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Few College Programs Reap Gains From Education Spending Bill

Few College Programs Reap Gains From Education Spending Bill
HBCUs, community colleges receive small victoriesBy Charles DervaricsBlack colleges are one of the few winners in a new 2005 House education spending bill that largely holds the line on federal funding for higher education, including core financial aid programs essential for needy students.
The main federal program for HBCUs would receive an 8 percent increase next year, for total funding of $240 million. HBCU graduate institutions would make a 10 percent gain, up to $58 million in 2005, under the bill approved by a House panel July 8.
By comparison, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges would have their increases limited to only 2 percent under the bill.
In a bow to tight fiscal constraints, the bill from the House education appropriations subcommittee also would freeze the maximum Pell Grant at $4,050. The panel would provide some additional Pell funds to combat a growing shortfall triggered by heavier-than-expected student use of the program. But the top grant for the neediest students would remain unchanged.
Funding for college work/ study would remain unchanged at $998 million. Supplemental education grants would get a small 3 percent increase, or $24 million, but lawmakers would cut support for Perkins Loans by more than half, to $66 million in 2005.
Prior to a vote approving the bill, the panel rejected a Democrat-sponsored plan to spend more on education by repealing tax cuts for individuals making $1 million more a year.
“That vote was a clear and unmistakable statement that maintaining tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of the population is more important to the majority party than meeting our responsibilities to millions of Americans,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the spending panel.
Among other goals, Obey’s amendment would have shifted funds away from tax cuts toward an increase in the maximum Pell Grant. Higher education leaders such as the Student Aid Alliance have sought considerably more money for the maximum Pell Grant next year, recommending $4,500 — an increase of $450.
The vote on the Obey plan represents the second major defeat for student aid advocates in 2004. Earlier, House and Senate negotiators had dropped plans for an $8.7 billion student aid reserve fund for Pell as well as other program increases when Congress tackles the renewal of the Higher Education Act next year.
But Republican leaders say Congress has enacted large education spending increases in the past, and some of this funding remains unspent — particularly at the K-12 level. States have more than $500 million unspent dating back to allocations made under former President Bill Clinton plus another $2.6 billion unspent during the past two years.
“These figures confirm we are increasing federal education spending more quickly than states can actually spend the money,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“The system can only absorb so much new money at once,” he added. “We’ve literally flooded the system with cash, and it’s time to start focusing on improving student achievement instead.”
The House education spending bill also recommends these funding levels:
  •  Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants: $794 million, up $24 million;
  •  Perkins Loans: $66 million, a decrease of $99 million;
  •  Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships: $66 million, same as current funding for a program that gives states incentives to offer their own need-based aid;
  •  Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need: $30.6 million, same as current funding; 
  •  Campus child care: $16 million, same as current funding; and
  •  Howard University: $244 million, up $5 million.
College access programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP would receive small increases. GEAR UP would get an additional $20 million, for total funding of $315 million next year. An extra $10 million for TRIO would bring funding for that program to $842 million.
Community college leaders won several victories as House lawmakers turned down Bush administration requests to cut funding for several programs. The House retained funding for tech-prep education at $106 million after the White House proposed termination of the program.
The bill also provides $20 million more for technical education grants to states under the Carl D. Perkins Act, for total funding of $1.2 billion.
Instead of an increase, the Bush administration proposed a $180 million cut in Perkins for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
House lawmakers did not include start-up funds for the president’s new community college initiative focused on work force development. The White House had recommended $250 million for this initiative, to be funded out of the U.S. Labor Department’s budget. Congress has yet to approve this new initiative.
On early childhood and K-12 issues, House lawmakers included $1 billion in new funds for the Title I education program for low-income students. Both parties have favored increases in this program to meet the needs of the No Child Left Behind Act. If enacted into law, the bill would provide school districts with $13 billion in Title I funds.
But lawmakers trimmed the Bush administration’s request for increased Head Start funding in 2005. The White House had recommended an additional $168 million; the House bill earmarks an extra $123 million.
States also would receive more special education funds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The bill includes another $1 billion for that program, for total funding of $11 billion next year.
One line item in the Department of Health and Human Services budget may adversely affect minority communities. The House bill would reduce support for HHS’ minority health initiative by nearly 15 percent, to $47 million. Some university researchers cite that program as an essential tool to help address health disparities among Whites, African Americans and Hispanics.
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee and then to the full House. The Senate must write its own education spending bill, after which representatives of both chambers will compile a final bill.
Despite the House activity, most education advocates doubt that Congress will complete work on education funding before the November presidential election. They say the most likely scenario is that Congress will rely on continuing resolutions, or temporary spending bills, to keep the government in business until early next year.

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