Nearly a month into the 118th Congress, Democratic and Republican leadership are finalizing committee and subcommittee assignments. Senate Democrats announced Committee assignments last week- including a few changes. In the Senate HELP and Appropriations committees, the changes from the last Congress are as follows: Senate Appropriations Committee—Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has retired and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is now on the Committee. Senator Peters priorities include affordable higher education, student loan debt relief, funding for STEAM research, career technical education, and apprenticeship programs. Senate HELP Committee – Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) is no longer on the Committee, and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has joined the HELP Committee. Republicans in the Senate have not yet finalized committee and subcommittee assignments. In the House, Republicans and Democrats have finalized rosters for all Appropriations subcommittees. Additionally, the final roster of all House Education and the Workforce Committee members has been finalized and can be found here.
1. House Education and Workforce Committee Announces First Hearing of 118th Congress
This week, House Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) announced that the Committee will hold its first hearing on Wednesday February 8th at 10:15 a.m., The hearing titled “American Education in Crisis,” will discuss the state of K-12 and postsecondary education. In a statement Chairwoman Foxx said:“Our education system should work for students—not the other way around…Our K-12 education system should promote education freedom, protect parental rights, and provide concrete solutions to address learning loss. Sadly, it’s not just our K-12 system that is failing families. Colleges and universities aren’t being held accountable for poor outcomes, staggeringly high prices, and failing to prepare students for the workforce. One-party Democrat rule exacerbated each of these problems, but Republicans are ready to get to work.”
The meeting is open to the press and you can watch a live-stream on the committee’s YouTube page.
2. OSEP Director Calls on Schools to Avoid Suspensions When Disciplining Students with Disabilities
This week, OSEP Director Valerie Williams released a blog post urging state and school district leaders to reduce their reliance on exclusionary discipline practices and instead focus on creating predictable earning environments for students and educators. In the posting Director Williams highlights that nearly 1.6 million children with disabilities were subject to disciplinary removal during the 2019-2020 school year. The posting is part of a series from the Director focusing on discipline and behavior and follows the release of guidance from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) to help public elementary and secondary schools fulfill their responsibilities to meet the needs of students with disabilities and avoid the discriminatory use of student discipline. Resources included in the guidance package include:
3. Department of Education Releases Data Examining How Colleges and Universities Spent HEERF Dollars
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released new data that examines how colleges and universities spent upwards of $39 billion of federal Covid relief dollars via the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) in 2021. The report estimates that nearly 18 million students have received direct financial aid under the program since the start of 2021.
Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona commented on the HEERF data saying: “Think about the headlines we’d be talking about today if we didn’t have those funds…We’d be talking about schools closing, we’d be talking about so many people dealing with homelessness or not being able to follow their dreams.”
The Department used the 2021 annual report data to identify key findings and state-specific impact data from the HEERF program. In 2021 alone, HEERF funds:
- Helped students afford basic needs and remain enrolled in school. In 2021, institutions distributed $19.5 billion in Emergency Financial Aid Grants to 12.7 million students, including 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients. Approximately 9 in 10 institutions reported that HEERF enabled them to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out due to pandemic-related factors.
- Kept student costs down, including reducing unpaid balances owed to the institution. Roughly 3 out of 4 institutions indicated that HEERF enabled them to keep student net prices similar to pre-pandemic levels. More than 1,400 institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion on discharging unpaid student balances.
- Kept colleges open and faculty and staff employed. More than 2 in 3 institutions indicated that HEERF allowed them to keep faculty, staff, employees, and contractors at full salary levels.
- Helped slow the spread of the pandemic. Nearly 3 in 4 institutions stated that HEERF enabled them to purchase COVID tests, provide health screenings, and provide the healthcare necessary to help support students, faculty, and staff.
The full 2021 Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund report can be found HERE. A state-by-state breakdown of HEERF grants and students impacted by state can be found HERE.
Highlights of how HEERF helped community colleges and their students can be found HERE.
Highlights of how HEERF helped HBCU students and colleges can be found HERE. Highlights of how HEERF helped other Minority Serving Institutions and their students can be found HERE.
Highlights of how HEERF helped TCCU students and colleges can be found HERE.
4. $3.6 Billion in Pell Grants go Unclaimed by 2022 Graduating High School Seniors
A new analysis from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) found approximately 44 percent of 2022 high school graduates did not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, leading to nearly $3.6 billion in Pell grants unclaimed by graduating high school seniors in 2022.
In an interview, Bill DeBaun, Senior Director of Data and Strategic Initiatives at NCAN said: “We talk a lot about needing more students to pursue educational pathways after high school… This shows that there are a lot of students who could receive a Pell grant — that could make college or a credential possible — who are not pursuing that.”
The unclaimed grants from 2021 and 2022 total more than $7.3 billion— accounting for nearly 14 percent of annual Pell grant expenditures.
5. In the States: SHEEO Releases Top Policy Priorities
Last month, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) released a report detailing the top policy priorities for state higher education leaders across the country. Economic and workforce development, along with the K-12 teacher workforce, tied for the top two state policy priorities of SHEEOs. Rounding out the top five priorities are (3) state funding for financial aid programs, (4) state operating support for public colleges and universities, and (5) higher education’s value proposition. Other issues include declining enrollment and college affordability, tied for sixth, (8) public perception of higher education, (9) addressing equity gaps, and (10) college completion/student success. Rising issues outlined in the report include a focus on student health and safety and student basic needs, like food, housing, and childcare.
6. New Resources for Educators
- US DOE Office for Civil Rights released a Fact Sheet on Diversity and Inclusion Activities under Title VI to assist school communities, in understanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion training and similar activities in most factual circumstances are consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- IES Director Mark Schneider released a blog post: “Innovation in the Education Sciences”
- Nature Human Behavior published a study which looks at data from 15 countries to provide a comprehensive account of the academic hardships wrought by the pandemic.
- The Washington Post highlights the impact of the critical shortage of teachers in the state of Mississippi.