House Unveils New Budget
Creative Accounting Could Provide Some Higher Education Programs With Increases Despite Budget Cap
WASHINGTON — Some long-awaited predictions came true, late last month, as the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled a controversial budget plan that relies heavily on innovative accounting to avoid deep cuts in education spending.
Among other provisions, the bill would provide $2 billion less for Pell grants next year to help the nation’s neediest students — but forestall those cuts by reserving money from the 2001 federal budget to cover the shortfall.
As a result, Republican leaders say, the legislative sleight of hand can provide a $150 increase in the maximum Pell grant — a level slightly above President Clinton’s request — and still adhere to tight spending caps enacted in 1997.
House Republicans also borrowed from expected future revenue to avoid cuts in other programs that have education components, such as Job Corps, vocational education and job-training programs.
Aid to historically Black colleges and universities was not subject to new accounting procedures. But Republicans rejected a proposed $14 million increase for HBCUs, voting instead to freeze funding at current levels.
The GOP also rejected a Clinton administration request for increases in aid to Hispanic-serving institutions.
As a result, aid to HBCUs would remain at $136 million next year and aid to HBCU graduate schools would continue at $30 million. The White House had proposed $148.7 million and $32 million for those programs, respectively.
Support for Hispanic-serving institutions would continue at $28 million under the plan, instead of $42 million as the Clinton administration proposed.
The GOP’s approach to the spending caps “trivializes us all,” says Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., ranking Democrat on the House education appropriations subcommittee. Lawmakers in both parties lamented the spending constraints enacted back when the government still ran a deficit.
In the two years since enactment of those spending caps, Congress also has created new education programs that are competing with existing programs for a limited pot of money this year. “It is loaded with budget gimmicks that undermine the integrity of the legislative process,” Obey says of the plan.
At a contentious hearing late last month, Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., pledged to support the bill but said it was wrong not to increase federal funds to HBCUs. Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Ill., who voted against, said it would shortchange vital youth programs.
Elsewhere, the spending plan would terminate support for Gear Up, the new college access program developed in part by Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.
The program received first-year funding of $120 million, and the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded the first grants to states and community partnerships.
Congress is far behind on spending bills for education and other programs this year, and lawmakers here had to adopt temporary spending measures to prevent a government shutdown after Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The new House bill has made it through subcommittee level but is still awaiting further action. Even if a bill passes the House, the White House likely will object to many of the budget-cutting provisions, setting the stage for further negotiations.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com