Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday spoke before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, making the case for the Department of Education's (ED) proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, which included a $3.8 billion cut to ED, and proposed eliminating several student aid programs, while cutting funding for others.
The budget proposal, which was released in February, came shortly after and was finalized before lawmakers solidified a budget deal that increased spending caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. ED's 2019 budget proposal originally proposed to cut $7.1 billion, but restored $3.3 billion to the department in an addendum.
Still, the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal with the addition of the addendum proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) programs, as well as cutting nearly $500 million in funding for the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program. The budget request also proposed expanding Pell Grant funding to students in short-term programs.
"Ultimately, this budget sharpens and hones the focus of our mission: serving students by meeting their needs," DeVos said in her prepared remarks on Tuesday. "When this Department was created, it was charged with prohibiting Federal control of education. I take that charge seriously. Accordingly, President Trump is committed to reducing the Federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in this Budget."
While the hearing mainly focused on issues within K-12 education, such as state plans submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act and school safety, some senators pressed DeVos to explain steps in the budget that they said would make college less affordable.
"Just as it did last year, your budget proposal would make college less affordable for students in my state, Wisconsin, and across the country," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Baldwin referenced the proposal's plan to do away with FSEOG and cut from FWS, programs that "allow campuses to target financial aid to the students they know to be in need," and its support to continue with an elimination of the Perkins Loan program, which Congress allowed to expire last year. She asked DeVos how those cuts would further ED's mission to "serve students by meeting their needs."
In response, DeVos said the budget reflected Congress's actions with respect to the Perkins Loan program, and that the cut in funding for FWS reflects a shift in focus to undergraduate students. She added that the "bigger question" about making sure students have opportunity to pursue higher education "refers back to, again, supporting a multitude of pathways," and streamlining experiences and repayment options for students who take on debt.
Senators also questioned DeVos on whether ED could provide appropriate oversight of abusive colleges and universities in the face of potential conflicts of interest among ED staff, and efforts to modernize the federal financial aid application process with a mobile FAFSA. FAFSA streamlining and simplification has been one area of bipartisan agreement among lawmakers working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
"It seems to me that applying for federal aid for college should be as simple as buying a plane ticket on your phone or buying a book with one click," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate education committee. "You have asked for $50 million in the budget in order to modernize the system by which students apply for and pay back their federal financial aid. What can you tell us about that?"
DeVos said she believes that students "should have a world class experience when applying for and then subsequently paying down their student loans." She added that ED is "committed to having the first steps in place" for a pilot test of the mobile FAFSA in July, and that "hopefully" by Oct. 1, 2018, the mobile FAFSA app will be fully available for federal student aid applicants.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee, said that while he shares "a lot of common ground with regard to the role of the federal government" in education, there are also areas of disagreement.
"I continue to believe that certain elements of the Department's proposal on student loan servicing are misguided," he said in his opening remarks. "The Omnibus bill prevents the Department from moving forward with a new system that does not include certain safeguards to promote accountability and transparency, and incentivize high-quality service for borrowers. I hope that we can work together this year to improve the federal student loan servicing process for borrowers, while making sure these safeguards are in place."
Publication Date: 6/6/2018