WASHINGTON – Congress has voted to reverse a U.S. Department of Education policy that threatened to undercut the "Say Yes" scholarship program in Buffalo city schools and elsewhere.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced late Friday that an amendment reversing the policy was included in the spending bill that lawmakers finalized this week to fund the federal government through the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.
If the Department of Education policy had been allowed to stay in place, the Say Yes program would have been unable to automatically access important financial aid data for students heading off to college.
Students and Say Yes officials said they feared that would mean delays in processing that could force students to be late in paying their tuition, thereby forcing them to pay late fees. In some cases, they said, the delays might prevent students from enrolling in college at all.
"The reversal of this harmful policy will allow vital scholarship organizations like Say Yes to access the financial data they need to provide the financial aid that thousands of students depend on," said Schumer, a New York Democrat. "I am pleased that Congress, in cooperation with the Department of Education, heeded my call and reversed this harmful policy so our students can focus on their education and future."
The action by Congress reverses a Department of Education policy that suddenly prohibited Say Yes and most other college scholarship providers from automatic access to data from the Free Application for Student Financial Aid, which many students file when they head off to college. Instead, Say Yes and other scholarship providers would have had to ask students permission to access the data.
That policy would have meant that only the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund would have had automatic access to that financial aid data.
Schumer said doing that would have shut out students in Buffalo and Syracuse from the Say Yes program. The scholarship program, which encourages high schoolers to go to college, came to Buffalo in 2011 and has provided aid to 2,587 students since then.
"Getting into college is no easy feat," Schumer said. "But over the years, Say Yes chapters in Buffalo and Syracuse have helped transform the lives of thousands of city school students by helping them attain and afford a college degree and navigate the complicated financial aid process."