NAICU Washington Update

Student Aid Victory in House Appropriations Bill

June 12, 2007

The House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee has unanimously approved its FY 2008 spending bill, which made student aid funding a top priority.

The House bill represents a victory for low-income students by providing for the largest ever increase in the Pell Grant program, while maintaining all the student aid programs. After five years of flat funding, this is the direction appropriations need to go for student aid.

The bill approved June 7 includes a $390 increase for the Pell Grant maximum, to $4,700. It also rejects the president's budget proposal to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and LEAP state grant funding; increases TRIO and GEAR UP early intervention programs; restores Perkins Loans cancellations; and increases funding for the international education programs.

In addition, the bill increases spending on the National Institutes of Health by $750 million; provides the largest increase in Title I spending for low-income K-12 schools ever; and stops the decline in federal spending on special education. Another significant provision of the bill is its limitation on the ability of the Department of Education to move ahead with its plans to make fundamental changes in the accreditation system through regulations they plan to publish later this month. (See related story.)

During the mark-up session, Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) explained that the bill "targets resources to priority areas where we have national deficits, including . . . educational access and opportunity." He was able to do so through a significant increase in the subcommittee allocation this year. The "people's bill" had $151.1 billion to divide up between education, health and labor programs. That is $10.6 billion more than the president's request, and $6.6 billion more than last year. Ranking Member Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) said that "if I were chair, I would have written the same bill."

Despite the bipartisan support for the education spending bill, it is a top target for the Bush administration's veto threats. While it is the largest domestic spending bill, Obey explained that its allocation is actually "the third smallest of all the subcommittees . . . it is $3 billion below what is needed to get back to FY 2005 levels (adjusted for inflation) . . . and does not represent runaway spending." The bill includes $1.1 billion in cuts and program consolidations - most notably the controversial Reading First program.

Next in the funding process will be for the House Full Appropriations Committee to consider the bill this week, then for the Senate subcommittee to write its bill June 19 and consider it in full committee on June 21. While the Senate subcommittee has the same allocation, the priorities for funding will look different. This could make a conference agreement over the summer more difficult than initially anticipated.

We will also be closely watching progress on efforts initiated by the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee to limit the ability of the Department of Education to move ahead with new accreditation regulations.

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