ED Review (09/02/22)

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September 2, 2022


Student Loan Debt Relief 

On August 24, to address the financial harms of the pandemic and help borrowers at high risk of delinquencies or default once payments resume, President Biden announced targeted student debt cancellation for borrowers with loans held by the Department of Education.  Borrowers with annual income during the pandemic of under $125,000 (for individuals) or under $250,000 (for married couples or heads of households) who received a Pell Grant for college are eligible for up to $20,000 in cancellation.  Borrowers who met those income standards but did not receive a Pell Grant are eligible for up to $10,000 in relief (press release, Department’s Twitter thread, background press call transcript, press briefing transcript, and legal memoranda: Education and Justice). 

More than 43 million people have federal student debt, with an average balance of $37,667.  Nearly one-third of borrowers owe less than $10,000, and about half owe less than $20,000.  According to estimates, the President’s plan would erase the federal student debt of roughly 20 million individuals (White House fact sheet, Secretary Cardona’s explanatory video, and President’s Twitter thread and outreach call video). 

Coinciding with the President’s announcement, the Department announced a final extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections through December 31, 2022.  Borrowers should plan to resume payments in January 2023 (Federal Student Aid’s [FSA] debt relief plan web page). 

The Department will be launching a simple application, which will be available by early October.  If borrowers would like to be notified when the application is open, they must sign up using the agency’s subscription page.  Once a borrower completes the application, they can expect relief within 4-6 weeks. 

Everyone who is eligible is encouraged to file an application. 

The Department is also proposing a rule to create a new income-driven repayment (IDR) plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower- and middle-income borrowers.  The rule would protect more income from payments.  It would cut in half -- from 10% to 5% of discretionary income -- the amount that borrowers have to pay each month on their undergraduate loans, while borrowers with both undergraduate and graduate loans would pay a weighted average rate.  It would raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary and, therefore, protected from repayment.  And, it would forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, versus the current 20 years under many IDR plans, for borrowers with original loan balances of $12,000 or less.  Additionally, it would fully cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that a borrower’s loan balance will not grow so long as they are making required monthly payments.  The proposed rule will be published in the coming days in the Federal Register, with the public invited to comment for 30 days (Department’s Twitter thread). 

Furthermore, the Department is proposing long-term changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program that will make it easier for borrowers working in public service to gain loan forgiveness.  Indeed, the agency wants to allow more payments to qualify for PSLF, including partial, lump sum, and late payments, and allow certain kinds of deferments and forbearances, such as those for Peace Corps and AmeriCorps service, National Guard duty, and military service, to count toward PSLF.  These proposed changes build on the significant progress made with the temporary changes announced last year that expire on October 31, 2022. 

Since the start of the temporary changes under PSLF, the Department has approved more than $10 billion in loan discharges for 175,000 public servants (Department’s Twitter thread).  To apply for forgiveness or payments to count toward forgiveness under the temporary changes, visit the PSLF Help Tool (Department’s Twitter Space recording). 

The last two Wednesdays, the White House promoted PSLF Days of Action focused on government employees and educators, respectively.  For the latter, see videos featuring First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Cardona, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Representative James Clyburn and Secretary Cardona, Department Chief of Staff Sheila Nix, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, as well as Secretary Cardona’s outreach call video.  Upcoming PSLF Days of Action will focus on health care professionals and first responders (September 7) and non-profit organizations (September 14) -- sign up here. 

Finally, the Department is announcing new steps to take action against institutions that have contributed to the student debt crisis.  These include publishing an annual watch list of the programs with the worst debt levels in the country and requesting improvement plans from institutions with the most concerning debt outcomes. 


There is even more to report in the higher education space. 

First, the Department announced it will discharge all remaining federal student loans that borrowers received to attend Westwood College from January 1, 2002, through November 17, 2015 (when the institution stopped enrolling new students).  Based on an extensive analysis of internal records, evidence from employees and administrators, and first-hand accounts from borrowers, the agency concluded Westwood engaged in widespread misrepresentations about the value of its credentials for attendees’ and graduates’ employment prospects, such that all borrowers who attended during said period are entitled to full relief.  This action will result in 79,000 borrowers receiving $1.5 billion in complete loan discharges, regardless of whether they have applied for a Borrower Defense to Repayment discharge. 

Next, President Biden signed into law the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act, exempting institutions from the 85/15 rule -- which bars students from using Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding, such as GI Bill benefits, to pay for academic programs where more than 85% of students receive VA aid -- if their share of students receiving VA funding is below 35% of their institution-wide enrollment. 

Then, the Department announced the termination of federal recognition for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and provisionally certified ACICS-accredited institutions for continued participation in federal student aid programs for up to 18 months -- thereby giving institutions time to pursue accreditation from another nationally recognized accrediting body.  During this period of provisional certification, ACICS-accredited institutions must comply with additional conditions designed to protect students and safeguard taxpayer dollars.  These conditions include additional monitoring, transparency, oversight, and accountability measures. 

