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Republican senators slam delays for student financial aid forms

The Department of Education announced that colleges and universities will begin receiving the information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, months after the expected date.

Ahead of DEI ban, UTD grapples with student expression, transparency

The North Texas university is one of many in the U.S. that has seen an outburst of student speech around Israel and Gaza in wake of the Oct. 7 attack.

Changes to federal rules barring widespread transgender bans delayed again, with new timeline for next year

Amidst controversy surrounding transgender student-athlete’s place in athletics, the Department of Education announced the final ruling to update Title IX will be released in March.

For-profit colleges caught in regulatory tug-of-war

The Biden administration announced its new gainful employment regulations, which lawmakers project will protect 700,00 students a year from for-profit institutions that have a history of exploiting low-income students and leaving them with overwhelming debt.

Fund schools to fight back: Democratic lawmakers unveil book ban legislation

As books continue to be taken off shelves in schools and libraries across the country, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) held a press conference on Tuesday to introduce legislation to provide subsidies for school districts as they fight back against censorship.

Democrats relaunch the Green New Deal for public schools

WASHINGTON — Recent studies have found that climate change disrupts the education of 40 million students a year. Due to environmental disasters like the Maui wildfires and deteriorating infrastructure, those numbers are only expected to go up. For Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a former public school teacher, this is an unacceptable reality. 

“Our public schools are literally falling apart across the country. Children are going to school with lead in the water,” said Bowman. 

On Thursday, Bowman, alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), relaunched the Green New Deal for Public Schools. The bill aims to reduce public school carbon emissions to zero by running on renewable energy sources. Schools would receive green retrofits, such as community gardens and labs, to teach about sustainability, science, and technology. Schools would be able to hire more teachers and staff while reducing class sizes. The bill would also prioritize low-income schools for these upgrades. 

The bill is co-sponsored by more than 70 House lawmakers. At a press conference on Thursday, Bowman and Markey were joined by several other representatives, including Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). All of them stressed the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of a bold response. 

“In these halls, the definition of cost is different than the rest of our country,” Rep. Frost said. “For them, cost is just dollars and cents, but for us, cost is human life.”

Frost represents Florida, which he describes as one of the states most vulnerable to climate change. Just last month, extreme temperatures and a lack of proper ventilation closed over 1800 public schools across the state. Reps. Bowman, Velázquez and Schakowsky are also former teachers. 

Bowman said the bill presents a holistic solution to the deterioration of schools – focusing not just on climate, but on health, safety, and the well-being of students. 

According to Bowman,  the proposal is estimated to cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years. He said the funding would come from taxes on the uber-wealthy and corporations, as well as a redistribution of funds from the defense budget to education. 

Our budget is a reflection of our values. And our values for several decades have been rooted in mass incarceration, gun violence, imperialism, and self-destruction,” said Bowman. “It’s time for a new American revolution where our values are rooted in our children, in education, and a love for humanity.”

House Republicans have said the Green New Deal will only hurt the country further.  “This Green New Deal monstrosity increased inflation, imposed new taxes on energy cost and drove energy prices higher,” Rep. Ted Cruz (D-Fla) tweeted this month. However, no version of the Green New Deal has been passed thus far. 

This message has garnered national support from teachers’ unions. “These are the investments we must make to make every public school in America a safe, welcoming and joyful place where educators are respected and supported, parents are happy to send their kids, and students thrive,” said Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers.

And, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, the bill would make a significant impact on schools. This legislation would eliminate 78 million metric tons of CO2 annually and fund 1.3 million jobs annually. 

“Young people might be only 20% of our population, but they are 100% of our future,” said Sen. Markey.

Two students take on the Education Department in a landmark Supreme Court case

WASHINGTON – In a second, lesser-known case, the Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments from individual borrowers about whether they have the legal standing to challenge the Department of Education’s student-debt relief plan. The court also considered whether the federal plan was properly authorized by statute and adopted in accordance with proper procedures.  

This was the second of two cases brought against the Biden administration on an estimated $400 billion student-loan relief program to come before the court on Tuesday. 

