By Owen Daugherty and Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporters
The Department of Education (ED) negotiated rulemaking subcommittee on prison education programs (PEP) on Tuesday continued reviewing ED’s amendatory text for PEPs, again focusing on key definitions of the program and sorting through any remaining hangups.
The subcommittee continued to work together to finalize language that will be presented as recommendations to the full committee. While the committee has a number of definitions that it is still sorting through, negotiators are expected to be in communication prior to the final day’s session in order to further amend proposed language.
At the start of Tuesday’s session, negotiators questioned why many of their recommendations from the first session were not included in the amendatory language the subcommittee is reviewing this week.
Aaron Washington, ED’s subcommittee leader, noted that the department is limited by both statute and scope regarding what recommendations it can adopt into the amendatory language.
Stanley Andrisse, an assistant professor at Howard University’s School of Medicine and a negotiator who is part of the subcommittee, said the process can be limiting and impose obstacles to incarcerated students.
Andrisse advocated for regulations that would ensure all incarcerated individuals are eligible to receive a Pell Grant regardless of program, but was reminded that statute dictates how individuals must enroll in an eligible PEP to receive the aid.
Negotiators also had discussions over ways to allow more access to PEPs for incarcerated individuals, even when a student’s convictions may bar them from licensure or employment in a given state.
Washington said the language in the statute applying to restrictions based on state occupational laws is meant to serve as consumer protections.
“It’s trying to provide students with consumer protection so schools aren’t enrolling students in programs that they know upon enrollment, the student would not be able to obtain licensure or employment,” he said.
The day’s conversation was wide-ranging, with ED aiming to get through the majority of the paper’s outlined issue areas so members could provide feedback on all topic areas before refining the final subcommittee meeting.
Many of the discussions centered on technical changes and reviewing comments made in ED’s regulatory framework that committee members have been aiming to revise.
Under the regulatory paper’s Best Interest Determination section, negotiators engaged in a lengthy discussion over a host of metrics and data reporting during which ED highlighted what data was easily accessible and what details, like demographic, could be subject to barriers due to privacy restrictions.
Members also urged recidivism rates be excluded from metrics made to make determinations of best interests for students due to concerns over the data accurately recording the quality of a given program.
The subcommittee also expressed a desire for ED to include a varied grouping of entities to approve prison education programs in the higher education space. However, subcommittee members and ED officials had some concern over how the approval process would operate between ED’s, state departments of corrections’, and the Federal Bureau of Prison’s varied authority.
A number of negotiators also expressed concern about potentially overcomplicating the oversight committee’s creation that may not offer students timely access to program metrics and access to post secondary programs.
While the committee recorded a number of positive temperature checks on sections that made technical corrections, there are still a host of definitions for negotiators to sort through in order to report out finalized language for the full committee.
ED said that Wednesday would begin by finishing the Best Interest portion of the text before going back through the entire document where negative temperature checks were recorded.
The subcommittee will reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m. for its final session.
Publication Date: 11/10/2021
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