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Graduate Students Protest Tax Plan; A House Proposal Would Boost For-Profit Colleges

Hanna Barczyk for NPR

Our weekly education news roundup is back! And what a week it was.

Higher Education Act proposals in the House

"One of the biggest winners in the new higher education legislation is the for-profit college industry." That's according to The Wall Street Journal, which got an early summary copyof the House Republican proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this week. This is the main federal higher education law. The full text of the bill is found here and is 542 pages long.

This proposal is a long, long way from becoming law. In fact, the HEA is already three years overdue for reauthorization.

But the ideas here are worth watching nonetheless, especially because of parallel actions happening at the Education Department and potentiallyat the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well.

The House proposal would ease several regulations on for-profit and online colleges, including the so-called "gainful employment" rule. It makes securing forgiveness of loans under "borrower defense" more difficult. It introduces the idea that all colleges should have "skin in the game" by losing eligibility for federal aid if too many of their students are unable to repay their loans. It also places caps on student loans.

Grad students protest GOP House tax plan

Elsewhere in higher education news, graduate students nationwide staged a "day of action,"including sit-ins and walkouts, over the Republican tax bill that recently passed the House. The bill treats graduate tuition waivers as taxable income. These waivers are currently tax-exempt. The change represents a prohibitive financial burden for some of the 145,000 graduate students performing research and teaching undergraduates. Two Ph.D. students at The University of California, Berkeley, created a calculator for students to see the impact on their budgets.

Earlier versions of the Senate bill passed early this morningdid not contain the tuition waiver change.

Students graduated despite absences, NPR/WAMU investigation shows

Last June, a Washington, D.C., public high school in a high-poverty area trumpeted the fact that 100 percent of seniors were accepted to college. NPR was among those who covered the story. But this week, an investigation by NPR and member station WAMU showed that students graduated despite chronic absenteeism. "Half the graduates missed more than three months of school."

New Orleans charter schools in three-year test score slide

A national symbol of school choice got some bad news this week. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans became the country's first all-charter school district — currently at 95 percent charter. At first, some schools improved. But scores analyzed this week by the investigative newsroom The Lens showed that, since Louisiana adopted tougher standards and tests, New Orleans schools have been on a decline. In just the past year, the schoolsslid an average 14.2points on the state's 150-point scale, from an average letter grade of B to a C.

Last month, the nonprofit news service The Hechinger Report reviewedNew Orleans schools' initial post-Katrina applications to receive a charter, and compared them with their later performance. "Of the 27 charters that listed clear goals in their applications, not one was able to reach them."

Interviewed for the story, charter school operators blamed tougher standards, underprepared students, and "aggressive" state administrators who pushed them into making overly optimistic promises.

The twos don't have to be terrible

"The 2-year-old year is the doughnut hole in the early education system," concludes a series at Slate produced by the and the Teacher Project. Despite ample evidence (includingthis new meta-analysis) of the importance of early childhood for brain development and school readiness, U.S. standards for toddler care are low, the series concluded, as is caregiver pay, as is taxpayer support for working parents.

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Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
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