. 

Third, on October 8, the Department announced the establishment of an Office of Enforcement within Federal Student Aid (FSA).  The office, first established in 2016 but deprioritized by the previous administration, will strengthen oversight of and enforcement actions against postsecondary institutions that participate in federal student loan, grant, and work-study programs.  It will be led by Kristen Donoghue, who will report directly to FSA Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray. 

Donoghue formerly served as the enforcement director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  Under her leadership, the CFPB pursued hundreds of investigations and filed numerous enforcement actions, including obtaining the highest civil financial penalty in the CFPB’s history -- a $1 billion fine against Wells Fargo.  Most recently, Donoghue was a managing vice president at Capital One Bank. 

BACK ON THE ROAD

PSJA ECHS 

Last week, Secretary Cardona traveled to the American Southwest to highlight critical education provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda. 

The Secretary was in South Texas, on October 6, touring Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Early College High School and holding a roundtable conversation with University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley students. 

Next, the Secretary was in San Antonio on October 7, touring Gus Garcia University School, which collaborates with Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and meeting with students about returning to school (video).

Then, also on October 7, the Secretary was in Tucson, visiting Hollinger K-8 School to observe students’ extracurricular activities and meet with teachers.  Later, he stopped by the health program at Pima Community College.  Moreover, he held a roundtable conversation with students (photos and video). 

This week, capping Hispanic Heritage Month, the Secretary joined First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for a charla, which is Spanish for conversation or chat, at the Arturo Velasquez Institute, a Richard J. Daley College satellite campus, in Chicago. 

AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN

American Rescue Plan 

This month, the Department announced approval of seven more American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund state plans -- Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia, and Wyoming -- and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funding to those jurisdictions.  The plans detail how states are using and intend to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the operations of schools and classrooms and address the essential needs of students, including by equitably expanding educational opportunities for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  Earlier this year, the agency distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funding, or $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The remaining third is being made available to states once plans are approved.  To date, 44 plans have been approved (see state-by-state press releases and highlights online). 

The Department also released several resources for the ARP’s maintenance of equity provisions, including a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on implementation in order to inform future technical assistance and possible rulemaking; a Notice of Proposed Requirements (NPR) establishing expectations for transparency on school district-level implementation; and updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), with a new question that provides clarity and flexibility for how states with very small districts can maintain equity. 

SUPPORTING ALL STUDENTS 

Recognizing World Mental Health Day (October 10), the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice jointly issued a fact sheet to support students with mental health disabilities, their families, and their schools during the pandemic.  OCR also released a letter to educators highlighting the civil rights obligations of schools and institutions to students with mental health disabilities (Secretary’s tweet and Twitter thread). 

OCR’s June 2021 report, “Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students,” showed that COVID-19 has had disproportionately harsh effects on many students with disabilities.  This latest action responds to the pandemic’s effects on students’ mental health. 

The fact sheet, titled “Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Students at Risk of Self-Harm in the Era of COVID-19,” provides information about federal civil rights laws that protect students with mental health disabilities.  It includes scenarios that illustrate when OCR might investigate a potential violation; gives schools and institutions a list of action steps to create an environment that is responsive to students with mental health disabilities; and provides educational and crisis resources for students, families, and educators. 

SENATE CONFIRMATIONS 

Secretary Cardona issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of several Department senior officials: 

“With these confirmations, the Administration and the American people gain three more dedicated and distinguished public service professionals.  Together, they will help to advance the Department’s legal and policy efforts and ensure effective collaboration with the federal, state, and local officials who represent our shared constituents. 

  • As General Counsel, Lisa Brown brings a passion for justice, a wise legal mind, and a thorough command of education issues to the Department’s work of ensuring equal access to a quality education for all students.
  • Roberto Rodriguez, in the role of Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, will turn skills honed over a notable career to ensuring that the agency’s actions are grounded in evidence, in the experience of educators, and in equitable approaches that meet the needs of students.
  • And surely no one is better equipped for the role of Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs than Gwen Graham, herself a former member of Congress and a civic and public education leader with a remarkable record of service and impact. 

All of them recognize the life-changing power of a great education, and I am delighted to welcome these outstanding individuals….  I know they will work tirelessly in the best interest of the nation’s students, families, educators, and communities.” 

ODDS AND ENDS 

  • On October 8, President Biden signed into law the K-12 Cybersecurity Act, aimed at protecting sensitive information maintained by schools across the country.
  • Then, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 11), the President signed an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.
  • The White House also issued a new fact sheet on the Administration’s historic investments and support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its quarantine guidance for K-12 schools.
  • Secretary Cardona appointed a former governor, an elementary school principal, a local school board member, a business executive, and a testing and measurement expert to the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • A report reveals how a nationally representative sample of 9- and 13-year-old students performed on the 2019-20 NAEP long-term trend assessments in reading and math (NAGB press release and video).
  • The Department awarded $17 million to 27 grantees across 15 states through the Assistance for Arts Education Program.
  • In a blog post, OCR reiterated its commitment to education environments free from sex-based harassment, including sexual violence.
  • Citing an increase in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school board members, teachers, and other staff, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet with federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend.
  • The Department of Agriculture announced up to $1.5 billion to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions in school meal programs.
  • Also, during National School Lunch Week (October 11-15), Secretary Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thanked school nutrition professionals for their critical work.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put for-profit postsecondary institutions on notice that it is cracking down on any false promises they make about their graduates’ job and earnings prospects and other outcomes and will hit violators with financial penalties (blog post). 

QUOTE TO NOTE 

“Borrowers who devote a decade of their lives to public service should be able to rely on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country.  Teachers, nurses, first responders, servicemembers, and so many public service workers have had our backs, especially amid the challenges of the [COVID-19] pandemic.  Today, the Biden Administration is showing that we have their backs too.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (10/6/21), announcing an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program 

UPCOMING EVENTS 

Reminder: FSA will host a free Federal Financial Aid Virtual Bootcamp webinar on October 19 and 21, during which attendees will learn about resources to help navigate through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and financial aid process, how to avoid student scams, and student loan repayment options, including information to help prepare for return to repayment as the forbearance period comes to an end. 

November 1 is the deadline to nominate candidates for several positions on NAGB. 

International Education Week (November 15-19), a joint initiative of the Departments of Education and State, celebrates the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. 


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