NAICU Washington Update

Student Aid Funding a Priority in Final FY 2017 Budget

May 05, 2017

Congress passed the FY 2017 budget deal, finalizing funding for the remaining five months of the fiscal year, and making student aid funding a priority. The budget, which President Trump is expected to sign, staved off a potential government shutdown and reinstated the Year-Round Pell Grant provision, while maintaining the maximum grant at $5,920.  The budget also protects the core student aid programs. 

Specifically, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work Study programs were level funded; TRIO was increased by $50 million, and GEAR UP was increased by $17 million; but graduate education programs were cut by $1 million.

Other programs of interest to private colleges were also funded.  Teacher preparation grants and international education are level funded, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts each had their budgets increased by $2 million.  

Research programs are prioritized in the final funding bill as well, with increases or level funding for the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, NOAA, and NASA.

There are no policy riders in the bill, but Congress included language to guide how the Department of Education implements some programs: 

  • The Department is now required to issue guidance on implementing Year-Round Pell to ensure “maximize[d] flexibility for institutions of higher education and avoid unnecessary administrative burdens while ensuring the best interests of students.” 
  • With regard to TRIO grants, the bill directs the Department to increase the awards for all current grantees, and increase the number of new grants awarded in the next competition, but does not fund the demonstration program sought by the Obama Administration. 
  • Congress also includes a provision to allow student loan borrowers to choose their loan servicer when they decide to consolidate loan payments. 

Congress passed the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill with bipartisan margins in both chambers, the House vote was 309-118  and the Senate vote was 79-18.  The Republican majorities could not have passed the spending bill without Democratic votes, which was evident in the final product.  House votes in favor of the bill included 178 Democrats, with 103 Republicans voting against the bill.  In the Senate, 47 Democrats voted for the bill, and all 18 votes against the bill were Republicans. However, Democratic boasting about their wins in the budget deal prompted President Trump to call for a government shutdown in September to reset priorities. 

The next step in the budget process is for the Trump Administration to release its fully detailed FY 2018 budget, which is expected before the Memorial Day recess.  Their skinny budget, released March 16, included student aid programmatic cuts or eliminations to programs that are funded in the final FY 2017 deal.  The confluence of these two budgets with conflicting priorities sets the stage for another budget battle this fall as Congress works to respond to the president’s budget, and write the FY 2018 spending bills over the course of the summer. 

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