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Senate Nixes Pell Increase

Senate Nixes Pell Increase
Democrats say government must increase grant to keep pace with rising college costs.

By Charles Dervarics

Plans to increase the maximum Pell Grant for needy students hit a snag in the U.S. Senate last month, 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 the $100 increase in the maximum grant for 2007. But that plan would have needed 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.

With the exception of the Pell Grant, the Senate subcommittee’s funding 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, which provides 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.

Among other things, lawmakers also agreed to provide $125 million for a job training initiative favored by the Bush administration. However, the lack of a Pell Grant increase in the Senate bill is a setback. In endorsing the $100 increase, the normally more conservative House noted 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-than-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 the figure was insufficient to meet student need. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, for example, said the government must increase the top grant by at least $350 just to keep pace with rising college costs.

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