Over the course of two and a half hours on Tuesday, senators pressed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for answers to justify the education portion of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which would reduce the Department of Education’s (ED) budget by $9 billion.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education – both Democratic and Republican – took issue with the administration’s plan to make significant cuts to higher education programs. The budget proposal, for example, would eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, would cut in half funding for the Federal Work-Study program, would eliminate in-school interest subsidies for Federal Direct Loans, and would cut $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant Program reserves.
Throughout the hearing, DeVos argued that programs that would be eliminated were being cut because they were deemed to be “duplicative, ineffective,” or “better supported through state, local or philanthropic efforts.” DeVos repeatedly said that ED had to make “tough decisions” in developing the budget proposal, saying money “is not limitless,” and that the federal government has a responsibility to respect taxpayer dollars.
DeVos also implied that higher education leaders need to do a better job of making students aware of all of their options.
“In total, the president's budget fulfills his promise to devolve power from the federal government and place it in the hands of parents and families. It refocuses the Department on supporting states in their efforts to provide a high-quality education to all of our students,” DeVos said in her opening statement. “It is time to unleash a new era of creativity and ingenuity in education. My hope is that – working in concert with each of you – we can make education in America the envy of the world.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the subcommittee, said the proposal is “a difficult budget request to defend.” Blunt said that while there are likely many areas in ED’s budget that could be tightened up financially, such deep cuts are “likely untenable.”
“In reviewing this budget request it is difficult to know whether you made cuts because you believe the programs are truly ineffective or because your budget number required these reductions just to reach the bottom line,” he said in his opening remarks.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said the budget “would be devastating for our students, and take away opportunities for so many families in this country.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took issue with several proposals within the budget – such as cuts to financial aid programs – and also expressed concern over ED’s plan to move to a single student loan servicer.
On moving to a single student loan servicer, which DeVos proposed last month and said Tuesday would provide greater accountability, Blunt said he’s “inclined to think that’s not the best way to go.”
Lawmakers also asked DeVos about her priorities moving forward with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, asked whether streamlining regulations in higher education and simplifying the FAFSA would be priorities. DeVos said ED would be looking to recommendations from a 2015 report on reducing regulations in higher education, and that she would “absolutely” work with lawmakers on simplifying the FAFSA.
The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal also included language and funding to support the year-round Pell Grant – a move Congress previously made in its 2017 budget deal. During the hearing Tuesday, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) asked DeVos for clarification on when ED would issue guidance on the implementation of year-round Pell, and whether it would be ready “in time to be utilized by students for this summer’s classes.”
DeVos responded saying guidance would be released by July 1, but also said ED would be ready “for launching the program” at the same time. While the exchange seemed to cause some confusion, DeVos appeared to refer to the congressional directive to have guidance out by July 1. NASFAA has reached out to ED to clarify the plan for implementation.
In a letter to ED last month, NASFAA raised several questions on the implementation of year-round Pell ranging from the exact implementation date to assigning crossover periods to safe harbors for early implementation. DeVos’ comments appeared to confirm ED’s intent to meet the statutory requirement to have guidance out by July 1.
Several NASFAA members have also expressed concern over an expedited implementation, and have said waiting until the 2018-19 award year would bode better for institutions to process the awards with full policies and guidance in place.
Publication Date: 6/7/2017