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Lawmakers urge Cardona to address FAFSA problems before they drag into this fall

BY: JUAN PEREZ JR. | 05/07/2024 05:00 AM EDT | UPDATED 05/07/2024 10:17 AM EDT

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has a message for the Education Department: Don’t allow this year’s financial aid fiasco to stretch into the fall.

The flawed debut of a new government student aid form continues to haunt a chaotic college admissions season, prompting the Education Department this week to announce a push to boost applications as this school year draws to a close. Now an array of lawmakers is concerned the department won’t be able to meet a critical deadline for next school year.

“We implore you to ensure the next application cycle for the 2025-2026 FAFSA goes smoothly,” the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers’ education committees and top appropriators from each party said in a joint letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Monday.

“This year’s FAFSA was not ready for the expected October 1 application opening, and the public was not given clear information about when the FAFSA would be released, which ultimately was not until December 31st,” the lawmakers wrote. “There are signs that the next cycle will face similar issues.”

The department has not yet published its draft FAFSA for the coming award year, the lawmakers said. According to the letter, the agency has also told lawmakers’ staff that it is not ready to talk about next year or any new plans to add more substantive consumer testing to help prevent future errors.

Key context: Just last week, Cardona assured skeptical senators that his administration expected to launch the 2025-26 cycle for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid on time.

“I can commit to make sure that we’re moving all of our resources to make sure that we adhere to the timelines and do everything in our power to make sure not only that we’re staying true to the timelines but also communicating with parents, students and schools,” Cardona told Senate appropriators, adding that it was his department’s “expectation” to reach the Oct. 1 deadline.

What they want: Lawmakers counter that they are insisting on “full transparency” from Cardona’s administration.

They want the department to provide weekly updates on the timeline, consumer testing and bug fixes on the 2025-2026 FAFSA to staff beginning the first week in June. They are also asking the department to “provide a list of any current errors or issues with the form that require resolution” before the next FAFSA cycle by July 8 and the planned timeline for resolution of those issues.

They also want a beta version of the online form to be made available no later than Sept. 9, along with a timeline both for testing the online form with real students and financial aid administrators, and bringing the application live.

Lawmakers also pointed to the impending departure of the department’s Office of Federal Student Aid chief, urging Cardona “to demonstrate hands-on management and a thorough review of actions within FSA in order to rectify the failures of this FAFSA cycle.”

“We hope you can commit to charting a path forward with us together,” lawmakers said.

CLARIFICATION:This story has been updated to clarify that both Senators and members of the House are concerned that the Education Department hasn’t published a draft FAFSA for the next award year and want full transparency from the department.
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