The case, Department of Education v. Brown, was originally filed by two student loan borrowers, Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, who claim they were improperly denied the opportunity to provide feedback on the Department of Education’s student-loan forgiveness plan that the Biden administration announced in August 2022. Brown was not able to take advantage of the Department of Education’s student-debt relief plan because she had taken out private student loans not backed by the government, while Alexander Taylor qualified for $10,000 but not the full $20,000 available under the Biden program. 

The judge in the federal court in the Northern District of Texas determined that Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona had exceeded his authority in creating this program and thus nullified the forgiveness program nationwide.

In one aspect of the case, however, he did rule for the government, saying that it was not required to go through a notice-and-comment process under the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solution (HEROES) Act, a law from 2003 that allows the government to waive or modify loan provisions in response to a national emergency. 

During the hearing, the justices were particularly interested in understanding the injury claimed by the respondents. They also asked many questions about the fairness of the student-debt relief plan, given the criteria for eligibility and the extent of aid available. 

Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, who represents the federal government’s interests, expressed concern that ruling for the original petitioners would set a precedent that could be used to block other agency actions without merit. Prelogar explained that petitioners, who do not stand to benefit from a ruling on Education Department’s action, should not be allowed to assert injury and interfere with the agency’s ability to regulate.

Michael Connolly, who represents the students who sued, argued that the Department of Education used the HEROES Act as an excuse not to adopt the program through negotiated rulemaking and notice-and-comment procedures.

According to Connolly, if the HEROES Act does not apply, then there is “no dispute that the program is procedurally improper.” He also noted that by choosing the HEROES Act route, the Department of Education had prevented stakeholders from having a say in how the program is administered.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts raised a question on fairness during the hearing. He presented a hypothetical scenario involving two high school students who cannot afford college: one takes out a loan, while the other starts a lawn care service and takes out a bank loan. Roberts questioned the government’s decision to cancel the loan of the college student, who is proportionally better off after college than the other student who took out a loan for a lawn care service. Justice Samuel A. Alito echoed Roberts’ fairness concerns and questioned the unequal treatment of individuals who did not receive comparable relief. He acknowledged the possibility that their interests were outweighed by those who benefitted, or that they were considered less deserving of support.

Responding to the justices’ concerns, Prelogar argued that Congress had already determined that during national emergencies that impact borrowers, the secretary of education is authorized to provide relief. She also stated that it was Congress’ responsibility to define the individuals who qualify for any relief program, and in this case, the secretary acted appropriately in granting relief to those who met the criteria. 

In an exchange with Prelogar, Justice Sonia Sotomayor raised the issue of social inequality and fairness. She highlighted that while everyone suffered during the pandemic, different people received different benefits based on their eligibility under different relief programs. She argued that inherent unfairness exists in society because resources are limited, and every law has its boundaries. 

“Every law has people who encompass it or people outside it. And that’s not an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of what the law protects or doesn’t,” she explained.

Connolly emphasized that the students’  procedural rights were violated, resulting in financial harm, and argued that the law mandates that the education secretary provides them with a chance to voice their concerns. 

On the other hand, Prelogar maintained that if the Supreme Court decides to consider the merits of the case, it should reject the assertion that the peititioners’ procedural claim is invalid because of the clear statutory exemption by Congress, which specifically waived the secretary from following such procedures when issuing waivers and modifications under the HEROES Act.

 The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the case before its term ends this summer.

Slideshow: Activists urge Supreme Court to approve student debt relief

WASHINGTON –– Hundreds of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning to urge the justices to allow President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program to take effect. Inside the high court, the justices heard oral arguments in Biden v. Nebraska, a case challenging Biden’s authority under federal law to cancel student debt.

