Tester Defends Montana Students, Demands Investigation into U.S. Education Department

Senator Pushes Inspector General to Investigate Timeliness of Critical TRiO Grants

(Big Sandy, Mont.)—U.S. Senator Jon Tester is defending Montana students by demanding an investigation into the actions of the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Tester is calling on the Education Department’s Inspector General to investigate the administration and timeliness of TRiO grants after a series of grants repeatedly ran behind schedule and undermined the certainty of Montana’s two dozen TRiO initiatives. Tester is specifically urging Inspector General Kathleen Tighe to identify what deficiencies within the Education Department have caused TRiO grants to be administered behind schedule and recommend solutions to ensure that grant awardees receive their funding without delay.

“The Department’s repeated failure to conduct TRiO competitions in a timely and consistent manner has subjected TRiO programs and the students they serve to unnecessary uncertainty and disruption,” Tester wrote. “By investigating the causes of these administrative failures and recommending how they can be remedied, you will provide a valuable service to low-income, first generation college students who rely on TRiO for their shot at achieving a better future.”

Montana’s TRiO administrators are applauding Tester’s leadership.

“The intent of Federal TRIO programs is to keep education accessible to Americans who want social mobility,” said Amy Verlanic, Executive Director for the Institute for Educational Opportunities at Montana Tech. “The 9,000 students in Montana receiving TRIO services aren’t looking for a handout, they want to make an economic impact on their family and community by earning an education. Senator Tester gets it! Without his watchdog intuition, 840,000 Americans receiving services on over 2,900 college campuses and high schools would be hurt by the Departments neglect. He understands when critical educational services provided from TRIO are interrupted that these high potential students disengage and talented educators find different work.”

“The push from Senator Tester to hold the Department of Education accountable for late notifications of grant awards is a positive step for grantees,” said Dan Benge, Program Director at Montana State University-Billings’ Upward Bound. “Receiving an award just days before the start of a grant cycle is unacceptable because students rely on these services. By pushing ED to follow the grant award notification process will keep staff from being pink slipped, program planning isn’t put in limbo, and students services aren’t abruptly interrupted.”

The Education Department is legally required to notify new and continuing grantees if they will receive funding at least eight months prior to the start of their new grant cycle, but multiple TRiO directors have reached out to Tester saying that the department often notifies them well past this deadline.

Tester in his letter specifically cited the 2017 Upward Bound and Ronald E. McNair grant awards, in which some grant award winners were notified of their funding nearly a month after the grant was scheduled to begin.

This is not the first time this year that Tester has taken issue with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department’s management of important TRiO grants.

Tester pressured DeVos to reverse course earlier this year after she denied the University of Montana’s Upward Bound application because it wasn’t doubled spaced. After Tester’s actions, which included introducing legislation to rescind funding from DeVos’ personal budget, DeVos reconsidered and ultimately awarded the University of Montana a TRiO grant.

Tester last month secured a $3 million increase for TRiO initiatives in a must-pass budget bill.

TRiO seeks to help first-generation students access higher education and earn college degrees.

Tester will meet with TRiO students in Missoula tomorrow, and his letter to Inspector General Tighe is available HERE.