U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced today Kentucky is eligible to receive $43,799,187 from the U.S. Department of Education to meet students' and institutions' needs during the coronavirus pandemic. The federal funding, delivered through the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, was made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The bipartisan CARES Act, introduced by Senator McConnell, became the largest economic rescue package in American history. Because of the unique challenges facing students, school districts, and colleges and universities, the CARES Act provides extraordinary flexibility to governors to use these emergency federal resources. After completing the application process, Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY) will be able to rush funding to K-12 schools and higher education institutions based on the Commonwealth's needs. "During the coronavirus crisis, Kentucky's schools have responded with innovative solutions to continue educating students while keeping them safe," said Senator McConnell. "With the bold federal resources available through the CARES Act, educators, administrators and parents will have more of the support they need to care for their school community. I'm glad this funding will help Kentucky's next generation of leaders continue to receive a top-tier education. " "Governors have the opportunity to truly rethink and transform the approach to education during this national emergency and ensure learning continues," said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. "At a time when so many school boards and superintendents have shut down learning for the balance of the school year, I want to encourage each and every governor to focus on continuity of education for all students. Parents, families, teachers and other local education leaders are depending on their leadership to ensure students don't fall behind." In addition to this announcement, Kentucky communities and organizations have so far received nearly $948 million to address urgent housing, transportation, healthcare, education and economic development priorities from Senator McConnell's CARES Act. Last week, Senator McConnell announced Kentucky colleges and universities would receive more than $156 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support their students during the pandemic. The emergency financial aid can be used by students for course materials, technology, housing, food, healthcare and childcare costs.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today introduced the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act (S. 634), legislation that would expand elementary, secondary, and vocational education opportunities for students by providing a federal tax credit to encourage individuals and businesses to donate to nonprofit scholarship funds. Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also joined as original cosponsors of the legislation. In the U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) filed complimentary legislation. Read the full text of the bill here. "I believe every student has the fundamental right to a quality education, as a quality education is the gateway to the American dream and stable, family-sustaining employment," Sen. Cruz said. "I introduced the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, which will drive increased investment in our students, by creating a federal tax credit for taxpayers that donate to scholarship organizations supporting elementary and secondary education as well as secondary and post-secondary workforce training. My bill allows for scholarships to give elementary and secondary students a personalized education experience, as well as scholarships for career and technical education, apprenticeships, certifications, and other forms of workforce training for postsecondary students. It is my hope that this bill will not only incentivize voluntary investment in our students, but will also energize a new era of opportunity in education and provide a brighter future for all Americans." "Every student in America deserves to learn in an engaging, meaningful and personalized way," Secretary DeVos said. "No student should be denied that opportunity simply because of where they live or their family income. Education Freedom Scholarships will make a historic investment in our students and their futures, finally putting the individual needs of students above all else. I want to thank Senator Cruz for his long-time advocacy for education freedom and for his continued leadership in the Senate on this important issue." "Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high quality education, and we can help accomplish that goal through a new federal tax credit. This model has succeeded at creating opportunity for students in Alabama, and I am hopeful through this legislation we can create similar opportunities for students around the country. I applaud the leadership of President Trump and Secretary DeVos to expand choice and freedom in education, and I am committed to working with them and Senator Cruz to see this legislation across the finish line," Congressman Byrne said. "Education is the single-most impactful gift our generation can pass on to the next one. In every city, county, and state, we must do everything we can to ensure that access to quality education is top-of-mind as we strive to build a better life for our children. As part of my America 2030 agenda, I'm proud to partner with Senator Cruz to work towards a future in which kids like me, born into a single-parent family in poverty, have a chance to dream bigger," said Senator