Senators Collins, Tester Urge Education Department to Reverse the Rejection of Dozens of Upward Bound Applications over Minor Formatting Issues

The letter, signed by 19 bipartisan Senators, calls attention to a provision authored by Senator Collins that “strongly encourage[s]” the Department to provide flexibility

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT) wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today, calling her attention to a provision in the fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding bill that “strongly encourage[s]” the Department of Education to allow institutions to resubmit corrected applications for the Upward Bound program. Senators Collins and Tester’s letter was signed by 19 bipartisan Senators, including Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Department of Education recently rejected dozens of grant funding applications for first-generation college students over arbitrary formatting requirements. Barring reevaluation, thousands of low-income and first-generation students could be denied a chance to access higher education because of inadvertent formatting issues.

“The Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act is a clear, strong statement from Congress that the Department of Education should provide recourse for this year’s applicants to correct minor, unintentional deviations from the arbitrary formatting criteria,” Senators Collins and Tester wrote. “We strongly encourage you to heed this explicit direction from Congress.”

Last month, Senators Collins and Tester led a group of 25 bipartisan Senators in urging the Department of Education to reverse course and review the rejected applications. In addition, Senator Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, secured a provision in the FY 2017 funding bill that expresses “concern that the Department has rejected and made ineligible for review several fiscal year 2017 grant applications based on minor formatting issues” and “strongly encourage[s] the Department to provide flexibility to such applications by permitting submission of a corrected application.”

Senators Collins and Tester’s letter was signed by Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Boozman (R-AR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Luther Strange (R-AL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

Click HERE for a signed copy of the letter. The full text of the letter is below.

+++

May 15, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
Secretary
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-8510

Dear Secretary DeVos:

As a follow up to our previous letter regarding applications for the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Upward Bound Program competition that were recently rejected due to formatting concerns, we are writing to bring to your personal attention language included in the Explanatory Statement on H.R. 244, the 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, that addresses this issue. Specifically, the Explanatory Statement expresses “concern that the Department has rejected and made ineligible for review several fiscal year 2017 grant applications based on minor formatting issues.” Furthermore, it “strongly encourage[s] the Department to provide flexibility to such applications by permitting submission of a corrected application.” H.R. 244 was signed into law by the President on May 5, 2017.

As we noted before, the Notice Inviting Applications for the FY 2017 Upward Bound Program competition included arbitrary formatting criteria not mandated by Congress. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act is a clear, strong statement from Congress that the Department of Education should provide recourse for this year’s applicants to correct minor, unintentional deviations from the arbitrary formatting criteria. We strongly encourage you to heed this explicit direction from Congress.

While we appreciate your decision to issue a new Department-wide policy that prevents program offices from rejecting future grant applications based on simple formatting issues, that does not solve the current problem. You are right to observe that needless red tape should not interfere with helping students. That very red tape currently threatens the futures of thousands of low-income high school students, many of whom would be the first in their families to attend college. We urge you to use all of the discretion at your disposal to reverse expeditiously the decision to reject applications for the FY 2017 Upward Bound competition based on minor formatting issues and to provide flexibility to applicants. If this decision is not reversed, the Department risks, over the next five years, denying thousands of disadvantaged high school students the promise of a higher education.

Sincerely,