Washington Briefs

Pell Grants May Increase Next Year

WASHINGTON — Education lobbyists are a step closer to their goal of a large increase in the maximum Pell grant — particularly if an aid-friendly Senate proposal takes effect.
The Senate in mid-May proposed a $350 increase in the top Pell grant for the neediest students, which would push the maximum grant to $3,650 next year. Higher education groups set a goal of a $400 increase this year, something the Clinton administration and the House of Representatives have yet to endorse.
But the Senate plan provides some hope, advocates say, particularly during a year when both major political parties want to show they are supportive of education.
So far, the White House and the GOP-controlled House have favored a smaller, $200 increase in the top grant, which would bring it to $3,500 next year. Pell funding often is viewed as the bellwether for student financial aid and higher education programs, since the large number of students involved means any increase in the top grant generally requires a hefty investment.
Elsewhere in financial aid, both the House and Senate support a $77 million increase for college work-study. The program would receive $1.01 billion next year, the same level sought by the White House. Needy students also could get more funds through the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants program. Both chambers agreed to a Clinton administration request to provide an extra $70 million for the program, with total funding of $691 million.
Congress, however, is not endorsing a White House request for more funding in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP.  The program targets at-risk middle-school and high-school students for services that can help prepare them for college. The Clinton administration is seeking an increase from $200 million to $325 million next year. But the House would freeze funding at its current level, while the Senate would provide only a $25 million increase next year.
Already, the White House has signaled its unhappiness with the funding bills, which could prompt a presidential veto and more negotiations. While the budget has increases for some collegiate programs, its K-12 budget falls short of current needs, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in mid-May. Of particular concern is Congress’ unwillingness to provide funds to hire more teachers and fund school construction projects, he said.


Bill Aims to Involve HBCUs in Africa Program

WASHINGTON — New legislation introduced in Congress may give historically Black colleges a new avenue for partnerships: Africa’s farmers.
A bill from Rep. Eva Clayton, D-N.C., would create an exchange program for African American farmers and American experts to trade information about effective agricultural methods. HBCUs would be among the main targets to receive grants under the program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It is vitally important that we assist in integrating Africa into the global economy,” says Clayton, who introduced the bill, the Farmers for Africa Act, with 21 co-sponsors. U.S. partnerships could focus on modern farming techniques, use of state-of-the-art equipment, development of agribusiness companies and improvements in crop yields.
About 215 million Africans are undernourished, she says, and “our farmers have the tools and skills to help.”
Long-term goals are to involve about 200 American farmers in the partnership by 2005. The bill, H.R. 4378, would authorize $3 million a year in grants. The bill was referred to the House Agriculture and International Relations committees. For more information, contact Clayton’s office at (202) 225-3101. 



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