Higher education programs got a partial reprieve recently when Congress and the Clinton administration declared a truce in their budget battle and provided important funding, along with student aid guidelines that will last through mid-March.
The legislation funds federal programs through March 15 and provides important direction on the Pell Grant program so that the government, families and students can begin making plans for the 1996-97 school year.
For example, the agreement outlines a maximum Pell Grant of $2,440, or $100 above the maximum grant for fiscal year 1995. President Clinton had wanted an increase up to $2,620, but the $100 increase reflects a bipartisan attempt to raise the maximum for needy students.
The interim agreement will not reduce the number of grants awarded under Pell.
Other programs will receive whichever is lower — fiscal 1995 funding or the 1996 spending recommendations passed by the House last year. In effect, that means:
* A freeze in funding for college work/ study, TRIO and Title III programs for historically Black colleges and universities;
* A 28-percent cut in vocational education grants to states, pro-rated through March 15;
* A 25-percent cut for State Student Incentive Grants and capital contributions to the Perkins Loan program;
* A 17-percent cut in Title I education funding; and
* A 4-percent cut in Head Start for disadvantaged children, pro-rated through the March deadline.
The bill seeks to end several small programs, including Title III endowment grants to colleges and universities, which contained a small set-aside for HBCUs. Other program terminations include dropout prevention demonstration programs, a teacher scholarship program and several small children’s programs.
Other activities originally targeted for elimination by the GOP, including the AmeriCorps national service program, will receive 75 percent of last year’s monthly allotments for the duration of the agreement. Most Republicans oppose AmeriCorps, in which students can gain education vouchers and forgiveness of loans in exchange for minimum-wage community work.
Democrats said they opposed the cuts in the interim spending bill, but most voted for them on a temporary basis to prevent another government shutdown. Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against the interim measure but focused all of their criticism on Republicans.
“Cuts in education are further proof that the Republican Party has not only lost its heart and soul, but has also lost its mind,” said Rep. William Clay (DMO), a CBC member and ranking Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee.
Though the bill lasts only through mid-March, some observers believe its recommendations could continue through the rest of the 1996 fiscal year. That may occur, they said, because the five-month stalemate on budget legislation has left Congress and the White House far behind on other legislative business, including fiscal planning for 1997 that normally begins in February.
By law, President Clinton had to release a 1997 budget document on Feb. 5, even though the White House could present only a statement of general principles because of the continued budget uncertainty for fiscal 1996. The statement said the White House wants to maintain previously announced “investments in education and training,” and specifically pointed to Pell Grants, Head Start, aid to disadvantaged children and AmeriCorps as among top investment priorities.
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