April 7, 2000
Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Thank you for your letter regarding the eligibility of a public defender for a law enforcement or corrections officer cancellation on a Federal Perkins loan. I apologize for the delay in our response.
You had requested clarification of the criteria a borrower must meet in order to establish eligibility for the law enforcement cancellation provision. The U.S. Department of Education understands how important public defenders are to the criminal justice system. The Department does not believe that it has the authority, however, to include public defenders within the scope of the existing law enforcement loan cancellation provision. Rather, we believe that a statutory amendment would be required to include public defender agencies within a Perkins loan cancellation provision.
As background, the Police Recruitment and Education Program, a provision of the Crime Control Act of 1990, amended Section 465(a)(2) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 by authorizing a loan cancellation for Federal Perkins loan borrowers for full-time service "as a full-time law enforcement officer or corrections officer for service to local, State or Federal law enforcement or corrections agencies." To establish eligibility for a law enforcement or corrections officer cancellation, both the borrower's employing agency and the borrower's position must be eligible. A local, State, or Federal agency is an eligible employing agency if it is publicly funded and its activities pertain to crime prevention, control, or reduction, or to the enforcement of the criminal law. The rules governing borrower eligibility for law enforcement cancellation are contained within the Federal Perkins loan program regulations at 34 CFR 674.57.
We recognize that public defenders play an integral role in the adversarial process, which is a basic tenet of our legal system. We also recognize that the United States Supreme Court has held that our criminal justice system must provide counsel for all persons accused of a crime for which there is a possibility of a jail sentence if they lack the means to obtain one. However, we do not believe that a public defender is a "law enforcement officer" who serves "local, State or Federal law enforcement or corrections agencies" within the meaning of the Police Recruitment and Education Program statute and the regulations. Therefore, we do not believe that the Department of Education may administratively extend Perkins loan cancellation to public defenders.
Our mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the Nation.
Page 2 - Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Again, I regret that our decision could not be more favorable.
Richard W. Riley
[ Return to Key Policy Letters ]
This page last updated September 1, 2000 (tag)