Nonprofits including the NAACP paid to send seven buses of students from six states to protest in front of the court Tuesday morning. The speakers, including several Democratic lawmakers, emphasized that student debt relief is not only legal but also just and necessary.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fl.) speaks to reporters after attending the rally outside the court. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks to reporters outside the court. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Mass.) urges the court to allow student debt cancellation to take effect. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks about the need for student debt relief. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks at the rally. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

A protester takes a photo of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks in favor of student debt relief Tuesday morning. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Supreme Court hears student loan forgiveness arguments in $400 billion case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday for Biden v. Nebraska, a case which challenges President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 for those with federally held student debts.

The case looked at two major issues: standing and merit. 

The first questioned whether the respondents, in this case the six Republican-led states suing, had standing to challenge Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona for their loan forgiveness plan. 

In other words, if Cardona’s plan caused injury to these states, it gave the states the ability to challenge it.

To that end, the arguments largely focused on whether or not the states had standing. Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell said that the Missouri-based entity MOHELA, which the state argued suffered financial losses due to the program, gives the states standing. 

Video by Julia Narvaez Munguia/MNS

But some Justices argued that MOHELA could have filed its own lawsuit but decided against it. Notably, Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she didn’t understand why the states stood in for MOHELA in the lawsuit.

“If MOHELA is an arm of the state, why didn’t you just strong-arm MOHELA and say you’ve got to pursue this suit,” Barrett said.

If the Justices agree the states have no standing, the case would be thrown out before getting to the second issue of merit. 

Cardona’s plan to forgive loan debt hinges on the Higher Education Relief for Students Act, which gives the executive branch authority to provide emergency relief without express authorization from Congress if it modifies or waives existing protocols. 

Campbell said that Cardona’s loan forgiveness does neither of these things, but instead creates a “breathtaking and transformative power beyond [the secretary’s] institutional role and expertise.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that she wasn’t clear on the distinction between creating a power and modifying or waiving one.

“Why doesn’t it all reduce to the same thing?” Brown said.

It’s unclear how the Court, which is led 6-3 by conservative Justices, will rule. Some experts believe that Biden does not have much of a case on the merits, while others argue the states have no standing to sue the federal government.

But the program has broad sweeping implications for millions of current and former students who have borrowed money from the federal government. Over $400 billion in federal loans would be forgiven should the Court decide against striking down the program.

“There’s 50 million students who will benefit from this, who today will struggle,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. “Many of them don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic. They don’t have friends or families or others who can help them make these payments.”

A ruling against Biden’s plan could invite further suits by Republican-led states that would impact all kinds of future executive actions. It’s why the courts may decide to focus on the first issue of standing, which would help avoid questions of the Biden administration’s authority going forward.

“What you’re saying is now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them instead of the person with the expertise and the experience the secretary of Education who’s been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans,” Sotomayor said.

Worries about plagiarism and ChatGPT may be overblown, experts say

WASHINGTON — The surging popularity of ChatGPT has raised concerns about the future of learning, but several experts say educators should embrace the tool.

ChatGPT – short for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer –  is an artificial intelligence chatbot that was developed by San Francisco-based startup OpenAI in November 2022. 

ChatGPT takes written input from users and generates human-like responses through natural language processing –  allowing it to write papers, speeches, poems and even generate code. Its robust abilities have caused educators to worry about declines in learning and academic integrity in their classrooms. 

Some of the nation’s largest school districts, like New York City’s Department of Education, Baltimore County Public Schools, Oakland Unified in California, and Seattle Public Schools, have already moved to block ChatGPT from their devices and networks, citing concerns about cheating and plagiarism. 

Edward Maloney, English professor and executive director of The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University, who helps other educators think about course designs and assignments, said ChatGPT is just another opportunity to reimagine teaching. 

“The most important thing is to be transparent, to be open, to help your students understand what these tools can do and what they can’t do, and to potentially incorporate them into teaching experiences,” Maloney said.

He added that there are several other tools that have augmented students’ abilities, such as calculators and the internet, and ChatGPT is no different. He said the way to adapt is by creating assignments that require more than what the tool is capable of. 

