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Pell Grant One of Few Winners in 2009 Budget

Despite work on education spending bill, Congress unlikely to complete work until after general election.

Education spending bills moving through Congress include a small increase for Pell Grants and several college-access programs next year. But the picture for minorityserving institutions is less clear, particularly for historically Black colleges and tribal institutions.

Legislation moving through the U.S. Senate would provide a $69 increase in the maximum Pell Grant for the neediest students. If enacted, it would provide a top grant of $4,800 next year. A similar bill in the House would improve on that level, with a $169 increase and a $4,900 maximum grant in 2009.

“We would have liked to see more increases, but we appreciate the levels recommended so far,” says Angela Peoples, legislative director for the United States Student Association.

But it is not clear whether HBCUs will get an increase. In fact, the Senate education bill actually would reduce the program’s regular appropriation by $85 million, offsetting this decline through proceeds from a measure passed last year, the College Cost Reduction Act (CCRA). CCRA earmarked funds for many education programs, though advocates had hoped this funding would be in addition to— not in place of — annual appropriations.

Earlier this year, President Bush proposed an HBCU funding plan similar to the Senate’s current version.

The Senate and White House plans are “inconsistent with the federal commitment to HBCUs,” says Edith Bartley, government affairs director for the United Negro College Fund.

HBCUs would get more funding from the House education spending bill for 2009, which has no cuts in the regular appropriation for Black colleges, Bartley tells Diverse. When the final negotiations take place, she adds, “It’s our hope that the House will prevail.”

Tribal colleges would get no funding under the Senate’s 2009 spending bill. However, these colleges already are guaranteed $30 million next year from CCRA, effectively offsetting the decrease.

Hispanic-serving institutions would have their annual appropriation for 2009 cut from $93 million to $74 million in the Senate measure. However, after receiving $100 million from CCRA, those institutions would achieve a net gain under the Senate approach.

Despite this action at committee and subcommittee levels, it is unclear whether the full House and Senate can muster the will to approve final bills for education and other hotbutton programs. Many observers predict that progress will stall by September, leaving Congress to resort to short-term spending bills followed by a final negotiation after the presidential election.

Congress does not want to spend months on an education spending bill only to have President Bush veto the measure, as he did last year, Bartley says. Peoples of USSA agreed there may be no serious White House/Congress negotiations until after the November election, with a final outcome perhaps only after a new president takes office. “It doesn’t look like it will be completed this year,” she tells Diverse. Short-term spending bills for the start of 2009 are “pretty inevitable at this point.

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