The FAFSA…every student has to fill one out if they want federal student aid, and now the US Department of Education is planning some changes to the FAFSA that will recognize the “diversity of American families.”
The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid will be changed to include a different description of parent’s marital status and change what parents are called. So, for instance, marital status will include, as of the 2014-2015 school year, a description saying “unmarried and both parents living together.”
Mother and Father will no longer be used, but rather “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)”.
Emily Hecht-McGowan, Family Equality Council Director of Public Policy, applauded the move stating “Students seeking financial aid want to know that the federal government will recognize their families and not treat them differently based on their parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Federal forms that are inclusive of all families are important tools to help LGBT parents ensure their children receive the legal and financial protections they need and the opportunities in life that they deserve.”
The move closes one of the various ways that the current status regarding same-sex relationships can be abused. It has been noted in the past that married lesbian and gay members of Congress are able to avoid the same kinds of disclosure laws that their straight counterparts are forced to adhere to because of a lack of Federal recognition for their relationships.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that “All students should be able to apply for federal student aid in a way that considers their unique family dynamics. These changes will allow us to calculate aid eligibility based on what a student’s whole family is able to contribute and ensures our limited taxpayer resources are better targeted toward those students and families who have the most need. And, very importantly, these changes allow us to provide an inclusive form that reflects the great diversity of American families.”
The changes may mean a drop in the amount of aid available to some individuals. Duncan noted that saying “For the vast majority of applicants, these changes will actually have no impact. It’s important to note, though, that collecting information from both parents and considering the income of the whole family also might result in less need-based federal student aid for those applicants who are affected because of the recognition of the complete financial resources of the family.”
The changes will be published in the Federal Register for public comment. It has been noted that the changes will not violate the Defense of Marriage Act because these changes apply to not just children of same-sex couples, but children of unmarried opposite-sex couples.
Despite the fact that this might result in some cost savings, Duncan felt that this was more about fairness saying “We don’t know whether it will cost more or cost less. We just think it is more accurate, it is more inclusive, it is more fair.”
Michael Cole-Schwarts of the Human Rights Campaign went on record saying that “There is no reason to treat families headed by same-sex couples any differently than those headed by opposite sex couples and this is a positive step toward putting all families on a level playing field.”
The Department of Education said in their release about the changes that “The FAFSA has long been constructed to collect information about a student’s parents only if the parents are married. As a result, the FAFSA has excluded income and other information from one of the student’s legal parents (biological or adoptive) when the parents are unmarried, even if those parents are living together. Gender-specific terms also fail to capture income and other information from one parent when a student’s parents are in a same-sex marriage under state law but not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act.”