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Election Delays Throw Budget Talks into Chaos

Election Delays Throw Budget Talks into Chaos 
By Charles Dervarics

The presidency is not the only uncertainty in government today. The federal education budget for 2001 is still unresolved, and all signs point to a stalemate that will last into December.
Republican congressional leaders in October backed away from a budget deal that would have increased federal allocations for Pell grants and K-12 education for the next fiscal year. Instead, they opted to wait until mid-November, when they would know the results of the presidential election.
With the Florida recount continuing, lawmakers decided to wait until Dec. 5 at the earliest to settle on a budget originally due Oct. 1.
As a result, funding remains uncertain for major student aid programs as well as aid for historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Such programs will continue to operate with temporary funding based on last year’s allotments.
College leaders were planning a major offensive in mid-November, placing an advertisement in a congressional newspaper emphasizing the need for a bipartisan budget agreement on education. The ad came from the Alliance for Student Aid, an organization that includes community college leaders, student groups and other leading higher education associations.
“I hope that they just keep doing their jobs,” says Corye Barbour, government relations director for the United States Student Association, an alliance member.
The possibility of continued partisan wrangling is a major concern for educators, particularly because they believed they were on the verge of achieving some major funding increases. In October, both sides agreed to what Barbour termed “historic” increases in education, including more money for Pell grants, Trio and GEAR UP college access programs.
For example, lobbyists say, the agreement that seemed set for approval in October would have increased the maximum Pell grant to $3,800 a year, a $500 increase and a jump far beyond earlier budget proposals by either the Republicans or the Democrats.
But negotiations broke down on issues unrelated to education, and both sides agreed to adjourn talks until after Nov. 7. Education and employment programs have temporary federal funds, but that authority ended in mid-November.
Aides and lobbyists also had expected a healthy increase for minority-serving colleges in the budget deal. Already, the House and Senate were on record favoring moderate increases in the Higher Education Act Title III-B program for HBCUs as well as HEA funding for Hispanic-serving institutions.
Amid the turmoil, both on the budget and in the presidential race, educators are calling on Congress to negotiate remaining issues in good faith regardless of who takes over the White House on Jan. 20.
“We want to pick up where we left off, get it done and then get out of the way for the next administration,” says J. Noah Brown, federal relations director for the Association of Community College Trustees. “It’s people we’re talking about here. So let’s get the budget done.”
Two wild cards on the budget are Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush, and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, a conservative leader. Should he win the presidency, Bush may want input into the budget deliberations, lobbyists say. And DeLay has called for two more months of temporary spending — extending into January — so the next administration and Congress make the final call. At Black Issues press time, the presidential victor had not yet been decided.
So far, lack of a long-term education spending bill has not hurt colleges or students. But, Brown says, temporary spending that runs into 2001 could make it difficult for students and colleges to plan effectively for distribution of financial aid and other funds. 

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