The tool’s rapid growth has also concerned many educators. The platform is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users just two months after it was created, according to a research report by investment banking company UBS. By comparison, it took TikTok approximately nine months to reach 100 million users and Instagram more than two years, according to Sensor Tower, an app analysis firm. 

Naomi Baron, professor emerita of world languages and cultures at American University, said educators will now have to be more reflective when evaluating essays to determine whether a student wrote them. She said the “foolproof” way to do this is by talking with students about their ideas, offering feedback, and having them submit multiple drafts.

“That doesn’t happen in most classes and most classrooms in the United States,” Baron said. “Therefore, we’re going to have to figure out something else as a way of stimulating and then assessing students’ thinking about the kinds of issues they write about in essays or term papers.”

Baron, who has spent time testing out the chatbot, said educators can be alert for high frequencies of words like “the,” “a,” and “is” in papers because ChatGPT has been designed to predict what the next word will be based on the large dataset of texts it draws from. She also said a paper being “too perfect” may be an indicator that it was written by artificial intelligence.

OpenAI, in a statement to Medill News Service, said that the company doesn’t want ChatGPT to be used for misleading purposes in schools or elsewhere. The company has since released a “classifier” to help educators distinguish between human-written and AI-written text.

“The classifier aims to help mitigate false claims that AI-generated text was written by a human. However, it still has a number of limitations – so it should be used as a complement to other methods of determining the source of text instead of being the primary decision-making tool,” an OpenAI spokesperson said. 

The concerns of educators may be justified. More than 60% of college students and 95% of high school students have admitted to some form of cheating, according to the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), a research center that conducts wide-scale surveys of academic integrity. 

But many school districts and universities are still assessing whether this new technology actually poses a threat to academia and how to handle it. 

D.C. Public Schools is one of them, and it remains unclear if they will also go as far as banning the app from its 115 schools. 

“DC Public Schools has been made aware of the issues surrounding Open AI’s ChatGPT. We are having internal discussions with our experts to explore what measures we can take,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Medill News Service. 

Stanford University said that its faculty and lecturers continue to design assignments to develop students’ thinking and writing skills by requiring them to draft and revise their ideas while citing sources and evidence. 

“These learning processes are central to the ways in which Stanford prepares students for lives of active citizenship, and faculty will continue to guide students on the role of emerging tools in their courses,” a spokesperson said. 

The university also said its Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA) has been monitoring AI tools and will be discussing how they relate to the university’s honor code.

Kenny Ching, assistant professor and expert at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said incorporating this new technology may be easier said than done, but it is necessary. 

He said schools that ban ChatGPT from their campuses create an artificial barrier because students will find ways around it. Rather than merely slowing down the process, he said it’s better for educators to embrace it. 

He also said banning the tool will only make education look more distant from the real world. 

“Students are going to be using it in the future, and if we are supposed to be preparing students for effective work in the future, why are we preventing them from using that in the classroom,” Ching said.

Witnesses at the Education and Workforce Committee hearing emphasize innovative education paths

WASHINGTON — Job openings nationwide increased to 11 million in 2022, even as the rate of college-educated adults continues to increase. To address this disparity, the Republican-led Education and Workforce Committee met on Wednesday to explore alternative systems to traditional higher education. 

Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said her goal for the committee was to protect taxpayers while ensuring students could receive an education that guarantees career readiness and fills openings in the workforce. Witnesses presented solutions to problems in higher education, offering their experiences leading alternative, skill-based education paths that produced significant returns while keeping costs low. 

Scott Pulsiper, president of Western Governors University, served as a witness in the hearing. WGU is a nonprofit competency-based University that has graduated more than 300,000 students in 26 years. He said graduates are employed at rates higher than the national average, hold better incomes and report higher job satisfaction.  

“The challenges today center primarily around the growing failure to live up to education’s promise as a great equalizer,” Pulsiper said. “WGU was founded and designed to better serve those poorly served, underserved or not served at all by conventional options with a focus on access and outcomes.” 

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said one of the biggest drivers of the cost of higher education was that graduate students had few limits on borrowing money. He said about 40% of master’s degrees failed to produce a positive investment, and asked Pulsiper how he builds productive partnerships. 

