Robbing Perkins to Pay for Pell?

Robbing Perkins to Pay for Pell?
By Charles Dervarics

Education advocates are expressing growing concern about reports that the Bush administration may dismantle a popular vocational/technical education program to shore up the fiscally ailing Pell Grant program.

While administration officials will not comment on the idea, advocacy groups are mobilizing to stop cuts in the Carl Perkins Act, which supports technical, vocational and career education programs at the K-12 and higher education levels. Formulas vary, though many states devote about one-third of their Perkins dollars to postsecondary institutions.

Perkins gets about $1.2 billion annually. The fast-growing Pell shortfall could reach $3 billion, some officials say. Congress just provided $1 billion in emergency spending last summer to cover most of the 2001 Pell shortfall.

The “robbing Perkins to pay for Pell” argument clearly is hitting a nerve with some advocates who support both programs. For Pell, the issue is dicey because lawmakers of all stripes support the notion that more youth should attend college. In the current recession, a surge of low- and middle-income students returning to school is fueling the Pell shortfall.

Moreover, low-income students preparing for more technical careers need both Perkins and Pell.

“Perkins helps fund the programs in which Pell students participate,” says Kim Green, director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. Despite no official word of cutbacks, Green considers the threat a real one. “We’re not taking this possibility lightly.”

Strong public opposition to the termination of Perkins is the best way to combat the issue now, advocates say. Sacrificing Perkins’ $1.2 billion to pay for Pell would be “an enormous mistake with serious consequences for the nation’s economy, security and well-being,” says Thomas Nussbaum, chancellor of the California Community College System.

Lobbyists say they need to make their case by early January, before the president’s State of the Union address. The Perkins cut could be proposed for fiscal 2004, which begins next fall. Bush will release his own 2004 budget plan shortly after the January speech.



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