Congress Approves $4,000 Maximum Pell Grant
The House and Senate in late December found a way to increase the maximum Pell Grant for next year despite a slowing economy that is putting major pressure on the government’s main student-aid program.
Following weeks of negotiations, Congress finally approved a record $4,000 maximum Pell Grant for the neediest college students. With this action, lawmakers confirmed a decision they had made earlier in the fall — but one that had been in serious jeopardy as recently as early December.
With more students returning to school, the federal government reported a huge shortfall in the Pell Grant program based on last year’s funding level. As a result, Congress had to find about $1 billion to fund a $4,000 maximum grant and meet current obligations in the program.
In the end, lawmakers found money for both priorities — thereby raising the top Pell Grant by $250 over last year.
“Although our economic slowdown has sent more students back to school … it was the belief of the members of the conference committee that we must uphold our commitment to students and retain the maximum $4,000 level,” says Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, chairman of the House education appropriations subcommittee.
The Pell figure amounts to a 7 percent increase over 2001. The final figure also is an improvement over President Bush’s 2002 budget plan, which contained an increase of only $150 in the top grant.
“This increase for the Pell Grant program, in concert with increases designated for the other student-aid programs, is critically important,” says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.
Details are still emerging on the massive spending bill, which funds hundreds of health, human service and labor programs as well as K-12 and higher education. Yet several major programs appear to have won gains. The list includes:
n Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Funding for this need-based grant program will increase by $34 million, to $724 million next year.
n Head Start: The program will receive nearly $6.6 billion, an increase of nearly $300 million above the old funding level.
n Vocational education: State grants under the Carl Perkins vocational/technical education law will increase by $80 million, to $1.18 billion.
“This is the first decent increase we have had in vocational education,” says Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa. “Poor young men and women used to go into the military and get their skills. That does not happen anymore and we have never replaced that,” he says. “This $80 million goes to our high schools and community
Elsewhere, Congress provided $67 million, a $7 million increase, for Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, through which states get financial incentives for their own student-aid programs. But college work/study would get the same amount as last year, $1.01 billion.
Overall, lawmakers in both parties were pleased with the agreement. “I think this bill is an example of what a huge difference a few years can make,” says Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, senior Democrat on the House education appropriations panel.
Eight years ago following Republican takeover of the House, he says, there was talk of abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. During the past five years, however, both parties were able to agree on education increases of about 13 percent.
President Bush’s budget proposal trimmed that rate of growth to less than 6 percent, Obey says, but this latest agreement restores the needed double-digit increase. “It returns us to the bipartisan track that we were on the previous five years.”
In K-12 education, the bill has an extra $3.4 billion for initiatives related to the education reform bill that Congress and the White House agreed to in early December. Included under that initiative are funds for reading, new tests for children in third grade through eighth grade and increased support for the Title I program serving disadvantaged students.
Bush was expected to sign the bill, which Congress approved nearly three months after the start of the government’s new fiscal year. Education programs had been operating with temporary funds since the Oct. 1 start of the 2002 fiscal year.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com