Line spacing decision is absurd and hurts our students

In recent weeks, an absurd bureaucratic decision has jeopardized an opportunity for high school students in Aroostook County who, in past years, have been able to prepare for post-secondary education and pursue their academic potential through the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s (UMPI) Upward Bound Program. But because of a minor formatting error on UMPI’s grant application — two info-graphics out of a 65-page application use 1.5 line spacing instead of 2.0 — the U.S Department of Education has rendered the application ineligible.

This is exactly what people hate about the government. Federal agencies need to do a better job recognizing and doing away with trivial requirements like this and focus on what is important and what is right — in this case, helping Maine students access higher education.

The Upward Bound Program is a federal program that provides opportunities for high school students from low-income families and students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. Students in the program can benefit from tutoring services, counseling and work-study programs to name a few. In Maine, the Upward Bound Program at UMPI serves 129 high school students across Aroostook County and has done great work since its inception in 1980 supporting Maine students to grow, learn and succeed.

To pressure the Department of Education to act, I joined the rest of the Maine Congressional Delegation to write to Secretary Betsy DeVos voicing our concern and urging the Department to read and score UMPI’s applications. And soon it became clear this issue was not isolated to Maine alone. At least four dozen institutions in 17 other states had been rejected for the same or similar reasons. So I joined a bipartisan group of senators, led by Maine’s own Susan Collins, to write another letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to reverse course and review these grant applications.

Last Friday — the same day the second letter was sent — the Department of Education issued a new Department-wide policy stating that grant applications could no longer be rejected for simple formatting issues on future applications. But the ruling on this year’s applications still stands. So while the Department’s ruling protects Maine students in the future, hundreds are still at risk of losing the educational services of the Upward Bound Program for Fiscal Year 2017.

Furthermore, the speedy response from the Department of Education makes it clear this problem could be fixed for this year as well if Secretary DeVos chose to do so. That is why I am continuing to press Secretary DeVos to do right by Maine students.

This issue lays bare the problems with government bureaucracy. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or in this case, the trivial be the enemy of the essential. I remain committed to helping Maine students fulfill their academic potential. Our young people deserve better than this, and I will keep fighting to make sure they can succeed.

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