Reauthorizaiont of the Higher Education Act
We also oppose the provisions that would require the Secretary to conduct biennial reviews of regulations as overly intrusive on the Secretary's management of the Department.
In addition, the Office of Government Ethics has advised that the one-year cooling off post-employment restrictions in 18 U.S.C. 207(c) would likely not apply to the Chief Operating Officer and the five senior managers of the PBO under H.R. 6 as currently drafted.
Postsecondary Education Improvement Programs
In addition to our very strong objections to the elimination of the funding authority for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the Administration strongly objects to many of the bill's other provisions regarding teacher education. Block grants to the Governors are an inadequate substitute for the Administration's Lighthouse Partnerships initiative. These provisions would do little to produce urgently needed systemic improvement to pre-service teacher education. Our Nation also needs more teachers, and the bill fails to include sufficient efforts to recruit new teachers in order to address pressing needs for teachers in urban and rural areas.
The Administration supports the reauthorization of the advanced placement fee payment program, but would like to work with Congress to modify the program in order to encourage States to undertake activities, such as information dissemination, teacher training, and curriculum development, that are designed to increase the participation of low-income students in advanced placement courses and exams.
The Administration is encouraged by the bill's support for developing institutions; helping more low-income Americans prepare for and go to college is a high priority for the Administration.
However, we believe that H.R. 6 needs to be amended to add the authority for the Secretary of Education's authority to use a small percentage of title III program funds for administration. These funds are needed to effectively manage the title III programs, including the provision of technical assistance to potential applicants and current grantees.
The Administration is pleased that H.R. 6 would authorize the Administration's High Hopes initiative. The bipartisan support for High Hopes reinforces the belief that more needs to be done to reach whole cohorts of disadvantaged students at even younger ages. High Hopes would build upon TRIO activities and provide over 1 million needy middle-school students with effective information, tutoring, mentoring, and academic preparation to prepare them for college and deepen their aspirations and commitment to pursue postsecondary education.
We are disappointed, however, that H.R. 6 does not include provisions to support the Administration's proposed College Awareness Information initiative. This initiative would use the media to promote increased awareness of the value of a college education, the availability of student financial aid, and the academic planning and other steps that must be taken to prepare for postsecondary education. Information would be targeted to high school students, parents, teachers, and counselors, as well as adults pursuing further education.
Next, H.R. 6 fails to include a provision that would require the Secretary to pay the interest that accrues on an unsubsidized FFEL or Direct Loan while the borrower is receiving an economic hardship deferment on the loan and performing community service. This important proposal is part of the President's call to action to all Americans to serve their communities, and would allow individuals with student loans who qualify for economic hardship deferments to take up to three years to serve their communities without accruing additional interest on their loans. This would remove a financial obstacle to community service for borrowers who already satisfy economic hardship criteria. We urge that this provision be added during floor consideration of H.R. 6.
The Administration also hopes that the terms of FFEL consolidation loans will be improved to match the terms of Direct Loans. Further, the Administration opposes allowing lenders to establish a minimum balance for processing consolidation loans.
We strongly oppose the provision that would eliminate the current law "anti-injunction" provision that provides that injunctions cannot be issued against the Secretary that would interfere with the discharge of the Secretary's responsibilities under the loan programs. This provision has prevented the continued flow of loan funds to institutions during lawsuits brought by those institutions whose FFEL program eligibility has been terminated by the Secretary on the basis of high cohort default rates. In none of the cases in which injunctions were denied has an institution been able to show that its default rates were under the threshold for losing eligibility. The case law is very settled on this matter, and it would undermine program integrity to undo this well-established precedent--institutions are now less likely to attempt to sue the Secretary to obtain an injunction that would continue the flow of FFEL funds for the duration of a complex lawsuit.
We are also disappointed that the Administration's loan proration changes are not included in H.R. 6. These provisions would be simpler for institutions to understand and administer, and would be more equitable to students.
We are concerned that the loan forgiveness provisions in H.R. 6 are unworkable as currently drafted. We would like to work with the Congress to improve these provisions.
We are disappointed that the Perkins Loan forbearance provisions, including mandatory forbearance on Perkins loans during a term of national service, were not expanded for comparability with the forbearance available under the FFEL program.
We would also prefer that H.R. 6 be amended to include language clarifying that adjustments made by financial aid administrators to determinations of need may be made to assist dislocated workers.
