The U.S. Department of Education will reconsider awarding grants to dozens of programs that help low-income students prepare for college after their initial applications were rejected due to formatting errors such as not being double-spaced, a House subcommittee was told Wednesday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was asked about the 77 rejected applications from universities and other organizations that administer Upward Bound programs as she testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee about her department's budget.
"When we found out about the issue with regard to the formatting errors, it was after the competition was closed," she said in response to the question by Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. "We looked at all viable legal remedies to try to address it and did not find any."
However, the agency can now reconsider those applications, because Congress included an additional $50 million in funding for such programs in a spending bill that will keep the federal government operating through September, DeVos said.
The rejection of the five-year grant applications drew bipartisan criticism and a request in the funding bill that the secretary use her authority to allow those programs to submit corrected applications.
DeVos issued a memo saying applications for education grants would no longer be rejected over formatting errors, but the department told congressional aides the rejected applications couldn't be reconsidered.
The staff of Republican Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio sent him a memo outlining a possible solution.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, suggested using the $50 million appropriation and requiring the reconsidered applications to score at least as high as the final approved application to avoid complaints by programs that might not receive funding.
On Monday, Davidson discussed the memo with Education Undersecretary James Manning and agency legal counsel.
"Today is a victory for commonsense government," Davidson said in a statement Wednesday. "I am glad they are taking my recommendation and will give these schools an opportunity to be judged on their merits."
More than 62,000 high school students around the country receive services through Upward Bound, which seeks to inspire low-income and first-generation and rural students to attend college.
The Education Department says 86 percent of Upward Bound students who graduated from high school in the spring of 2014 enrolled in college that fall.
The department issued $263 million in Upward Bound grants in fiscal year 2015.
The rejected applications were seeking a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Some of those programs have been in existence for up to 50 years.
The applications that were rejected due to formatting errors included those from University of Montana, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Talladega College in Alabama and Whittenberg University in Ohio, according to a partial list compiled by Davidson's office.