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Veto Casts Cloud Over Education Bill That Would Have Increased Pell Grants, MSI Funding

President Bush on Tuesday vetoed a 2008 education budget bill that many advocates had championed for its proposed increases in student financial aid and college-access programs. Now, the House and Senate need to muster a two-thirds majority to bring into law the bill, which would have increased the maximum Pell Grant and provide more funding for minority-serving institutions.

If not, lawmakers must come up with a less-expensive alternative for federal programs through fall 2008.

In his veto message, Bush said the bill is too expensive, with $205 billion more over five years than proposed by the White House. “This puts a balanced budget in jeopardy and risks future tax increases,” he said. In addition, according to the president, “This bill continues to fund programs that are duplicative and ineffective.”

A House Democratic leader blasted the move. “The only reason the president vetoed this bill is pure politics,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The same president who is asking us to spend another $200 billion on the misguided war in Iraq and is insisting on providing $60 billion in tax cuts next year to folks who make over a million bucks a year, is now pretending to protect the deficit by refusing to provide a $6-billion increase to crucial domestic investments in education, health care, medical research and worker protections that will make this country stronger,” he said.

Despite the bill’s mixed results for minority-serving institutions, education organizations got behind the House/Senate spending bill for its student aid provisions, which would have raised the maximum Pell Grant to $4,925. Just a year ago, the top grant was mired at $4,050, where it had been for four years.

Student aid advocates said a presidential veto was their biggest fear with the bill, which covers the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Programs have been operating with only stopgap spending since the start of the fiscal year.

If passed, the bill would have been good news for minority-serving institutions. Lawmakers had rejected Bush’s call for a 20 percent cut in funding for the nation’s tribal colleges, and put a 4-percent increase for these colleges in the bill, or $24.5 million in total funding, next year.

Historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions would have received small increases of $5 million and $2 million, respectively. But congressional negotiators rejected a House-passed amendment in July to add another $125 million for HBCUs.

Added hastily during floor consideration last summer, the HBCU amendment from Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., gained House approval despite lukewarm endorsements from some leaders for fear of disrupting a carefully crafted bill.

A spokesman for Cooper said the lawmaker was “disappointed” by the decision to drop the HBCU increase but knew it was an uphill battle.

“Things usually don’t happen on the first time around here,” John Spragens, a spokesman for Cooper, told Diverse.

The bill had a popular provision to increase federal TRIO programs by $30 million, for a total of $858 million in 2008. Student groups were “ecstatic” at the prospect of an increase, the first for TRIO in several years, said Gabriel Pendas, president of the United States Student Association.

The bill also protected from elimination the $770-million Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides additional campus-based aid to needy students. The Bush administration proposed terminating the program.

Congress also sought to save the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program from elimination, as proposed by the White House. Instead, the House/Senate bill would continue the program at $65 million, the same as current funding.

Congressional leaders have not yet scheduled a vote that could override the veto.

–Charles Dervarics


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