And a reminder: the 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) officially kicks off October 1. 


Back to School 

On August 25, the Department released a back to school checklist for parents and families.  This checklist, which may be found on the agency’s updated back to school resource site, aims to help caregivers engage with school and school district leaders about how they are supporting students as they recover from the impacts of the pandemic.  It evaluates key evidence-based practices for supporting students’ learning and mental health and ensuring the safety of students and staff, which districts are encouraged to implement using American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other federal relief funds (press release). 

The checklist also recognizes 15 promising examples of how states and districts are using ARP funding. 

Secretary Cardona joined a press call with White House officials, members of Congress, and educators whose districts are among those featured to encourage parents and families to use the checklist and discuss how the ARP is providing unprecedented resources for a safe and successful school year. 

Note: Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles back to school facts and figures to provide a snapshot of K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions across the country. 

Note: Don’t miss the U.S. Census Bureau’s Back to School Fun Facts, with accompanying teaching guide to further the discussion. 


Teacher Shortages

Another hot issue as schools reopen has been teacher shortages.  Secretary Cardona discussed the topic on the Sunday, August 21, talk shows -- CBS News’ “Face the Nation” and NBC News’ “Meet the Press” -- on “Good Morning America,” and during an interview with Education Week, among other media opportunities. 

Also, on August 31, the Secretary joined First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh for a White House meeting on efforts to strengthen the teaching profession and help districts source talent to fill vacancies.  The meeting was led by White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and included participation by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) President Lynn Gangone, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, and executive leadership from leading job platforms: Handshake, Indeed, and Zip Recruiter.  In advance of the meeting, Secretaries Cardona and Walsh issued a joint letter encouraging state and local education and workforce leaders to take a series of actions to address staffing shortages and invest in the teaching profession (White House fact sheet). 

In addition, the Department announced a new $8 million grant competition aimed at increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce and preparing teachers to meet the needs of the most underserved students.  Named for Augustus Hawkins, the first Black politician elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from west of the Mississippi River, the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers for Excellence program supports comprehensive, high-quality teacher preparation programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).  Grants will fund those applicants that propose to incorporate evidence-driven practices -- as studies show that teachers who enter the profession through comprehensive pathways are 2-3 times more likely to persist in the profession (press release). 


According to data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend assessment -- the first nationally representative measure of the pandemic’s impact on learning -- the nine-year-olds tested in winter 2022 scored five points lower in reading and seven points lower in math compared to the nine-year-olds tested in winter 2020.  This was the largest score decline in reading since the 1990s and the first-ever decline in math.  Moreover, there were declines across all performance levels, with widening gaps between higher- and lower-performing students (NCES release event). 

“This data should serve as a further call to action for states, districts, and communities to use [ARP] funds quickly, effectively, and on strategies we know work,” Secretary Cardona emphasized in a USA Today­-published op-ed.  “We must raise the bar for our students now and use the resources we have to meet that bar.  We must recognize this moment for the urgency it carries: Our students -- and the progress of our country -- depend on it….  While we use this new data to help sharpen and focus our plans to accelerate student growth, we also know that many of our students are on track to make significant academic progress this school year.  Recent data from [NCES] -- which are not reflected in these NAEP results -- show that a substantial portion of students who were behind grade level in at least one subject last school year caught up in time for summer break this year….  Initial state assessment results in places like Indiana and Connecticut also show that many students made enough progress to close some of the pandemic-related achievement gaps.  This progress is a testament to the enduring impacts our educators and school staff can make on helping our students catch up, both academically and developmentally.” 

In related news, NCES released “U.S. Education in the Time of COVID,” synthesizing highlights from various data sources to provide a composite, high-level view of the American education landscape since the onset of the pandemic. 



“We are going to raise the bar and make this the greatest school year ever….  Raising the bar means continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our students….  Raising the bar also means focusing on accelerating student learning -- not remediation.  Our students deserve our highest expectations for what they can achieve.  We must also redouble our work to support students’ mental health, their emotional well-being, and their other needs….  Finally, raising the bar means supporting all of you educators, leading our students’ recovery.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (9/1/22), opening the White House Back to School Town Hall 


On September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, volunteers will spruce up schools, paint and refurbish homes, run food drives, and support veterans, soldiers, military families, and first responders. 

On September 15, President Biden will host the United We Stand Summit at the White House to counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on democracy and public safety, spotlight the response of the Administration and communities nationwide to these dangers, and put forward a shared, bipartisan vision for a more united America. 

On September 28, the Administration will host the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health -- the first conference of its kind in more than 50 years. 

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