U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho

Simpson Questions Duncan on TRiO Upward Bound

In a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week Congressman Simpson questioned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding a recent decision by the Department of Education to change preference ratings for schools for the upcoming TRiO Upward Bound grant competition.

The revised list of schools receiving the “persistently lowest-achieving” (PLA) status appears to give a distinct advantage to schools in certain areas, including high schools in Chicago, where more than 60 are on the list, while disadvantaging the state of Idaho which had no high schools included.  A number of other rural states are also disadvantaged by the change.  In the past, states had set the definition of PLA’s, but the new standard has changed the competition significantly – with no explanation yet from the Department of Education as to why the change was made.

Simpson asked:

Mr. Secretary, one program that has a great deal of impact in my state is Upward Bound.  I am a big supporter of TRiO and am co-chair of the Congressional TRiO Caucus.  However, it has recently come to my attention that the Department of Education instituted a competitive priority that eliminates the opportunity for applications from my state and other rural states, while enhancing opportunities from applicants from some, including Illinois, and particularly from your city of Chicago.  Specifically, the Department’s list of so-called “persistently lowest-achieving schools,” for which Upward Bound applicants can receive up to five additional points on their applications, does not include any high schools in Idaho, yet the list from Illinois ONLY includes high schools – including more than 60 from Chicago alone.

Mr. Secretary, you can see how this looks bad.  My Upward Bound and TRiO community in Idaho is up in arms.  Can you explain why this decision was made, which appears to disadvantage rural areas? Further, only one high school under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Education across the entire nation is eligible under this priority.

An explanation would be helpful for me and the entire TRiO community to understand the reasons behind this change.

Secretary Duncan replied that he would look into it and respond to the concern.  Simpson also followed up with a letter describing his concerns in more detail.

The Upward Bound program has a history of success in Idaho and has helped numerous disadvantaged students go to college and graduate.