The Administration is pleased that the bill provides authority for the Secretary to develop and implement a multi-year promissory note that will simplify the loan application process for students, schools, lenders, and guaranty agencies. However, even though the Department currently provides an electronic financial aid application (the FAFSA) on the World Wide Web and fully supports further improvements to electronic access for students, we have serious concerns about the proposal in H.R. 6 which would require the development of an electronic FAFSA. This proposal contemplates the collection of signatures after the the submission of the application, which would place an unreasonable burden on schools, inconvenience students, and create an unworkable situation regarding verification of parental data. Instead, the Department is working towards a full utilization of electronic signatures. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop this process.
The Administration is also encouraged with some of the provisions regarding distance education, especially those that adopt the Administration's language to require accrediting agencies to ensure quality and accountability through the development and enforcement of related criteria, and include computers and equipment in a student's cost of attendance. H.R. 6 does not respond sufficiently to the changing environment, and restricts access at a time when educational opportunities continue to grow. In addition, including the Administration's Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnership initiative would encourage partnerships to develop innovative ways of delivering education, ensuring quality, and measuring student achievement that are appropriate to distance learning.
The Administration opposes the provisions in H.R. 6 that would create a misleadingly named Regulatory Simplification Program and eliminate the current Experimental Sites and Quality Assurance programs. These current programs have provided administrative flexibility from statutory and regulatory provisions to a number of institutions, and have a documented history of success without compromising accountability. The National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education also supported reducing regulatory burden through a performance-based approach.
The Administration also opposes the provision in H.R. 6 that would suspend aid eligibility for students who have been convicted of any drug offense under Federal or State law. This provision would largely duplicate existing law denying Federal benefits to individuals convicted of a drug offense under Federal or State law. Current law also contains important judicial discretion provisions that are lacking in H.R. 6.
We are disappointed that H.R. 6 does not provide for the reporting of performance-based information by occupationally-related programs that would assist students in making informed choices.
The Office of Government Ethics has advised that the applicability of the ethics statutes to members of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance that are appointed by Legislative Branch officials needs to be clarified.
On financial responsibility, the bill contains confusing language that could be read to override the well-received regulations that the Department, working closely with the community, recently developed and to establish a dangerously low standard for the financial health of institutions participating in student financial aid programs. The Federal responsibility to protect taxpayers and students in this area should not be compromised.
While the Administration strongly believes in promoting the active involvement of the public and the education community in the development of student financial aid regulations, we are seriously concerned, based on our prior experience with regulatory negotiation, that the bill's overbroad scope and unrealistic time requirements would actually impede effective collaboration. In addition, the Administration strongly opposes the bill's apparent requirements that all future title IV regulations, no matter how technical or urgent, be subject to negotiated rulemaking, which would seriously distort regulatory efforts and resources away from the most important issues and generate unnecessary litigation, delay, and expense. We look forward to working with Congress to fashion a more focused and flexible set of regulatory provisions.
The Administration also strongly opposes the H.R. 6 requirement that the Department of Education conduct program reviews based on specific criteria. The Department recently initiated a new approach to institutional oversight that determines the focus of program reviews by using information from a data-driven risk analysis system and the Department's information on institutional compliance with program requirements. This "case management" approach to oversight is much more effective at targeting institutions with compliance problems and is more cost-effective than the approach in H.R. 6. Moreover, this approach was also endorsed by the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education.
International and Graduate Education Programs
H.R.6 adopts the Administration's proposal to consolidate all graduate fellowship programs. However, since it has always been an important Federal objective to provide equal opportunity for historically underrepresented populations, it is disappointing that the bill did not include the Administration's proposal to do so in the graduate programs.
We oppose the inclusion of the new Institutional Development authority as duplicative of current international affairs programs and grants provided under title III.
Amendments to the Education of the Deaf Act of 1986
We are also concerned with certain aspects of H.R. 6's reauthorization of the Education of the Deaf Act, such as the Federal cost of subsidizing international students, coupled with the provision to eliminate the cap on enrollment of international students. The current tuition charges for these students are insufficient to cover the educational costs related to their attendance. Elimination of the cap, without a corresponding increase in the tuition surcharge for international students, would result in Federal resources being diverted from other areas to cover these costs.