Whiteboard Notes | Senate Subcommittee Approves Spending Bill; ED Cuts Ties with CFPB; IL Passes New School Funding Formula

Congress & Administration

Senate Subcommittee Approves Spending Bill: The Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on labor, health, and education unanimously approved an education funding bill on Wednesday, rejecting many of President Trump’s proposals. The bill allocates $2.05 billion for Title II and $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, both of which were eliminated in the White House’s proposed budget. The bill also ignores two of Trump’s proposed school choice initiatives and includes language prohibiting the Department of Education from using funds for school choice without Congressional approval. Several other programs cut by the Trump budget were similarly protected, including Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants and the first increases to Pell Grant amounts in a decade. All told, the bill allocates $68.3 billion for the Education Department, which represents an increase of $29 million over its current budget, and $2.3 billion more than the House’s proposed spending bill.
Education Department Cuts Ties with CFPB: On Wednesday, the Department of Education announced that it will terminate a pair of information-sharing agreements with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agreements allowed the agencies to exchange information about consumer complaints and oversight of loan servicers, and have lead to several high-profile actions in recent months, such as the decision by the Education Department to forgive loans of students attending Corinthian College, which closed in early 2015. In a letter to the CFPB explaining the move, the Department stated that the CFPB was “overreaching and unaccountable” and caused “confusion to borrowers and servicers.” The CFPB said in a statement that it intends to reach out to the Department to try to understand and address its concerns.
FSA Expands Consumer Protections: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced new efforts to protect student borrowers last week, expanding the scope and power of the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) to enforce compliance by organizations participating in federal student aid programs. FSA, led by Dr. A. Wayne Johnson, has been bulking up its oversight and enforcement capabilities over the last several months, according to a Department press release. The release announced new senior hires, and discussed the Department's plan to implement new strategies in an effort to protect student borrowers and their parents from “bad actors” such as illegitimate loan providers and fraudulent academic programs.

States, Districts, & Colleges

California Considers School Start Time Legislation: report from the RAND Corporation shows that later school start times could contribute billions to California’s economy over time–$10.2 billion within a decade, $24.8 billion after 20 years. The report comes as the California Legislature is poised to vote on a later school start time bill, SB 328. Further, RAND calculates that this change nationwide would give the U.S. economy an $83 billion boost within a decade. Researchers quantified graduation rates and teen accident rates, which would improve with more sleep offered by later start times. The report also takes into account costs associated with changing bus schedules and adding athletic field lights for night games.
Illinois Passes New School Funding Formula: The Illinois Senate approved a bill establishing a new school funding formula that Governor Bruce Rauner (R) has said he will sign into law. Previously, the state had allocated school funds according to property values, which both Democrats and Republicans had admitted produced inequitable funding for the state’s public schools. The new formula makes $350 million available to support schools in property-poor areas that otherwise would have been unable to raise the funding they needed. As part of the deal, the bill will also make funds available to pay down the Chicago Public Schools’ teacher pension costs, which have grown rapidly over the last several years. 
New York Requests ESSA Waivers: The State of New York announced in a press release that it intends to ask the U. S. Department of Education for waivers on portions of its ESSA plan pertaining to testing. Specifically, the state seeks to postpone English and language arts testing for newly-arrived English learners for a year. The waiver request seeks to use second year ELA scores as a baseline, and to test students with significant cognitive disabilities at a level matching their instructional level, rather than age, to better track their growth. Furthermore, the state seeks to use subject-specific high school exams for its middle school students, rather than grade level tests, in its school accountability system, claiming this would reduce the burden on high-performing students and schools. To receive the waiver, the state must demonstrate that its alternatives are as good as or better than what ESSA requires, although the final decision rests with the Department of Education.
North Carolina Continues School Rating System Under ESSA: State leaders in North Carolina have decided to continue a school rating system based on standardized testing in their new ESSA plan, despite calls for change. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) expressed his opposition to the plan's emphasis on standardized testing, with a veto attempt that was overridden. State Superintendent Mark Johnson supports the plan, suggesting that other portions of the plan would reduce the amount of testing over time.