Pulsiper said WGU aims to work backward from the job opportunity to identify the relevant skills needed in the workforce. The system then structures its curriculum around those demands, and works closely with employers to fill those spaces. The programs allow students to pace themselves and cost less than $20,000 to complete. 

Its responsible borrowing initiative shows students a reasonable amount to borrow and helps individuals “make better choices,” Pulsiper said. 

“Fully two-thirds of the students who actually follow that recommendation and another five to ten percent end up actually choosing no federal aid whatsoever,” he said. “What that has allowed WGU graduates to achieve is…that we’ve reduced the borrowing by 30 percent in terms of debt.” 

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said his state holds the most job vacancies. He said the committee must work to expand Pell grant access, particularly for short-term workforce programs. 

The system he leads has graduated more than 15,000 students and placed the majority into well-paying jobs. However, the short-term education programs are not accessible to lower income students without Pell grants.

“We have far too many people on the sidelines not participating in the economy. The market for talent is exceptionally tight, and seems to be growing tighter every day,” Sullivan said. “Central to this policy must be the recognition that almost every good job in America requires participation beyond high school.” 

Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) said he comes from a business background in construction and believes certain skills are best learned through experience. The Richmond County School System in his district has partnered with Textron specialized vehicles to offer on-the-job training and employment opportunities. 

“I come from a business background in construction and I believe that some skills are best learned through real-world experiences,” Allen said. “I’m proud that the 12th District of Georgia isn’t waiting until after high school graduation to get these to give these kids the tools and really the ambition they need to succeed,” Allen said. 

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) said Democrats have also led initiatives to create apprenticeships. About 93% of apprentices finish their programs. Those who do go on to earn on average $77,000 each year. 

Sullivan emphasized that skill-based higher education does not have to be the end of learning. While the initial learning in programs including apprenticeships can take between six and 10 weeks, he said having an income will encourage people to continue their growth through the education system.

Democratic lawmakers reintroduce bill to raise minimum teacher pay to $60,000

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers reintroduced the American Teacher Act on Wednesday, following President Joe Biden’s call to raise teacher salaries during his State of the Union address this week. 

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) introduced the bill last year, and if passed, it would give states grants to increase the base salaries of K-12 teachers to $60,000. It would also require them to make cost-of-living adjustments to ensure the minimum salary keeps up with inflation. 

“Teachers are heroes, and they deserve compensation,” Wilson said. 

According to Center for American Progress, a progressive policy group, the average starting salary for a full-time teacher is $38,617. In addition, teachers are 30% more likely to work a second job than their counterparts in other professions. 

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, said there is no shortage of people who would like to guide and teach the next generation, but rather a shortage of professional pay and basic dignity for educators. 

“Today, we find ourselves in what I call a five-alarm crisis of staffing shortages in all of our schools throughout the country,” Pringle said. “And I want to be clear; this isn’t a warning light or a maintenance required indicator on your car moment. This is the ‘engine is on fire, call 911 now’ moment.” 

According to a research report, it is estimated that there are over 36,000 teacher vacancies nationwide, and supporters of the bill say non-competitive salary is a major contributing factor. 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill, called on far-right Republicans to help pass the legislation. 

“Our teachers nurture the most precious resource in our country, which is our children,” Bowman said.

Biden’s call to raise teacher salaries during his State of the Union address appeared to receive bipartisan support through a standing ovation. Wilson said she was astounded by it and has plans to talk to potential Republican co-sponsors.

House Education and Workforce Committee debates parental involvement, LGBTQ+ curriculum in schools

WASHINGTON — Representatives in the Education and Workforce committee gathered to discuss leading issues in American education at a Wednesday hearing as debates about determining school curricula continue to dominate several state legislatures. 

A variety of topics were debated, including concerns about communication between schools and parents surrounding LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum. Republicans expressed concerns about activist indoctrination in schools, while Democrats argued efforts to remove this curriculum pose a bigger threat to vulnerable youth in marginalized groups, who already face increased rates of suicide and other mental health challenges. 

