Outraged that a formatting mistake may cost disadvantaged Montana students their chance to earn a college degree, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has come up with a creative way to force Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reconsider: Hold her salary hostage.
Last month, the U.S. Education Department (DOE) rejected dozens of grant applications to the federal Upward Bound program over minor formatting problems. The University of Montana (UM), which had requested $1.7 million—$340,000 a year from 2017 to 2022—was among them.
The Missoulian reported that UM's application was rejected because "the budget page of its application wasn't double-spaced as required, according to Upward Bound director Twila Old Coyote. She said the budget page was the only one out of 65 pages that wasn't double-spaced."
Upward Bound, according to the DOE website, serves high school students from low-income families and those from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree, providing "opportunities for participants to succeed in their pre-college performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits."
The program "has been incredibly successful in pulling folks out of poverty and empowering them to live successful lives with higher incomes," Tester wrote in an email to supporters in April. "Shuttering Upward Bound would be a serious disservice to the students and families who rely on it. Why would Washington pull the rug out on these kids over double-spacing?"
Following the rejections, Tester and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (where the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s application was likewise denied) subsequently got 23 senators to sign onto a letter asking DeVos to reconsider the applications; the government funding bill approved in early May also included a provision that requires the department to reconsider applications. Collins and Tester even wrote to the secretary again this week. But DeVos appears to be "ignoring" these pleas, Tester said in a statement.
And so, Tester introduced a bill (pdf) on Tuesday "to rescind $500,000 a week from the Office of the Secretary of Education until the Secretary of Education reconsiders Upward Bound applications that were rejected due to arbitrary formatting issues." Those funds "specifically pay for the salaries and expenses of DeVos and her senior staff," Tester clarified.
"Secretary DeVos needs to understand that her decisions to deny students opportunities will have serious consequences," the senator declared. "Upward Bound has five decades of success at the University of Montana and helps the families who need it the most. Because Secretary DeVos has continued to ignore Montanans and undermine their dream of earning a college degree, this bill is needed to hold her accountable and ensure students have every shot at success."