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Federal Flash: The Higher Education Act, Title IX, and the “New” House Education Committee

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February 01, 2019 03:15 pm

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It’s a new year with a new cast of characters in Congress. This episode of Federal Flash examines the new makeup of the House education committee, which has a new name, a new subcommittee, and new members. It also examines congressional efforts to rewrite the Higher Education Act and the Education Department’s proposed Title IX rules that have drawn more than 100,000 comments.

The new year begins with major changes to the House education committee, which Democrats renamed as the Education and Labor Committee from Education and the Workforce. They also added a Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services that will handle policy already under the committee’s purview, such as school lunch and child nutrition programs. The addition of the subcommittee highlights Democrats’ emphasis on civil rights issues while they control the House.

In addition to changes in name and structure, the composition will change considerably.  Several freshman members have been assigned to the committee. On the Democratic side, this includes Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to the House, and Representative Donna Shalala. She’s new to the Committee, but not to Washington, serving as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton.

The Republican side also has several new faces. Ten of the Committee’s 21 Republican members are new to the Committee, including eight that are new to the House.

The Committee announced the topics of its first four hearings, including one on investing in public schools. But the Committee has not yet asked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to testify, despite the assumption that aggressive oversight will be a top priority for the Democratic majority. Chairman Scott is going to be judicious about when he’ll call the Secretary to testify. Stay tuned.

When Secretary DeVos is brought to the Hill, it’s likely she’ll be asked about draft guidance released by the Department last week on Title I’s “Supplement not Supplant” policy. The basic premise is simple: Federal Title I funds are supposed to be on top of state and local dollars, not in place of them. In other words, federal dollars cannot replace money that a school should be receiving from state and local sources.

Some groups worry that the Department’s draft guidance undercuts the law’s intention. Notably, the guidance specifies districts must distribute state and local funds to schools in a way that is Title I-neutral and doesn’t penalize Title I schools. It also clarifies that districts can use a variety of methods to demonstrate compliance. However, there is one method districts cannot use: per-pupil spending, even though a Title I-neutral method would likely result in equitable per-pupil spending among Title I and non-Title I schools

To learn more, read the guidance at the link below and share your feedback with the Department in the next 30 days by emailing oese.feedback@ed.gov.

Looking ahead, most of the action – and arguments – in 2019 are likely to focus on higher education, not K-12. Republicans and Democrats alike want to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, but they’re far apart on a laundry list of thorny issues from for-profit colleges and program accountability to sexual assault on campus. Complicating things further is the Department’s current regulatory efforts, including new regulations on sexual harassment under Title IX that received over 100,000 comments. While often considered a higher ed issue, K-12 groups have concerns because the proposal would also apply to elementary and secondary schools and, in the words of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “will lessen protections for assault victims and will hinder the ability of schools and educators to properly address assault claims.”

The Department must respond to public comments before issuing a final rule. With ten or twenty times the number of most regulations, we’re likely months away from that.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the February 1 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at alliance@all4ed.org.

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