Final ’96 Budget Pact Preserves Some Education Programs A final 1996 budget agreement hammered out by the White House and Congress provides for a Pell Grant increase and protects a number of high-priority programs for disadvantaged students.
The agreement ends. seven months of stalemate that required most federal education programs to operate with only temporary spending allotments. The lengthy debate also prompted two shutdowns of the U.S. Education Department (ED) and was in part responsible for delays in processing new student financial aid applications. Despite these hardships, most aid programs used by students emerged in the end with few of the major cuts originally envisioned last year.
The final agreement will increase the maximum Pell Grant by $130, to $2,470 next fall. The White House originally sought a maximum grant of $2,620 for 1996, though the new figure is midway between competing proposals in the Senate and House of Representatives. Lawmakers also paid for the grant increase through a prior surplus in the program, rather than allocating more funds for 1996.
Student groups expressed satisfaction with this result, however. “It’s the first time we’ve seen a commitment to raising the maximum level for students,” said Laura McClintock, legislative director for the United States Student Association (USSA).
Most other programs important to students of color and historically Black colleges and universities emerged from the process with funding freezes for 1996.
Federal TRIO programs, plus aid to HBCUs and HBCU graduate schools, will continue at 1995 levels under the final budget. Lawmakers had agreed to this recommendation several months ago, though ongoing partisan and ideological disputes on other ED funding issues left all programs with only interim funding until this final agreement was signed. The massive bill funds thousands of federal programs, and advocates and ED officials still were sorting through the 1,500-page document Black Issues went to press to determine the fate of some small programs.
One likely casualty, for example, is the advisory board of the HBCU Capital Financing Program. The program itself received continued funding for 1996, but its advisory board did not, an ED spokeswoman said.
“We have staff here who manage the program,” which should continue regular operation, the spokeswoman said. The program provides federally-guaranteed bond financing for repair and construction projects at HBCUs. The bill also eliminates funds for three other boards unrelated to HBCUs. However, the budget has continued funding for the federally sponsored advisory panels on the operation of HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions, ED said.
Elsewhere in student aid, the pact would freeze funds for college work/study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants at $616 million and $583 million, respectively. Funding for campus-based Perkins Loans would drop from $158 million to $113 million, a cut of about 30 percent. Support for State Student Incentive Grants also would drop by 50 percent to $32 million.
“Both were targeted [for cuts or elimination] all year,” McClintock said. The Clinton administration also proposed a phaseout of SSIG, claiming the program has fulfilled its mission to encourage creation of state aid systems.
The bill also provides $182 million for Howard University, a cut of $22 million from 1995. This final amount is halfway between White House and congressional proposals; the White House recommended $196 million, while lawmakers countered with $170 million.
Democrats won two major victories elsewhere when Republicans dropped plans to eliminate direct lending and the AmeriCorps service program used by college students. Republicans originally wanted to eliminate direct lending and later recommended a cap on the program of no more than 40 percent of loan volume. Neither plan is part of the final budget package Many colleges serving low-income students enrolled in the direct-lending program as a way to cut costs and more closely monitor students’ repayment schedules. The government provides funds to colleges through direct lending, while the traditional loan program continues to rely on banks and other financial institutions.
AmeriCorps will continue with a budget of $402 million in 1996. This amount is down $170 million from last year. Republicans claimed victory for the final agreement, saying it cuts more than 200 small federal programs — including 100 alone at ED and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. The cutbacks translate into $23 billion in budget savings.
“When you consider where we were at the beginning of this Congress, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that we would be capable of this degree of success in just 16 short months,” said Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY). Democrats also tried to claim credit for protecting domestic programs. “Without the Democratic party, we wouldn’t have kept our faith with working families and the middle class,” said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO).
HBCU Pad Bill Set fop Signature Congress has cleared legislation to extend the eligibility of some historically Black graduate schools for federal grants.
The Senate recently approved H.R. 3055, which would continue the eligibility of Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Clark-Atlanta University, Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School and Tuskegee University for aid under the Higher Education Act’s Title III program for HBCU graduate schools.
The five technically became ineligible tinder current law because they already received at least two five-year grants through the program, sponsors said.
The House of Representatives approved the legislation earlier this year, and the Senate action clears the issue for the president, who is expected to sign the bill. H.R. 3055 claimed bipartisan support in Congress; its sponsors were Reps. William Goodling (R-PA) and William Clay (D-MO), the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, on the House education committee.
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