Chairwoman Melissa Foxx (R- N.C.) said she would champion the Parents Bill of Rights Act. The bill, which was introduced in the last Congress, would require local schools to share the curriculum with parents and allow parents to review the school curriculum and budget. 

“Parents witnessed educators spreading political ideology instead of teaching fundamental subjects like mathematics and reading,” Foxx said. “It is time for the education complex to understand that children belong to their parents, not the state.” 

Virginia Gentles, who serves as the director of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum and spoke as a witness in the hearing, said parents should have power over their children’s education. She said most parents did not want their children consuming “radical gender ideology.” 

In order to meet parental needs, Gentles said parents need to be informed of n their rights and consulted on federal funding. She said schools need to re-prioritize academic instruction and stop gender support plans. 

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said extremist misinformation spreads confusion and distracts from the young transgender youth who “need our protection.” He said these individuals face bullying and harassment and are targets of violent murders later in life. 

“Now more than ever it is critical for us to rise up to support, not scrutinize trans and queer students,” Takano said. “All students deserve to feel safe, comfortable and supported in their schools so they can focus on their education.” 

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said school districts and teacher’s unions have made efforts to exclude parents from conversations in recent years. He asked Gentles about the wedge gender ideology might drive between parents and their children, who responded by saying children are indoctrinated into thinking their parents are bigots when they emphasize biological identity. 

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said that apart from the language barriers some parents face with their children, he was unaware of any programs that excluded parents from staying involved in their children’s education. He said he is working with schools in his state to communicate curriculum content in multiple languages to those families. 

Polis, who served as another witness in the hearing, said he was unaware of any inclusions of gender identity in the elementary school curriculum in his state, countering anecdotal evidence presented by Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.). He said his priority was to promote academic instruction in math, reading and writing, regardless of the student’s identity. 

“Involving parents is absolutely critical in success,” Polis said. “I’ve seen school leaders do inventory skills of parents and find ways parents can supplement and provide additional learning opportunities for kids.” 

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said she spent more than 15 years as an active parent volunteer in public schools. She said she engaged in many conversations during that time and said parent and family engagement is “instrumental” in creating a safe, supportive school environment.  

She said the greater crisis in American education is the effort to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth. 

“I welcome the opportunity to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to uplift best practices, evidence-based practices, in family engagement, rather than pit parents against their kid’s educators and schools,” Bonamici said. 

Amid increasing global economic competition, Biden promotes education access at State of the Union

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden highlighted the progress his administration has made in education access and called for improved mental health access for the nation’s youth at the State of the Union Tuesday.  

Biden said a well-educated workforce helps the U.S. stay in competition with other nations. The world has “caught up” to the U.S. in the last century, and the president emphasized the need to expand access to children of all ages. 

Biden said that students with access to preschool are about 50% more likely to graduate high school and earn a college degree. He added that providing access to these programs for three  and four year olds  would help the nation create the “best-educated workforce” in the world.  

The president also discussed higher education initiatives his administration is working on, including student debt reduction and providing more Pell Grants. 

 “Let’s finish the job, connect students to career opportunities starting in high school and provide two years of community college, some of the best career training in America, in addition to being a pathway to a four-year degree,” he said. 

Biden also called for public school teachers to receive a raise. 

He then outlined efforts his administration was making to provide on-the-ground resources to communities. The administration is working to bring clean water into school and childcare centers, he said, and is improving internet accessibility. 

“We’re making sure that every community has access to affordable, high-speed internet,” Biden said. “No parent should have to drive to a McDonald’s parking lot so their kid can do their homework online.”

Biden also discussed the growing youth mental health crisis. Social media companies are running an experiment on American youth today to earn a profit, he said, and he pointed toward their ability to collect personal online data and engage in targeted advertising. 

Studies have shown that increased social media use could result in increased depression and anxiety. A 2019 study on 12- to 15- year-olds in the U.S. found that when they spent more than three hours each day on social media, they were at “heightened risk” for mental health problems. 

