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Senate Joins House in Support of TRIO, GEAR UP Programs

Senate Joins House in Support of TRIO, GEAR UP Programs
Approved legislation would renew college-access programs for the rest of the decade

Despite facing a difficult 2006 budget process, Congress has soundly rejected President Bush’s plan to eliminate three early college awareness programs for at-risk youth.

A Senate panel in July delivered the latest blow to the plan, voting to preserve the Talent Search, Upward Bound and GEAR UP programs. Together, these initiatives received nearly $800 million this year. The White House sought the terminations in favor of a new high school improvement program that could extend the reach of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the Senate bill, however, Talent Search and Upward Bound would continue to receive funding as part of the federal government’s umbrella of TRIO programs. Overall, TRIO would receive $836 million, unchanged from current funding. GEAR UP, which promotes school improvement as well as early college awareness, would retain its $306 million budget.
The Senate’s decision follows a similar vote in the House to preserve the programs at current funding levels for the fiscal year that begins in October.

The bills are “great news” for GEAR UP, said Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., one of the program’s congressional architects and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus . “There’s so much more we can do with this program.”

Congress also is showing support for the college-access programs in its early deliberations on renewal of the Higher Education Act. Legislation approved by the House higher education subcommittee in July would renew TRIO and GEAR UP for the rest of the decade.

And rather than eliminate the program, as proposed by the White House, the House bill also would allow GEAR UP services to extend from middle and high school into a student’s first year of college.

“We believe federal resources must be used more efficiently and effectively to expand college access and ensure every American student who strives for a college education has the opportunity to reach that goal,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the House’s higher education subcommittee.

But while both houses of Congress are intent on preserving the college-access programs, the Senate has acknowledged that it has few surplus funds to increase funding for many financial aid services. On Pell Grants, the Senate rejected President Bush’s proposed $100 increase in the maximum grant. Instead, the Senate spending bill would freeze the top grant at the current level of $4,050.

The House compromised in its fiscal 2006 education bill, proposing a $50 increase in the maximum grant for the neediest students.

In a report accompanying the bill, the Senate education appropriations subcommittee blamed Congress’ 2006 budget resolution for its lack of flexibility on Pell. That resolution also rejected the $100 Pell increase and required the program to compete against other student aid programs as well as K-12 initiatives, lawmakers said.

If it truly wants such a Pell Grant increase, the panel says, the Bush administration should “take necessary action” next year to sell the idea to Congress.

One bright spot for Pell is that the Senate would pay off the program’s massive shortfall, caused by heavier-than-expected use in recent years. The bill would provide $4.3 billion to erase the shortfall. The Bush administration and the House also favor this move.

Elsewhere, the Senate spending bill includes a small increase, $26 million, for supplemental education grants for low-income students. The bill would earmark $804 million for this program. The White House had initially proposed a freeze on the program.

The Senate bill also features $990 million for federal work-study, same as the House and Bush administration requests.

The Senate joined the House in proposing small increases for minority-serving colleges and universities. Funding for historically Black colleges and universities would increase by $2 million, to $240 million next year under the Senate bill. That provision is identical to the House spending
bill and Bush administration recommendations.

The bill also follows administration and House recommendations for these programs:

– HBCU graduate institutions: $58.5 million, a $500,000 increase;

– Hispanic-serving institutions: $95.8 million, up $700,000; and

– Tribal colleges and universities: $23.8 million, same as current funding.

But the bill would preserve the Carl D. Perkins Act, the main federal program that supports technical and career education. The White House had called for termination of this initiative to help fund its new high school improvement effort. The Perkins Act supports both high school and post-secondary technical education programs.

Instead of terminating this program and creating another, the Senate bill would provide level funding for Perkins at $1.3 billion. The House made a similar recommendation earlier this summer.

The House and Senate will meet in late summer or early fall to resolve differences between the two bills. Also looming on the horizon is the possibility of new education budget cuts that may be needed to reconcile spending bills with the budget goals adopted earlier this year.

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