House Education Committee Questions King on Education Budget

By Joan Berkes, Policy & Federal Relations Staff

Dr. John B. King, Jr., acting secretary of education, answered questions Wednesday about the education component of President Barack Obama's 2017 budget request and the Department of Education's (ED) priorities during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The overall discretionary request for the Department is $69.4 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion, or 2 percent, over 2016.

In his opening statement, King emphasized a commitment throughout the budget to promoting greater use of evidence and data to maximize results for students and taxpayers. He identified three major priorities in the budget request that span the entire range of education:

  • Advancing equity and excellence for all students
  • Expanding support for teachers and school leaders; and
  • Improving access, affordability, and student outcomes in postsecondary education.

To attract talented educators, the administration proposes "to streamline and expand the current postsecondary assistance available to teachers into one program that will provide up to $25,000 in loan forgiveness for serving in a high-needs school."

The budget request would also increase funding for more vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws by ED’s Office for Civil Rights, including efforts to eliminate racial disparities in school disciplinary practices and procedures, and enforcing protections against bullying and harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.

Also in the arena of higher education, King addressed efforts "to make college more affordable and accessible while putting forward important new initiatives to promote college completion."

"We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just on access," he said. "Students who do not complete their degrees are less likely to succeed in the workforce and have student loan default rates that are, on average, three times higher than those who graduate. Further, we know that taking a full course load helps students finish on time, at a lower cost and likely with less student debt, saving them both time and money."

King emphasized the need to increase funding for programs "that provide additional resources for interventions that either are based on evidence of success, or help build evidence of what works in education."

The budget request, King asserted, supports InformED, which builds on the College Scorecard by making ED’s data and research across the education spectrum more available, and "will help build new infrastructure to manage the collection, quality, release, and analysis of these data in innovative and effective ways."

King called out a number of initiatives supported by the budget request:

  • Two years of free community college for "responsible students, who get good grades and stay on track to graduate"
  • Two years of college at zero or significantly reduced tuition to first-time, low-income students at four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)
  • A new $30 million HBCU/MSI Innovation for Completion Fund competitive grant program to foster innovative and evidence-based, student-centered strategies and interventions to increase the number of low-income students completing degree programs
  • Pell for Accelerated Completion, which would allow full-time students the opportunity to attend year-round
  • On-Track Pell Bonus, which would create an incentive for students to stay on track or accelerate their progress towards a degree through a $300 bonus –– effectively increasing the Pell Grant maximum award to $6,235 –– for students who take 15 or more credits per semester in an academic year
  • The Second Chance Pell proposal that would restore Pell eligibility for incarcerated individuals
  • Rewarding colleges that successfully enroll and graduate a significant number of low-income students on time;
  • Further simplifying the FAFSA
  • Permanently extending inflationary increases of the maximum Pell Grant award
  • Redirecting campus-based programs to target institutions that offer affordable and quality education and training
  • Reforming and streamlining income-driven repayment for student loans
  • Strengthening teacher loan forgiveness
  • Protecting students and taxpayers from predatory colleges that are not delivering high-quality education

In the question and answer period, a number of themes emerged. Some committee members, including Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the committee, objected to the introduction of new programs, especially competition-based grant programs, which he worried would jeopardize funding for foundational initiatives that address the needs of disabled students  and career and technical education (CTE) programs. These initiatives are currently contained in the IDEA and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Other committee members also questioned the strength of the administration’s support for CTE. King’s response affirmed the administration’s commitment to those issues.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) focused her questions on ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), expressing frustration over the use of intimidating Dear Colleague Letters outside of the public review processes. She contended that their actions encroach on Congress’s authority to make laws, and that their current approach is costly and inefficient, and counterproductive to reaching a just resolution. She posed several questions regarding OCR practices, as well the accountability of Federal Student Aid (FSA) as a performance-based organization, for which she requested written responses. Other committee members also questioned how well FSA is fulfilling its obligations to partner with schools.

Other concerns and issues examined through committee member questions included:

  • Concern over the cost and burden of compliance with federal regulations, and over delays in issuing final review reports and fines, as illustrated by "Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities–Report of the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education"
  • Repeated expressions of support for a year-round Pell Grant and support for dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school
  • Loan repayment issues, including easing the process for income-based repayment, higher interest rates for graduate students and an inability to refinance
  • Support for simplifying the FAFSA and earlier availability, but concern over potential confusion for students and burden for schools in the treatment of conflicting information during the transition year for prior-prior year income
  • Concerns over the efficiency of Federal Student Aid (FSA) as a performance-based organization, their communication practices, and how ED will ensure that FSA is effective partner with schools
  • Criticism of the College Scorecard, which was said to be misleading and incomplete, and ends up being a ratings system whether or not that is ED’s intent
  • The role of proprietary institutions and whether ED treats all sectors with the same scrutiny to identify bad actors, but also encouraging timely provision of relief for students at schools shown to be bad actors

In his responses, King repeatedly offered to work with committee members to address their expressed concerns. He emphasized increased incentives to facilitate student completion; support for expanding Pell Grants; innovation initiatives and experimental sites; provision of information to students (which included defending the College Scorecard) to help them make good decisions; and helping students manage and repay debt. He assured the committee that one of his priorities is to make ED more efficient and transparent. He also expressed strong support for the Federal Work-Study program, and praised the impact of the program on student preparation for employment and on community service.


Publication Date: 2/25/2016

Marie H | 2/12/2020 8:18:39 AM

Why is nobody talking about implementing eLearning technologies in HE sector? I think it's a way better for transparency that will show everything and easier for calculating. Found this article about "How much it cost to create online courses" -

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