Scott. "Low-income families should have more of the same choices for schooling that wealthier families already have for their children," Sen. Alexander said. "This legislation will give more American families broader choices of the best possible educational opportunities for their children, and will give states more incentives to create their own scholarship programs." "There is no greater form of local control in education than directly empowering families to choose the best K-12 educational option for their children. The Education Freedom Scholarships bill is a major step forward in empowering families with greater educational choice and ultimately greater economic benefit for students," said American Federation for Children President John Schilling. "This tax credit will expand opportunities for individuals interested in a career in the skilled trades and will go a long way in addressing the worker shortage faced by electrical contractors across the country," said Independent Electrical Contractors Vice President Jason Todd. Key provisions of the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act include: Optional for States: State participation is optional -- an issue important to prevent extending federal control over education. State Directed: States maintain the authority to create a program that works for them. States can decide which students are eligible for the scholarship credit, what constitutes eligible educational expenses and eligible educational providers, and more. Encourages Workplace Training Education: There is more than one pathway to success, and our rapidly-changing 21st century economy means that workers need new skills to compete. In addition to elementary and secondary education scholarships, this bill allows for scholarships related to career and technical education, apprenticeships, certifications, and other forms of workforce training for postsecondary students. Prohibits Federal Control of Education: Clarifies that nothing in this act shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any increased regulation or control over any aspect of a participating educational provider, scholarship granting organization, or workforce training organization. This allows all education providers to be able to participate, without fear of federal control. Helps Our Most Vulnerable Students: Many low- and middle-income students cannot afford tuition and educational expenses themselves, or do not have the means to pay for the workforce training needed to secure a stable, high-paying job. This tax credit will provide scholarships for these students, so that they can have the opportunity to receive an effective and successful education that prepares them for the future.
Dear Secretary Nielsen: I am writing to request information regarding the Department's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), and enforcement of regulations that prevent spurious businesses from posing as institutions of higher learning. Some of these businesses appear to be taking advantage of the fact that the U.S. government permits privately employed "Designated School Officials," over whom we have limited oversight, to authorize the issuance of student visas and approve foreign students to work in the U.S. While many reputable colleges and universities enroll foreign students, dozens of questionable schools appear to be operating "visa mills" that provide little or no educational benefit to those who pay tuition, instead acting as surreptitious employment agencies for aliens seeking to work in the United States. These institutions, many of which operate as section 501(c)(3) (tax exempt) educational institutions, are costing American workers millions of dollars in lost taxes and employment opportunities, and contribute disproportionately to the large and growing population of foreign students and exchange visitors--nearly 80,000 in 2016--who overstay visas to remain in the United States without legal authorization. They also raise serious national security concerns. Foreign Students Present a Growing Overstay Concern The size of the overstay population is growing, and students overstay at a much higher rate than other non-immigrant visitors. In 2017 DHS reported that "[o]f the 1,457,556 student and exchange visitors scheduled to complete their program in the United States in FY16, 79,818 stayed beyond their authorized window for departure, resulting in a 5.48 percent overstay rate" (compared to less than 2 percent for the general non-immigrant population). Of the 79,818 student overstays at the time of the report, 40,949 were suspected "in-country" overstays, that is, 2.81 percent of the 2016 departing student population was presumed to have remained, unlawfully, in the United States. The System Perversely Rewards Those Who Recruit and Hire Foreign Students Given the growing overstay problem, we should be imposing tighter restrictions on foreign students who apply to U.S. schools. Instead, successive administrations have expanded paid "practical training" programs--effectively entry level career placement, but not available to U.S. students--which give an unlimited number of foreign students access to the U.S. job market. Ostensibly, these training programs are tied to the course of study, but with careful planning, students can leverage "Curricular Practical Training" (CPT) and "Optional Practical Training" (OPT) to work in the United States for more than a decade. As a result, the population has exploded with more than a quarter million foreign students working in one of these government-approved, alien-only, paid "training" programs, as of August 2017. These employment opportunities