Public Policy News – November 2019
CSWE Signs DACA Briefs
In October CSWE signed two amicus briefs that were submitted to the United States Supreme Court in support of protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. In 2017 the administration terminated the DACA program, which provides qualified immigrants temporary residency and work authorization. One brief details how DACA has removed barriers to higher education for immigrants and children of immigrants (i.e., Dreamers) and allowed these individuals to receive the benefits of higher education. Another brief details how termination of the program will have a negative impact on educating and training health-care providers.
CSWE recognizes the importance and necessity of diverse student bodies and a culture of inclusiveness in social work education. Diversity is essential to create a social work workforce prepared to serve the needs of our diverse population. DACA has enabled universities to maintain a stronger and more diverse student body and facilitate learning opportunities between Dreamers and other students. A rescission of DACA would diminish this culture of inclusiveness, create barriers to successful educational outcomes for Dreamers, and be detrimental to social work education and higher education. Read the full amicus brief here.
Expiration of CR for FY 2020 Appropriations Looms Large
With less than 2 weeks left for the continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government until November 21, there is still no clear path forward on appropriations. No fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills have passed Congress. The House has passed 10 of 12 appropriations bills, whereas the Senate has passed four. Partisan roadblocks remain over issues such as funding the border wall and overall funding levels for the 12 appropriations bills.
A November 8 letter to House members from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said there will be a vote the week of November 18 on a measure to extend the CR to an unspecified date. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) has indicated he would prefer a second short-term CR, which would bring another shutdown threat into the holiday season for the second year in a row. House and Senate leadership have indicated they hope to avoid a shutdown. However, as President Trump faces impeachment proceedings in the House, there is concern based on past behavior and threats he has recently made that he would not approve another CR and would instead shut down the government unless the House ends their impeachment efforts.
College Affordability Act Introduced and Approved
October saw the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee markup and approval of HR 4674, the College Affordability Act, a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill. The bill proposes significant modifications to many facets of higher education. There would be substantive policy and funding changes to financial aid, institutional aid, accreditation, international education, reporting requirements, and more. The bill was approved by a vote of 28–22, with support only from the committee’s Democrats. Disagreements between committee Republicans and Democrats centered on the bill’s cost, extending aid to undocumented students, and Title IX regulations, among other issues. Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted during the markup, “the College Affordability Act is a comprehensive bill that will immediately improve the lives of students and families while putting a down payment on investments that we need to make in the future.”
Highlights from the bill include
- a $625 increase to the Pell Grant award, which would support a maximum award of $6,820 and allow for Pell eligibility for postbaccalaureate study;
- a return of subsidized graduate student loans, extension of the authorization of the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program;
- an increase in authorized funding for Minority-Serving Institutions grant programs, including a permanent increase in mandatory funding to $300 million; and
- prevention of implementation for the Title IX campus sexual assault regulations that the Department of Education is promulgating, but requirement of new Clery Act crime reporting and a biennial climate survey.
House Democrats Criticize ED Handling of PSLF Program in New Report
The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee released a report detailing the Department of Education’s (ED’s) lack of action to address problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, despite having evidence of extensive challenges with the program’s servicer, FedLoan Servicing. The report specifically charges that audits from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and ED's own Federal Student Aid office discovered that FedLoan Servicing was “incorrectly classifying employers, missing qualifying payments, and providing misleading information to borrowers.” The report states that despite these early warning signs, ED failed to make any significant changes or implement any of the GAO’s recommendations to improve the program. The Education and Labor Committee probably will conduct continued oversight into the ED’s handling of the PSLF program and seek legislative fixes to address the program’s shortfalls.
Congress Moves Forward on Title VII Health Professions Reauthorization
The House of Representatives has passed the EMPOWER for Health Act of 2019 (HR 2781), which extends funding for Title VII health professions training and education programs. Several federal programs of importance to social work were reauthorized in the bill, including the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students, and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental and Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program. In addition to advocating for increased funding levels for Title VII programs, the CSWE also joined forces with the National Association of Social Workers to maintain the inclusion of “social work” in programs of importance to the community.
ED Releases Final Accreditation Regulations
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) published final regulations on November 1, 2019, relating to the accreditation of institutions of higher education and state authorization requirements for distance education. Most of the regulations will take effect on July 1, 2020. CSWE submitted comments to ED before the final regulations were promulgated. Those comments focused on several issues, including the definition of a programmatic accrediting agency and charges by the ED of credential inflation. An example of ED’s acknowledgement of CSWE’s comments is ED’s response to CSWE’s request for assurance that programmatic accrediting agencies will have the autonomy to focus on institutional quality. ED replied that
another commenter remarking on the definition of “programmatic accrediting agency” encouraged the Department to ensure that
programmatic accrediting agencies have the autonomy to focus on institutional quality …. The Department appreciates the commenter’s
request that we ensure programmatic accrediting agencies have the autonomy to focus on quality …. We are confident that these
regulations provide that autonomy.
Several regulations related to substantive change also were made, one of which will allow accrediting agencies' decision-making bodies to designate agency senior staff members to approve or disapprove certain substantive changes.
In a statement accompanying the publication of the regulations, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos noted, “reforms are necessary to bring higher education into the current century, to be more responsive to the needs of students, and to reduce the skyrocketing cost of higher education.” ED also will soon publish regulations related to distance education, TEACH grants, and faith-based institutions.
CSWE Calls for Increases to Federal Health and Education Spending
As Congress works to complete fiscal year 2020 spending bills, CSWE joined more than 300 organizations, institutions, and businesses by signing on to an appropriations letter spearheaded by the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research. The letter urged appropriators to work quickly to agree to significant increases to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill, which includes several health and education programs of importance to CSWE. The letter also called for a robust increase in funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.