Senators Back Education Departments Proposal to Remove Restrictions on Faith-Based Schools

Five U.S. senators are expressing their support of the Education Departments proposal to change rules to allow faith-based schools to equally benefit from federal student loan forgiveness programs.

“Under the current regulatory regime, students and faith-based institutions face a complicated web of rules that are at best an open question and at worst unconstitutional discrimination,” Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tim Scott of South Carolina, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Steve Daines of Montana wrote in a Jan. 10 letter (pdf) to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Provisions in the current rule, according to the senators, “unacceptably single out members of a faith group beyond what is necessary and violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

The Education Department has proposed in December 2019 a series of changes to rules regarding the eligibility of faith-based institutions for programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

The proposed changes, as the senators noted, would ensure faith-based volunteers, members of religious orders, and teachers at religious schools are not denied access to the federal student loan forgiveness programs. In addition, the Department would eliminate inconsistent limitations to allow private faith-based schools that provide post-secondary education for low-income students to receive federal grants known as GEAR UP, and remove language that “explicitly discriminates against students for their religious beliefs.”

“We commend the administration for taking steps to ensure clarity and religious liberty protections for students and faith-based higher education institutions,” the senators continued. “Importantly, Title IV programs remain available to all eligible students and entities regardless of their religious status or beliefs.”

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