- House and Senate Inch Toward Agreement on FY 2013 Spending Plan, Unveil FY 2014 Budgets
- House Committee Holds Hearing on Student Loans
- Some Military Tuition Assistance Programs Suspended Due to Sequestration
- ACE Submits Supreme Court Brief Supporting UT Medical School
- MEMO: Institutions Must Rewrite Sexual Assault Policies and Procedures Under Violence Against Women Act
Congress kicked into full gear this week to meet the upcoming deadline to enact a spending measure for the remainder of FY 2013, seeking to avert a government shutdown when the current stop-gap spending measure expires on March 27.
The federal government has been operating under a temporary spending bill (known as a continuing resolution) since Oct. 1, when the current fiscal year began. Last week, the House approved a bill (H.R. 933) to keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year. Importantly, the $982 billion bill does not reverse the budget cuts mandated by sequestration. It does, however, provide some limited flexibility for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs in how they accommodate the mandated reductions.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Tuesday introduced the Senate version of H.R. 933. This measure softens some domestic sequestration cuts, which the House bill didn't address. On the higher education front, the bill would increase spending for the National Science Foundation by $221 million over FY 2012 and provide an additional $71 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
However, the NIH would still face more than $1 billion in budget cuts as a result of sequestration, which would likely mean hundreds fewer research grants.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) offered an amendment that would have provided $211 million more for the NIH and an additional $14 million for Federal TRIO Programs, among other higher education provisions. These increases would have been paid for by trimming funding for nearly all other education programs, including student aid. However, the amendment failed to pass.
Meanwhile, House Republicans and Senate Democrats this week unveiled clashing budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. House Republicans on Tuesday released a plan for FY 2014 that would tighten eligibility for federal student aid, freeze the maximum Pell Grant at $5,645 for the next decade and consolidate federal job-training programs. The following day, Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced her party's FY 2014 budget resolution, which would raise tax revenues by about $975 billion and cut spending by about the same amount over the next 10 years.
These budgets are non-binding, and simply serve as a blueprint for programs and spending priorities—the differences between the two should be resolved by a House-Senate conference, though it is unclear if that will be possible. (See more about the process here.) Meanwhile, President Obama's FY 2014 budget (now two months late) is expected to be sent to the Hill in early April.
The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard have all announced they are suspending new enrollments in their Tuition Assistance (TA) programs due to sequestration. The Navy is still reviewing its options, according to reports.
The TA programs provide up to $4,500 per fiscal year for active-duty troops who are attending high school completion courses and certificate programs, or are working toward college degrees. The change will not affect service members who currently receive tuition assistance.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday, urging him to reconsider the program suspensions. She and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) have introduced an amendment that would instruct the Defense Department to restore TA funding, but as of Thursday afternoon, its fate was uncertain.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing Wednesday looking at federal student loans and the need for a long-term solution to the issue of Stafford Loan interest rates.
As you'll remember from last summer, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford Loans was scheduled to double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2012. Congress passed legislation to delay the hike for one year, but only after weeks of negotiations and just two days before the increase was due to take effect. We estimated at the time that the rate freeze meant an estimated 7.4 million college students impacted would save an average of $1,000 in interest over the lives of their loans. To partially offset that expense, Congress reduced eligibility for subsidized Stafford loans, an imperfect solution.
Once again, unless Congress takes additional action, the lower rate will expire on June 30, 2013. We expect the trajectory of this issue to follow 2012, with urgency increasing as the date approaches.
ACE has submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in a case that will decide what an employee must prove in order to prevail on a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that his employer retaliated against him.
The case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, was brought by a medical professor and physician charging racial harassment and retaliation. A jury found in his favor, but the Court of Appeals reversed the racial harassment verdict and affirmed the retaliation verdict. At issue is whether he must prove his harassment complaint was the sole motive for retaliation, or just one of multiple reasons, including the institution's preexisting academic reasons for refusing his requested transfer.
See the ACE website for more details on the case and to read the brief. The case is scheduled for oral arguments on April 24.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), which President Obama signed into law March 7, imposes new obligations on colleges and universities under its Campus Sexual Violence Act (SaVE Act) provision. We have prepared a brief memo that reviews these new obligations, which are effective March 7, 2014.
The SaVE Act provision, which amends the campus crime provisions of the Higher Education Act, expands the information colleges must incorporate into their annual crime reports to include acts of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. In the coming year, institutions will need to review and modify policies and procedures for handling asserted sexual offenses, and carefully train personnel in this area.
This memo primarily addresses VAWA. This is not, of course, the only legal obligation institutions face in this area—requirements under the April 2011 Office of Civil Rights Guidance Letter, the Clery Act, Title IX, Title VII, state employment laws, local human rights ordinances, federal regulations and agency pronouncements should also be reviewed.
Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE