Sen. Susan Collins of Maine led a group of 23 senators Friday in urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reconsider the rejection of dozens of grant applications to the federal Upward Bound program over minor formatting problems.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle was among the schools whose applications for funding were rejected.

In the case of UMPI, its application, which would cover 960 students, mostly from Aroostook County high schools, over the next five years, was rejected because of improper spacing. Instead of double spacing, two pages on the 65-page application had 1.5 times spacing. The university’s current Upward Bound funding is set to expire in September.

Collins, a Republican, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., drafted a letter Friday to DeVos and persuaded many other senators to sign, including Angus King of Maine, even though the department said earlier this month that it has no plans to review the rejected applications.

“The decision to exclude applications from consideration due to minor, non-substantive concerns is a clear example of the harm that results from inflexible, bureaucratic procedures,” Collins and Tester wrote. “Many applicants that were rejected have served generations of first-time, low-income students successfully for decades.”

The department denied as many as four dozen applications for Upward Bound funding because they failed to meet what Collins and Tester called arbitrary formatting requirements. The Upward Bound program helps low-income and first-generation students access higher education, including more than 60,000 last year.

“The Department of Education should be supporting successful partnerships, not constructing bureaucratic roadblocks,” the letter said.

Late Friday, department spokeswoman Liz Smith issued a statement in response to the letter. She acknowledged that of the nearly 1,600 applications received, 77 were rejected because of formatting guidelines that had been set by the previous administration.

“This will not happen again,” Smith said. “The secretary shares in the frustration of those rejected for not following formatting guidelines and has issued a new department-wide policy that program offices may not reject grant applications based on simple formatting issues.”

Although Smith said it would not happen again, she did not say whether the rejected applications would be reconsidered. Sen. King, on Twitter, said Smith’s statement suggested that Secretary DeVos could “fix this problem immediately.”

Collins and King, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin of Maine, already had sent a letter to DeVos about what they called an “absurd bureaucratic decision.” They argued that, if nothing else, UMPI should at least be able to correct the application and resend.

“To deny UMPI’s application a reading because two (pages) do not meet an arbitrary typographical format ignores the spirit of the Upward Bound Program, is antithetical to congressional intent and would seriously jeopardize the future success of hundreds of students in Maine,” the delegation wrote.

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