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Bush Budget Has Controversy, But Few Gains

Bush Budget Has Controversy, But Few Gains
Many student aid programs face funding freeze
By Charles Dervarics

The Bush administration is proposing a funding freeze for many student aid programs next year while cutting a variety of K-12 initiatives, including several projects to promote school reform.

The top Pell grant for needy students would remain unchanged at the current $4,000, while the budget would eliminate some campus-based loans and an incentive program for states to offer their own need-based aid. At the K-12 level, the budget would provide a moderate increase for the Title I program but would cut funds for after-school services and career education while eliminating smaller programs on technology and high school reform.

A year after passage of a K-12 reform law and at a time when lawmakers will consider the renewal of key student aid programs, many advocates were critical of the plan for funding education programs in 2004.

“The president is waging a budget war against poor children,” says Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, also criticized the budget as short on specifics. With a deficit projected at $300 billion, “this budget is a recipe for passing along our problems to other congresses, other presidents and other generations,” Rangel says.

But administration officials, led by U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Roderick Paige, said the plan provides moderate increases unavailable to other federal agencies. Overall, the department’s budget would increase $1 billion to a total of $61 billion next year.

“We also are proposing to spend our education dollars more wisely,” Paige says. “In these times of tight budgets and accountability, we can no longer continue to fund programs that simply are not helping students achieve.”

Some of the department’s largest programs would get increases. Title I education funds would increase an extra $1 billion, to $12.4 billion. Also, while the maximum Pell grant would not increase, the program would get an extra $1.9 billion to address a growing shortfall triggered by student demand and the recession.

Overall, the number of students receiving Pell grants has increased by nearly 25 percent from 2000 through 2002, the department says.

Nonetheless, many higher education associations are pushing for an increase in the Pell maximum, with many favoring a $500 increase. The Student Aid Alliance, a coalition of higher education organizations, released a statement calling the plan “shortsighted” on financial aid issues.

“The government’s eroding support for helping needy students pay for college is alarming,” says the alliance, whose members include the United Negro College Fund and National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

Here is how the budget would affect other higher education programs:

• Work/study: $1.01 billion, same as current funding;

• Supplemental grants: $725 million, same as current funding;

• Perkins loans: No new federal contributions, which were $100 million in 2002;

• Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships: No new funds for this program, currently funded at $67 million, that serves as an incentive for states to provide their own need-based financial aid.

• TRIO: $802 million, same as current funding;

• GEAR UP: $285 million, the same as current funding.

The plan also seeks major changes in the Carl Perkins Act, which supports career and technical education at high schools and colleges. The administration would cut funding by 23 percent, to $1 billion, and focus secondary school funding more on academics rather than job skills. Colleges could continue to use Perkins dollars for technical programs, as long as they coordinate their activities with high schools. But states also would get the flexibility to re-direct Perkins dollars into the Title I program.

As expected, the budget recommends 5 percent increases in federal aid to historically Black colleges and universities, HBCU graduate programs, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. President Bush had outlined these increases earlier in January. If enacted into law, HBCUs would receive $224 million and HBCU graduate institutions would get $53 million. HSIs and tribal colleges would have allotments of $93 million and $19 million, respectively.

The 5 percent increase is noteworthy since the overall budget provides only a 2 percent increase in non-defense spending, says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. However, he was hopeful that Congress would approve larger increases later this year.

The new budget plan may “prove the springboard to a larger and more adequate appropriation from Congress for our nation’s historically underfunded Hispanic-serving institutions,” Flores says.

HACU is asking Congress to provide $175 million for Hispanic colleges and universities when it develops spending bills for 2004.

Elsewhere, the budget would terminate 45 smaller programs costing $1.5 billion. Included on this list are activities to prevent school dropouts, promote smaller high schools and help new teachers use technology. Funds for after-school programs also would drop by 40 percent, to $600 million, following what the administration termed as a poor evaluation on the effectiveness of these activities.

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