generate a huge draw for foreign students. For many aliens, U.S. wages outstrip home country earning potential by an order of magnitude, and paying relatively modest tuition and fees in exchange for the opportunity to net tens or hundreds of thousands in salary is an easy trade-off. Some applicants will do whatever it takes to get a student visa, and, as one put it: "I saw almost all (99.99%) students from India came here for one primary goal: Get a job and earn money in a short span." Once here, many visa mill students will take their chances and overstay, remaining for as long as possible to maximize profit. Schools are exploiting the lure of employment opportunities as well, to maximize revenues, because foreign students pay full tuition--up to "two or three times as much as local students." To capitalize on this windfall, many schools actively recruit foreign students with promises of U.S. employment, and some have gone so far as to reclassify programs so that foreign students qualify for extended work authorization. For example, Pomona College, Williams College, Yale, and MIT all recently reclassified their Economics programs so that they qualify for the Department of Education's "STEM" designation, because foreign students in STEM fields can work in the U.S. for three years or more after graduation. Of greater concern is the obvious manipulation of the system by suspect educational institutions. For example, Stratford University--a nearly unknown visa mill in Northern Virginia that is reported to have 3,300 students on 4 campuses--has approved more foreign students for OPT STEM extensions than all Ivy League schools combined. It appears that Stratford and many similar schools operate in large part as a way for foreign students to sign up for OPT and CPT. U.S. employers who hire foreign students also reap a windfall, because they are exempted from payroll taxes--a cost savings of around 8 percent per student-employee. Some schools actually promote foreign students to the business community, for this reason. Employers who hire new U.S. grads, however, receive no such tax break--creating a perverse incentive to hire foreigners rather than newly graduated Americans. Given all of these financial incentives--for students, schools, and employers--it's unsurprising that foreign student enrollment has exploded, while recent American grads are un- or under-employed. Unfortunately, our government has delegated much of the authority surrounding foreign student employment to the very individuals and entities that benefit the most--schools and school officials. Schools Standing to Profit Are the Ones Who Approve Student Employment A school must be certified by SEVP, before "Designated School Officials" (DSOs) are free to issue the form I-20, which permits an alien to apply for a student visa, or to approve students for OPT and CPT employment programs. DSOs are also responsible for entering information about the student into the SEVP tracking system, for example, reporting whether the student actually arrived at school and enrolled for classes. Prospective students take their DSO-issued I-20 form to a U.S. embassy or consulate and apply for a visa. Consular officers and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry ordinarily rely on SEVP's determination that the "school is a bona fide, established institution of learning which possesses the necessary facilities, personnel, and finances to conduct instruction in recognized courses of study." In short, once a school is SEVP-certified, the rest of the U.S. government recognizes its legitimacy for the purposes of accepting foreign students. DSOs recommend students for "practical training" employment by entering a request in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), after which a student must file a request for employment authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS). CPT authorization is employer specific--the student must have an offer in hand--but a DSO can recommend a student for OPT before the student has located a position, and thus, without knowing the details of the job. For both programs, the work must be "directly related" to the student's major area of study. Schools Under Investigation Continue Enrolling Foreign Students Several schools that exhibit the suspect characteristics of likely visa mills nonetheless retain SEVP certification,  and continue to issue I-20s and approve student employment. Publicly available information regarding enforcement actions suggests that school decertification, when it does happen, is a slow process. For example, in the case of Herguan University, the school's Principal DSO, Jerry Wang, was indicted on July 24, 2012, for conspiring to commit visa fraud and creating false documentation in support of the school's SEVP certification application (among other offenses). These activities surely called Herguan's authority to issue I-20s into question, but it was not until almost three years later, on March 31, 2015, that SEVP finally withdrew Herguan's certification--just shortly before Jerry Wang pled guilty on April 9, 2015. Herguan's appeal of the SEVP action was effectively denied in December, 2016. Another school, Tri-Valley University (TVU), was certified to admit 30 foreign students in 2009 but by May 2010--when ICE began an investigation--had enrolled 939. The next fall, Tri-Valley had 1,555 foreign students, before the school was shuttered due to an astonishing list of criminal activity by the school's founder, Susan Su. TVU "students" reportedly took no classes, but exchanged tuition and fees for I-20s and work approval. After closure, hundreds of TVU students