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Trump’s Executive Order on Regulations Has Unclear Impact on Education Dept.

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 30, 2017 2 min read
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On Monday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order designed to reduce the weight of federal government regulations. The announcement came the same morning Trump met with several small business owners, so the new order seems intended to please the private sector and help trigger entrepreneurism and job growth. But let’s briefly examine what it could mean for the U.S. Department of Education.

Here’s the key part of the executive order:

“Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.”

The order goes on to say the head of each agency to make sure that the “total of all new incremental regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year [fiscal 2017] shall be no greater than zero.” It also directs the head of each agency, beginning in fiscal 2018, to identify which regulations are being repealed whenever a new one is adopted, and to identify that new regulation’s incremental cost.

The issue of the department’s regulations, and how they drive up costs for education, was a pretty hot topic during President Barack Obama’s administration. It cropped up during debates about higher education, for example. A 2015 report from a task force appointed by a bipartisan group of four senators on the Senate education committee had this to say about the department’s approach to rules for colleges and universities:

Over time, oversight of higher education by the Department of Education has expanded and evolved in ways that undermine the ability of colleges and universities to serve students and accomplish their missions. The compliance problem is exacerbated by the sheer volume of mandates--approximately 2,000 pages of text-- and the reality that the Department of Education issues official guidance to amend or clarify its rules at a rate of more than one document per work day.

According to the study, 11 percent of Vanderbilt University’s expenses in 2013, or $150 million, went to compliance with federal mandates.

The debate about regulatory burden also cropped up during the debate over the Every Student Succeeds Act’s supplement-not supplant requirement, under which federal funds must be spent on top of (and not to replace) state and local spending on schools. The Obama administration proposed aggressive regulations on this front to correct what it called historical, unfair, and improper imbalances in education spending. But Republicans in Congress and others argued that, among other things, the bean-counting and overall burden of complying with these proposed regulations would be quite high.

The Trump administration has hit the pause button on accountability rules for ESSA that the Obama administration had developed. If the Trump administration ultimately approves this or some other future set of ESSA accountability rules, it will be a big question as to what two sets of regulations they would repeal to comply with the executive order, or whether the two sets of rules they’d apparently have to scrap would even be related to public schools or some other area where the Education Department holds sway.

We reached out to Trump’s transition team for education issues, as well as the Education Department press shop, to find out the potential impact. We’ll update this post if we hear a response.

Read the full executive order below:

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