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This Week in Education Politics: Senate to Debate Title IX in the Higher Ed Act, House to Emphasize Gender Identity in ‘Equality Act,’ HHS Budget & More

By Carolyn Phenicie | March 30, 2019

THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Saturdays. (See previous editions here.) You can get the preview delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter; for rolling updates on federal education policy, follow Carolyn Phenicie on Twitter @cphenicie.

INBOX: TITLE IX— The ongoing debate surrounding federal regulations that govern how schools must respond to sexual assault and harassment reaches the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this week.

On Tuesday, HELP will have a hearing “addressing campus sexual assault and ensuring student safety and rights” in the context of a pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander, the committee chairman, and Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat, have said the issue should be addressed in the HEA rewrite.

The Obama administration prioritized the issue with a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter that encouraged schools to take a tougher stance by requiring a lower standard of evidence when adjudicating allegations of assault.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in 2017 announced she was revoking that letter and rewriting the rules. She said the 2014 guidance hadn’t been issued in accordance with proper rulemaking procedures and inappropriately tilted the scales of justice against the accused.

Her proposed rules, released last fall, would let schools use a higher standard of proof when adjudicating claims and limit the types of claims in which they must intervene. They were immediately panned by civil rights and women’s groups, who led a campaign to flood the department with more than 100,000 public comments. Officials must read them all and respond as appropriate before issuing a final regulation.

Though more commonly thought of as a topic affecting colleges, Title IX does apply to K-12 schools as well. The 74’s Mark Keierleber covered this issue at length in 2017, when he reported on the open K-12 investigations that were missing from the college sexual assault debate. There were 125 open Title IX investigations for allegations of sexual violence at the K-12 level, according to an Education Department tracker last updated March 1.

Advocates have raised concerns about how DeVos’s proposed rules would affect K-12 specifically, highlighting discrepancies between the regulation and mandatory child abuse reporting laws.

Related

The Education Department’s Title IX Proposal Is ‘Out of Step’ With Realities of Sexual Harassment in K-12 Schools, Groups Warn as Comment Period Closes

Murray, who has been a sharp opponent of DeVos’s proposal, asked the secretary last week if she would hold off on issuing new higher education rules while HEA negotiations are ongoing. DeVos said she didn’t expect any finalized rules to be issued before Memorial Day, “but we are going to continue with our timeline.”

TUESDAY: SAVE THE CHILDREN — Several members of Congress are slated to speak to advocates with Save the Children, a group that works on international aid programs and domestic early childhood education. The group will also hear from Timothy Shriver, president of the Special Olympics, which became a flashpoint between members of Congress and DeVos last week before President Trump said he’d no longer call to end federal funding for the program.

TUESDAY: EQUALITY ACT — The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in school assignments, employment, housing and public accommodations. It also would specifically include gender identity in Title IX, the federal law banning discrimination in education based on sex. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the issue is a top priority.

WEDNESDAY: HIGHER EDUCATION ACT REWRITE — The Education and Labor Committee holds the second in its planned series of five hearings on rewriting the Higher Education Act. This one focuses on accountability “to better serve students and taxpayers.”

WEDNESDAY: LABOR DEPT. BUDGET — Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta testifies on his 2020 budget request before a House Appropriations subcommittee. The agency oversees federal apprenticeship and youth job training programs.

WEDNESDAY: PAID FAMILY LEAVE — Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy discusses his ideas for a federal paid family leave program at the American Enterprise Institute. Later, a panel of experts discusses federal and state family leave policies.

THURSDAY: CLIMATE CHANGE — The new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing called “Generation Climate: Young Leaders Urge Climate Action Now.” Students around the world walked out of school in mid-March to protest inaction on climate change.

THURSDAY: MIGRATION & IMMIGRANT CHILDREN — The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing on “unprecedented migration on the U.S. southern border.” The head of Customs and Border Protection said that immigration enforcement is “at the breaking point” amid an influx of migrant families with children.

THURSDAY: HHS BUDGET — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. The agency is responsible for federal child care and early childhood education programs, and for care of unaccompanied immigrant children on the border.

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