Few Increases for Student Aid in Spending Bill

Few Increases for Student Aid in Spending Bill
Congress vetoes White House plans for Perkins’ cutbackStudent financial aid programs would receive few increases under a new congressional plan to fund federal education programs in 2004.
The plan from a House of Representatives panel would maintain the maximum Pell Grant at the current $4,050, with no increase despite an uneven economy and mounting student demand.
“College tuition costs have been going up by about 10 percent a year. But this Congress has decided to give token help to states and no help at all to college families,” says Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House education spending panel and a critic of the plan.
Back in 1975, the Pell Grant paid for 84 percent of college costs. Today, the top grant pays for about 38 percent, he says.
Republicans countered that they would pump more money into the Pell Grant program. The bill has an extra $885 million for Pell, but those funds would be used to meet current obligations, not increase the maximum grant. With a tight job market and poor economy fueling student demand, the Pell program has been running a shortfall estimated at more than $1 billion.
Funds for college work/study programs also would be frozen at $1 billion, as would Supplemental Educational Grants, currently funded at $760 million.
But lawmakers did defy the Bush administration by continuing two programs the White House had slated for elimination. House members voted on level funding of $99 million for new Perkins Loan contributions and $66 million for Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships (LEAP), an incentive program for states to offer their own financial aid. Both programs were slated for elimination in the White House 2004 budget.
As expected, the package also includes an extra $10 million for historically Black colleges and universities. Overall, Congress would provide $224 million for the main HBCU Title III program, the same as the White House request and a gain of 4.7 percent above current funding.
Funding for HBCU graduate institutions would remain the same at $53.4 million, which is identical to the White House recommendation.
Hispanic-serving institutions would receive an extra $1.1 million, or 1.2 percent, for funding of $93.5 million next year. Here is how the bill would treat other higher education programs:
TRIO: $835 million, up $8 million;
GEAR UP: $300 million, a $7 million            increase;
Tribal colleges: $22.8 million, unchanged from current funding; and
Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need: $30.7 million, same as current funding.
But House members broke with the Bush administration over funding for career and technical education. The White House had called for a 23 percent cut for the Carl D. Perkins Act, which supports both secondary and postsecondary programs. Instead, the House plan offers an $8 million increase, to $1.2 billion. Lawmakers also voted not to terminate funding for tech-prep, a program linking high schools and community colleges. This program would continue at its current funding level of $107 million.
Most of the major increases in the bill are at the K-12 level, including $1 billion more for special education and an additional $600 million for Title I education of disadvantaged children. Republicans cited these increases in praising the bill.
“This is the third massive increase in federal education spending since No Child Left Behind, and it comes at a time when many non-education programs are being scaled back,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House education committee. For more information, visit the Web site at
<www.house.gov/appropriations>. 



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