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Bush Education Budget Includes Cuts to College Access Programs

Bush Education Budget Includes
Cuts to College Access Programs
GEAR UP, Upward Bound among programs slated for eliminationBy Charles Dervarics

President Bush wants to terminate a variety of politically popular college access initiatives as part of an austere 2006 education budget plan with increases for a few high priorities but cuts or level funding for dozens of other initiatives.

The budget would eliminate 48 education programs, including Upward Bound and Talent Search, two programs nearly 40 years old that help low-income students prepare for college. Also slated for elimination are GEAR UP, an early college awareness program that usually begins in middle school, and the government’s $1.3 billion program for career and technical education, the Carl D. Perkins Act.

Bush is proposing the terminations to fund a new initiative that would bring accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act up to the high school level.

“Our focus is on creating the new high school program,” said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in a conference call with reporters. The administration is proposing $1.5 billion for the initiative, including $1.2 billion in grants for states to increase rigor and academic progress at high schools.

With that money, states could support career education or TRIO-style activities, but would not be required to do so.

Officials noted that Perkins and the two TRIO programs had received poor recent evaluations and that the government was dropping narrowly focused individual programs in favor of a more comprehensive response.

“It’s a way of reaching more students in a focused way,” said Raymond Simon, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. Without more action at the high school level, he said, No Child Left Behind’s efforts to improve elementary and middle school education could be lost.

But Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, described the college access programs as essential.

“We all wish that such assistance was not necessary,” he said in a statement signed by four other higher education leaders. “However, as long as American secondary schools vary so dramatically in resources, quality and effectiveness, these programs are absolutely essential to help equalize access to college.”

Upward Bound received $313 million in 2005, while GEAR UP and Talent Search received $306 million and $145 million, respectively.

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., one of the architects of GEAR UP back in 1998, also assailed the cuts. “To cut this proven education initiative is both nonsensical and utterly irresponsible,” he said.

Bush administration officials said they would phase in the new high school program, if approved by Congress, so that most current grantees in the college access programs could finish their grants.

As expected, the new budget plan also includes a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant, currently at $4,050 for the neediest students. Bush announced this increase weeks ago, pledging a $500 total increase in the top grant during the next five years. The budget also has a plan to retire the Pell Grant shortfall, estimated at $4.3 billion due to heavy student demand for the program.

Noting the mixx of cuts and increases, Ward said the budget plan is “a mixed blessing for college students and their families.”

Overall, the federal education budget would drop by nearly 1 percent, the first spending decline in a decade, and that fact did not go unnoticed by congressional Democrats.

Bush “cuts education funding at the very time we are requiring schools, teachers and students to perform even better,” Miller said. Advocates also predicted the cutbacks may face opposition from both parties on Capitol Hill.

Elsewhere, the budget provides less than a 1 percent increase for historically Black colleges and universities. HBCUs would receive $299 million, up $2.4 million from current funding. Within that budget, HBCU graduate institutions would get $58.5 million, a $500 million increase.

Hispanic-serving institutions would receive $96 million, up nearly $1 million, while tribal colleges would have their funds frozen at $24 million. The budget also would continue these programs at their current funding levels:

• Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants: $779 million;

• Work/study: $990 million;

• Campus child care: $16 million; and

• Howard University: $239 million.

Three other programs under the TRIO umbrella of college preparation and outreach would not face cuts. Student Support Services would continue at $275 million, while Education Opportunity Centers and the Ronald McNair Baccalaureate Program would receive $49 million and $42 million, respectively.

The budget plan would eliminate funding for two other financial aid programs. Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, a $66 million financial aid incentive program for states, again is scheduled for termination. The president also would eliminate Perkins Loans, another $66 million financial aid program.

To eliminate Perkins Loans, the administration would recall all federal dollars available to colleges and universities to use as revolving loan funds for needy students.

The White House has several small new initiatives affecting higher education. The budget has $125 million to promote dual enrollment of students at high schools and community colleges plus $33 million for “Enhanced Pell Grants,” or additional funding for Pell-eligible students who complete a rigorous high school course of study.

Bush’s education budget now goes to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will hold hearings this spring before beginning to craft spending bills in the summer. The 2006 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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