By April Few, Melanie Kurdys, and Sheri Few
The Higher Education Act (HEA), passed in 1965, was part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. This legislation increased federal funds to universities, created federal scholarships, established low-interest student loans, and established the National Teachers Corps.
H.R. 4274 or the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act, introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is an amendment bill intended to provide:
school accountability for student loans;
fiscal responsibility; and
reporting of student success.
Accreditation reform within the bill will increase state authority to establish criteria for accreditation that must be “approved by the Secretary of Education.”
The bill allows states to create innovative and affordable education choices such as specialized courses or apprenticeship programs. Rep. DeSantis said, “Giving states the ability to innovate will make it possible for students to use Title IV funds in pursuit of a wide-range of educational approaches at potentially a fraction of the cost.” While some aspects of the bill are seemingly good, it also requires regular reporting on student success to the Secretary of Education including student default and non-repayment rates, or whether a student completes their degree.
The bill is a small step in the right direction, but it does not remove the federal footprint in higher education. How do States and Local Education Agencies (LEA) have more control when all things must be approved by the secretary of a massive executive branch department? This is similar to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which gives the illusion of state and local authority and “flexibility,” but in reality it put more power into the hands of the Secretary of Education thereby expanding and maintaining federal control.
With the steady increase in federal student loan debt, a major focus should be reducing the cost of college. The legislation does nothing to address the ever-increasing cost curve.
Making this legislation great would require including the elimination of ineffective, duplicative, or unnecessary programs that have been around since President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) in 1979. These outdated programs and titles accrued over the last 40 years need to be reorganized and eliminated before passing any new legislation. Otherwise, it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole.
President Trump issued two executive orders earlier this year, which will help maximize efficiency and eliminate waste in the Executive Branch, and has the potential for the type of “reforms” necessary to end federal over-reach in K-12 and Higher Education.
The Presidential Executive Order initiating a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch gives authority to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and “eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” The proposed plan will “include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.”
A month later, President Trump signed another Executive Order on Enforcing Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Education, which directs the Secretary of Education to review all Department of Education regulations and guidance documents related to the DEOA, the General Education Provisions Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education as amended by ESSA.
Any legislation that claims to give states more flexibility or authority is a farce if we continue to force new policies through wasteful, intrusive, and unconstitutional federal agencies.
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