were, mystifyingly, permitted to transfer to other schools. Other Highly Suspect Schools Continue to Bring Foreign Students to the United States Dozens of suspect schools continue to operate, bringing thousands of foreign students to the United States every year. A small but representative handful are listed below. Despite documented harms to the U.S., and real reason for concern regarding the institutions' actual purpose, these schools continue to churn out I-20s and work approvals: Silicon Valley University (SVU): in 2015 hundreds of Indian students, many admitted to SVU, were denied entry to the United States by CBP. News reports suggested that the school might be operating as a visa mill, and in candid interviews students admitted to working "at gas stations, retail outlets, and even restaurants as part of "CPT' to earn a quick buck[.]" Since that time, CBP has made no public statements regarding SVU's status, and the school has retained its SEVP certification, sponsoring thousands of aliens for student visas and approving unknown numbers for alien-only "training" programs.Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU): NPU has a long history of suspect behavior, and many of NPU's students were turned around by CBP at ports of entry in 2015. In 2014, a whistleblower reported egregious abuses at the school, including the falsification of grades to permit foreign students to maintain their visas and keep working in the United States. NPU "has become one of the country's largest importers of international students," and in 2015 that population had increased by more than 350 percent in two years--to 9,026. Despite multiple credible reports suggesting that NPU operates a visa mill, and despite CBP's 2015 action, as of the writing of this letter, NPU retains its SEVP certification. Stratford University: On its web site, Stratford University touts its accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), with no mention of ACICS's recent derecognition by USDE, writing that it "has the authority to issue I-20s by (sic) the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (sic) for F-1 visas." Among other errors, Stratford officials appear to be unaware that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was renamed in 2004, when it was folded into the Department of Homeland Security. This calls into question the required DSO attestations--a part of SEVP certification--that school officials are familiar with regulations governing foreign students.University of North America (UNA): this ambitiously named school indicates that it is "accredited by ACICS" and "listed by the US Department of Education." The referenced USDE web site, however, indicates that ACICS is "no longer recognized" and the school's "next review date" is 12/31/ 2017. No more recent information on accreditation is posted. On December 27, 2016, UNA issued a press release in which it announced that ACICS derecognition would not affect "student visas, OPT, or CPT."Against this backdrop, I am trying to understand what DHS, ICE, and SEVP are doing to eliminate visa mills, protect U.S. graduates, and combat student visa overstays. To assist with this oversight, please respond to the following questions by April 13, 2018: Questions I am concerned that DSOs are permitted to recommend student employment without obvious oversight mechanisms. What steps, if any, does SEVP take to evaluate a DSO's recommendation that a student be authorized to work? Who determines that CPT or OPT is "directly related" to a student's major area of study, and how is that requirement evaluated? Please provide any relevant policy memoranda, internal guidance, or procedures. Does SEVP investigate actual employment conditions to ensure that student employment is indeed directly related? If the answer is yes, how many times have students been terminated from OPT or CPT because the actual work was not "directly related"? What government entity, if any, reviews the student-prepared and DSO-approved I-983 "training plan"? If the training plan is reviewed by any DHS entity, what standards are applied to the review? Please provide any policy memoranda, internal guidance, or procedures related to the evaluation of form I-983. What corrective measures are taken if a school or DSO does not comply with relevant SEVP rules, procedures, or regulations?Has DHS/SEVP ever denied or terminated a school official's permission to act as DSO? If the answer is yes, please provide the number of officials who have been denied or terminated, and describe the facts and circumstances that warranted the denial/termination, in a confidential submission if necessary. When DHS is made aware of alleged problematic activity that could reasonably lead to a school's decertification, at what point in the investigation or decertification process does SEVP terminate a school's authority to issue I-20s? To approve CPT or OPT? When and how does SEVP (or any other DHS entity) notify other U.S. government agencies that concerns exist regarding the activity or certification status of a particular school?How does SEVP track problematic schools to maintain awareness and continuity for enforcement purposes? Does SEVP maintain a list?If a list of problematic schools is maintained, what criteria are used to determine whether a school should be added to the list?Please provide any list(s) of problematic schools maintained in the SEVP certification context, in a confidential submission if necessary. Based on the limited publicly available information, SEVP appears to wait until the very end of an investigation or criminal prosecution, before it takes action against schools that engage in visa or document