“Let’s do more on mental health, especially for our children,” Biden said. “When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at school.”

U.S. Secretary of Education announces initiative to improve educational system

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona delivered an address Tuesday afternoon about the department’s new initiative to transform education and create long-term change.

The department’s focus remains aligned with the priorities Cardona outlined last year: promoting academic excellence for every learner, improving conditions for learning and further preparing the nation for global competitiveness. 

“Investing in our children is no different than investing in defense,” Cardona said. ”Both protect our tomorrow.”

To support the educational advancement of students, Cardona said schools need to equip them with the skills necessary for high-paying jobs and offer dual enrollment courses in the 11th grade to make college and career pathways more visible. 

He also said schools should provide financial literacy and high-level math courses to prepare students for STEM careers.

According to the OECD, students in the U.S. performed below average in mathematics in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is an international study that began in 2000 to evaluate education systems worldwide. 

“It’s unacceptable,” Cardona said in response to the low test scores. 

The department also plans to provide additional opportunities for students to study a second language, as only 21.6% of people in the U.S. are bilingual, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“Let’s look at our students in bilingual programs as gifted with assets that we want other students to have,” Cardona said. “Being bilingual and bicultural is a superpower.”

He added that teachers are imperative to increasing student achievement, and part of it starts with addressing the ongoing teacher shortage. The department has provided $2.6 billion to prepare, support and retain high-quality educators. 

“Teachers help children discover their own gifts, in some cases, when they lack confidence or struggle to learn,” Cardona said. “It is the best profession, and we at the Department of Education will do all we can to ensure it is valued.”

According to a report released by the Economic Policy Institute, the average weekly wages of public school teachers increased by merely $29 from 1996 to 2021, while the weekly wages for college graduates increased by $445 within the same period. 

The department is working to increase transparency on the teacher pay issue and has called on states and districts to raise salaries to a competitive level. 

“If you believe every child in this nation deserves a shot, join me on this journey,” Cardona said.

Supreme Court hears lawsuit against a school district for discriminating against a deaf student

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday about a deaf student who was denied a high school diploma from a Michigan school district that failed to provide him with a qualified ASL interpreter. 

The court will decide if the plaintiff, Miguel Perez, and his family exhausted all of their administrative remedies before filing a discrimination claim against Sturgis Public Schools in federal court and are entitled to financial compensation after settling with the district.

“For 12 years, Sturgis neglected Miguel, denied him an education, and lied to his parents about the progress he was allegedly making in school,” Roman Martinez, Perez’s lawyer, said in Court on Wednesday. “Congress didn’t punish kids for saying yes to favorable IDEA settlements.” 

Perez’s family immigrated from Mexico in 2004 and was never provided a Spanish-language interpreter to inform them about their son’s educational status. Although Miguel made the honor roll every semester, he never learned how to read and write.

“The parents really didn’t have an understanding of what their rights were,” Pete Wright, founder of Wrightslaw, a special education law and advocacy group, said. “There’s nothing that reimburses the kid for all the damage that he’s suffered from never really being properly taught. It’s a classic example of what it is, not a free, appropriate public education at all.”

Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel at The Arc, a nonprofit for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, says that the purpose of these laws is for students with disabilities to have an avenue for relief if their rights are denied in the school environment. 

“A settlement that is agreed on by both parties is always the goal,” Wakschlag said. “So to say that that doesn’t constitute exhaustion under the law, when the law promotes settlement would really be against public policy and against the meaning of the statute.” 

Perez, who was denied the proper ASL services from the school, went through due process with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Americans with Disabilities Act claims. Still, the ADA claims could not be heard at the due process level and were subsequently dismissed. The Michigan Department of Education settled the IDEA claims and agreed to pay for Perez’s attendance at the Michigan School for the Deaf. 

