Several Democratic senators are requesting additional funds for the Education Department to continue policing the sex lives of college students.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner have written a letter calling for increased funding for the Department's Office for Civil Rights, which has been investigating schools for alleged violations of the anti-sex discrimination law known as Title IX. The senators are requesting a budget of $137.7 million for OCR. Last year, the office's budget was $107 million, which means the senators are asking for a nearly 30 percent increase in funding for this one department.
Here's how we got to this point, put as simply as possible: In 2011, OCR sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter that vastly expanded the definition of Title IX and what schools needed to do in order to comply with the statute. Because of the broadening of the statute, schools have been accused of violating students' rights under Title IX and have come under investigation by OCR. Now OCR is requesting more money to investigate these schools because it has become overwhelmed.
The "Dear Colleague" letter sent by OCR in 2011 did not go through the required notice-and-comment period that past letters had gone through. This prompted Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., to demand that OCR justify its overreach. OCR failed to do so to Lankford's liking.
Why does this matter? Because it means OCR expanded its own responsibilities — it wasn't Congress or anyone else who gave it these responsibilities.
Put another way: OCR expanded its own responsibilities and now wants more money to carry out those responsibilities.
Nice work, if you can get it.
We've seen that OCR's "investigations" have no rhyme or reason to them. The findings contradict what advocacy groups suggest as best policy and use the findings to further expand the scope of the investigations. It basically seems at this point that a school is going to be found in violation, and that OCR makes up what that violation is as it goes along.
And now they're asking for more money to continue these investigations. On March 17, these senators along with 18 others sent a letter to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee requesting the additional funding. Of the 22 signers, 17 are also co-sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bill that would codify into law many of the harmful practices currently taking place on college campuses. This means five signers are not currently sponsors of the bill.
Also, just one Republican — Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada — signed onto the letter requesting an increase of funding for OCR. Republicans have so far, in very limited numbers, been the only ones standing up for the due process rights of students accused of crimes on college campuses.
While senators discuss this budget request, a due process advocacy group provided a statement to the Washington Examiner urging congress to deny the funding increase. Sherry Warner Seefeld, president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality — a group made up of parents of sons who have been wrongly accused of sexual assault in college — released a statement critical of the potential increase.
"The request by Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand of $137.7 million for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education essentially rewards the OCR for its current overreach on college campuses," Seefeld wrote. "This request asks the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services & Education to fund the OCR's illegal, expansive and nebulous standards which schools around the country are struggling to enforce."
"Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) intends to ask the subcommittee to require OCR first to bring its noncompliant directives into compliance before awarding them additional funding," Seefeld continued. "The current OCR overreach has created more problems than it has solved and resulted in increasingly large bureaucracies and budgetary costs on every campus."
Correction: An earlier version of this article did not include Sherry Warner Seefeld's full name and said the increase in funding was nearly 40 percent, when it is closer to 30 percent.
Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.