fraud, or other improper activity. This exposes the U.S. to significant risk, given the high student visa overstay rate, and the national security implications. Given that this is an administrative program, and DHS has authority to take appropriate action, why doesn't SEVP suspend a school's certification as soon as it becomes aware of serious allegations that could impact a school's certification, instead of waiting, sometimes for years, to take action? Regarding the following schools, please explain the impacts of, and reason for, the delay between the time information suggesting that the school (or a school official) was involved in improper activity became available, and the time when SEVP took action to stop the school from issuing I-20s, or approving students for CPT and OPT. Herguan University: why did SEVP wait three years before decertifying the school? How many I-20s did Herguan issue after Jerry Wang was indicted on July 24, 2012? What was the date of the last I-20 issued by Herguan?How many Hergaun students were approved for CPT or OPT after Wang was indicted?How many students entered the United States to attend Herguan between Wang's indictment and SEVP's actual decertification?If such information is available, please provide the number of Herguan students who are suspected in-country overstays as of the time of your response. Tri-Valley University (TVU): ICE first received a tip about TVU in May 2010, and Susan Su was indicted in November, 2011. When was TVU decertified by SEVP? How many I-20s did TVU issue between May 2010 and the date of decertification? How many did TVU issue after November, 2011?How many TVU students were approved for CPT or OPT after May 2010? After November, 2011?How many students entered the United States to attend TVU after May 2010? After November, 2011?If such information is available, please provide the number of former TVU students who are suspected in-country overstays as of the time of your response. Regarding each of the four schools in the bulleted list above, please answer the following questions: Is the school still SEVP certified (as of the date of your response)?Is the school (or any school official) under investigation for any improper activity that, if true, could result in decertification? If yes, please provide details regarding the nature of the investigation, in a confidential submission, if necessary.Of the student population: How many foreign (or "international") students are enrolled at the school?How many U.S. residents are enrolled?What is the total enrollment?How many students currently participate in CPT or OPT?How many students have a home address in a state different than the school or campus? Of these, how many are participating in OPT? Overstay detection and prevention: Under the SEVP framework, aDSO is responsible for reporting whether or not a student shows up and begins classes by the Initial Session Start Date and whether or not the student returns and enrolls at the start of each new session. Your publicly available guidance indicates that a DSO must "terminate" a student record in SEVIS if she or he knows that a student entered the country but did not enroll for classes, or should "cancel" the student, if the student did not enroll and the DSO is unsure if the student entered the country. What action, if any, does SEVP and/or ICE or DHS take if a student is terminated? What efforts does ICE make to locate and remove the student?Please explain the difference between terminating a record in SEVIS, and cancelling one, in terms of immigration status. Specifically: If a student's SEVIS status is cancelled, will that result in the student being out of legal status pursuant to U.S. immigration law? If a student's SEVIS record is "cancelled," and he or she later attempts to enter the United States on his or her student visa, will entry be denied solely on the basis of the SEVIS cancellation (assuming no error by immigration officials)? If such records are available, how many students were known or believed to be present in the United States (based on port of entry records or other reliable information) and subsequently were terminated in SEVIS because they did not report for the initial session, or for a new session, in the last three years (2015, 2016, 2017)? Of those who were terminated, how many have been located by ICE? Please provide any information readily available regarding how many of such students are in removal proceedings or some other form of administrative proceedings related to immigration status. Financial support: your regulations require that foreign students may be admitted if she or he presents "documentary evidence of financial support" and the Department of State relies in part upon the I-20 as evidence that the student "is financially able to pursue the proposed course of study." Nonetheless, DHS policies permit paid student employment, which seems to run contrary to the concept that students be self-supporting. What is the earliest date after a student's arrival for the initial term that he or she can begin to work for pay (in any program, including on-campus employment, CPT, or OPT)? How many students in 2015, 2016, and 2017, began working as soon as permitted? Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this request. If you have any questions, please contact Brad Watts or Katherine Nikas of my Judiciary Committee staff at (202) 224-5225. Sincerely, Charles E. Grassley Chairman Committee on the Judiciary Cc: The Honorable Elizabeth DeVos Secretary U.S. Department of Education The Honorable Rex Tillerson Secretary U.S. Department of State
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