US Department of Education – Signing of COVID Relief Package

(STL.News) U.S. Department of Education, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement on the signing of the COVID relief package:

“It was long past time for Congress to have reached a compromise that provides continued relief to students and keeps the government funded through the next fiscal year.  While there are historic wins in this package, there are also some important issues left unresolved.

“The emergency taxpayer funding set aside for the Education Stabilization Fund will continue to help keep the learning going and will hopefully take excuses off the table for schools that remain closed. I am pleased to see that Congress has finally acknowledged what this Administration has said all along: All students and all educators at all schools — private, parochial, and public — are affected by this pandemic, and they all need and deserve support for PPE, cleaning supplies, learning materials, and more.  And, through the GEER fund, governors remain empowered to do what’s best for their students.

“At the same time, Congress failed to extend the freedom and the resources individual students need in order to access the K-12 education option that is the right fit for them.  In the end, Congress focused on systems instead of on students.  It took the same tired approach when students desperately need something new and different.  School Choice Now is what students and parents need.  Without that provision, students whose parents can no longer afford tuition at their private school, whose private school was forced to close, or who remain at the mercy of their closed government school are left behind once again. Education leaders at the state level should think creatively about how to use their Education Stabilization Fund allocations to support their most vulnerable students.  In states that have already adopted these practices, tools like scholarships, transportation to schools other than those assigned by the government, and homeschooling resources are already making a difference in the lives of students.

“At the higher education level, I was disheartened to see Congress pause crucial progress that must occur on Next Gen in order to continue to provide and improve upon high-quality service to borrowers.  However, this bill does provide for additional financial grants to students impacted by the pandemic.  It also codifies into law the Department’s recommendation that institutions prioritize students to receive these grants based on their level of need.

“In addition, this bill builds on our efforts to make the Federal Student Aid process more borrower-friendly from the very start by streamlining the FAFSA — for which Senator Alexander deserves great credit.  And I am so pleased to see Congress finally right the wrong in the 1994 Crime Bill by permanently restoring Pell eligibility for incarcerated students.  I have seen firsthand the transformative impact Second Chance Pell has had on the lives of individuals who are incarcerated, which is why I’ve continued to urge and encourage Congress to make the Department’s experimental program permanent.  This is a historic step, and I look forward to seeing Second Chance Pell grants continue to change lives for the better.

“There are many wrongheaded proposals right now concerning student debt, so I was pleased to see that Congress adopted one sensible way to address the issue by expanding the ability of employers to provide tax-free payments of up to $5,250 of an employee’s federal student loans, including those taken out prior to their employment.  This provision will help students pay down their debts faster and keep employers engaged and invested in what students need to be successful — a win for students and job creators alike.

“While there is still much work to be done in the coming year to continue to empower students of all ages to find the right educational fit for their talents and passions, this bill takes significant steps in the right direction.”