“Exhausting a non-IDEA claim means obtaining an administrative decision from an educational expert, just as an IDEA plaintiff must do before going to court,” Shay Dvoretzky, Sturgis’ lawyer, said in court. “That’s why Mr. Perez’s improper new argument that ‘settles’ equals ‘exhaustion’ is incorrect. An IDEA plaintiff cannot sue after settling.”

However, Perez is seeking justice for his unequal access to education and compensatory damages for emotional distress under the ADA lawsuit. The lower court held that Perez gave up his right to sue when he settled the IDEA claims.

“The plaintiffs are really asking the court to protect students with disabilities, and ensure that the families of these students are able to pursue the full range of civil rights remedies directly in federal court,” Wakschlag said. “And this is essentially preventing them from doing that and creating more obstacles.”

Questions remain about how the Biden administration’s plan to cut monthly student loan payments would work

WASHINGTON — Supporters of student loan debt relief praised the U.S. Department of Education’s newest proposed regulations that would reduce monthly student loan payments for millions of Americans, but many say it’s only a temporary fix to a bigger problem. 

The new proposal makes changes to an existing repayment plan known as Revised Pay As You Earn, or REPAYE, which caps borrowers’ monthly payments to a percentage of their discretionary income. 

According to the Department of Education, the current income-driven repayment plan requires borrowers to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income toward their student debt each month; the new plan would lower that to 5 percent. 

If finalized, borrowers who make roughly less than $30,600 a year would be eligible for $0 monthly payments – effectively pausing them. Those who do not meet the income threshold could have their monthly payments for undergraduate loans reduced by half. 

Additionally, unpaid interest will no longer accumulate if payments are made on time, including for those whose payments have been paused. 

“We cannot return to the same broken system we had before the pandemic, when a million borrowers defaulted on their loans a year and snowballing interest left millions owing more than they initially borrowed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a press call Monday evening. 

According to a fact sheet released by the White House last year, 45 million borrowers have more than $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt.

The proposal was first announced last summer but was overshadowed by the Biden administration’s sweeping student loan forgiveness plan that could relieve eligible borrowers of up to $20,000 in debt. That plan remains on hold as courts examine legal challenges brought forth by Republicans, many of whom argue that it is an abuse of executive power and will harm taxpayers.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is one of several Republicans who oppose Biden’s one-time student loan forgiveness plan and has expressed her disapproval of the new plan.

“Expansions of already generous repayment options, institutional shame lists, and other failed policies of the past won’t lower the cost of college for students and families. It does, however, turn the federal loan program into an untargeted grant with complete disregard for the taxpayers that fund it,” Foxx said in a press release on Tuesday. 

Sabrina Calazans, managing director at Student Debt Crisis Center, a non-profit organization that helps borrowers navigate loan repayment and advocates for debt relief, said the new proposals for the income-driven repayment plan are helpful, but it needs to go further.  

The proposed amendments to the REPAYE plan exclude many parent borrowers, and those who only have graduate school loans will have to continue to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income.

 “I think at the end of the day, we need to make sure that borrowers are informed and secure and that they have a chance at contributing to the economy and surviving because it’s millions of families and individuals who are impacted by these decisions,” Calazans said.  

The department also plans to compile and publish a list of colleges and universities that leave students with unaffordable amounts of debt in an effort to promote accountability. Institutions with programs on the list will have to submit improvement plans to the Department of Education.

A question that looms is whether the new REPAYE plan will encounter legal challenges alongside the one-time debt relief Biden proposed last year. 

Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on financial aid and student loans, said the plan may face legal challenges but is more likely to survive them because the U.S. Department of Education has very broad regulatory authority that allows them to make such changes. 

Victoria Jackson, assistant director of higher education policy at The Education Trust –  an organization committed to advancing the American education system – said the student debt crisis results from failed policies, and relief is critically important. 

“I hope that, you know, policymakers and others around the country realize that proposed changes to income-driven payment plans will help millions of Americans,” Jackson said. 

The proposals will go through a 30-day public comment period, but it remains unclear when the new REPAYE plan will officially be available to borrowers.



Medill Today | March 14, 2024