Plans to increase the maximum Pell Grant for needy students hit a snag in the U.S. Senate this week, as members of a powerful committee voted to freeze the top grant again in 2007.
The Senate’s education appropriations subcommittee voted to leave the maximum grant at $4,050, where it has remained since 2003. Advocates had hoped the Senate would join the House of Representatives in proposing a $100 increase for next year.
In what some considered a surprise move last month, a House panel recommended a $100 increase in the maximum grant for 2007. But that plan would need Senate support before reaching the White House.
Despite the Pell freeze, Senate Republican leaders noted that their bill would protect many programs from cuts, including Talent Search, Upward Bound and GEAR UP. All three are programs that promote college access.
The Senate bill rejects a call from the administration to cut more than $400 million by eliminating Talent Search and Upward Bound. Instead, the bill recommends level funding of $828 million for all federal TRIO programs, including the two programs the president sought to terminate.
The White House had said evaluations of Talent Search and Upward Bound showed that both programs were ineffective, but advocates contested that argument.
The Senate also would protect GEAR UP, an early college awareness program that focuses on at-risk students beginning no later than middle school. GEAR UP would continue at $303 million under the Senate bill.
These recommendations are identical to those made by the House in its 2007 education funding bill released last month.
Elsewhere, the Senate would protect the Carl D. Perkins Act, the government’s main distributor of student funding for career and technical education. The White House had sought termination of Perkins, but the Senate chose to protect the program and provide $1.3 billion of funding.
Lawmakers have also reached agreement on funding for several other education programs, including:
· Community colleges: The bill provides $125 million for a job training initiative favored by the Bush administration. The House had proposed similar funding in its bill last month.
· Title I grants to schools: The bill recommends $12.7 billion to fund the grants, which are the cornerstone of K-12 funding under the No Child Left Behind Act.
· Teacher quality grants: The Senate is proposing $2.7 billion for states, colleges and schools to work toward a goal of a “highly qualified” teacher in all K-12 classrooms.
For higher education advocates, however, the lack of a Pell Grant increase in the Senate bill is a setback. The normally more conservative House had endorsed the $100 increase, noting that the government finally has eliminated the long-term funding shortfall in the higher education grant program.
Congress had to erase a $4 billion shortfall caused by heavier-then-expected use of Pell during the economic slowdown that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Some Democrats criticized the $100 House increase, saying that figure was insufficient to meet student need. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the government must increase the top grant by at least $350 just to keep pace with rising college costs.
— By Charles Dervarics
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