Tester Defends Montana Students Against DeVos’ Harmful Decisions

Senator Introduces Bill to Prohibit Feds from Denying TRiO Funding Based on Formatting Errors

(U.S. Senate) – After Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ attempt to deny funding for the University of Montana’s TRIO/Upward Bound program due to a minor formatting error last year, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is introducing legislation to cut red tape and defend Montana students from harmful decisions that put their college education at risk.

“For decades, Montana’s TRIO programs have helped low-income, first-generation college students achieve the dream of earning a college degree,” Tester said. “More certainty for TRIO programs—and more common sense out of the Department of Education—will mean better outcomes for our students.”

Last April, Tester led a group of 25 Senators calling on DeVos to re-review dozens of TRIO grant applications that had been rejected due to minor formatting issues. This included the University of Montana’s Upward Bound grant application, which was rejected because one page wasn’t double-spaced. After introducing legislation, highlighting student success stories, and holding DeVos personally accountable, Tester got the Department of Education to reverse its decision and fully fund the program for the next five years.

While the University of Montana ultimately received funding, the delay caused significant issues and led to the cancelation of last year’s summer session. That’s why Tester is introducing the Common Sense Opportunities Act. This bill would prohibit the Department of Education from rejecting TRIO grant applications based on technical errors. It will also ensure the Department notifies new and continuing TRIO programs about funding decisions in a timely manner.

“I have and will continue to defend Montana students, even if that means going toe-to-toe with the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary DeVos,” Tester added.

As co-chair of the Senate’s TRIO Caucus, Tester has fought hard to provide Montana’s TRIO programs with the resources they need to help low income, first-generation college students earn college degrees. In March, Tester worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass a budget bill that included a six percent increase in funding for the 3,100 TRIO programs that currently serve more than 800,000 students nationwide. Tester then took DeVos to task after the Department of Education announced it would be putting bureaucratic barriers between TRIO grant recipients and this funding.

Last May, Tester secured over $6.7 million to fund Upward Bound at MSU Billings and Montana Tech, as well as Fort Belknap and the Flathead Indian Reservations. Last week, Tester helped pass legislation in the Senate that will give TRIO an additional $50 million next year.