Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Education Spending Tops Congress' Fall Agenda: Teacher Education, Welfare Reform Are among Other Hot-Button Issues to Be Addressed

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Education Spending Tops Congress' Fall Agenda: Teacher Education, Welfare Reform Are among Other Hot-Button Issues to Be Addressed

Article excerpt

After months of disappointing efforts in seeking student-aid increases, education advocates are pinning their hopes on a U.S. Senate plan that will come up for debate in September.

A coalition of senators, mostly Democrats, is seeking approval for $2.2 billion in additional spending for low-income students. If approved, the plan from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would raise the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $4,500 next year while adding funds for college awareness and access programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP.

The Bush administration and the House of Representatives already are on record favoring no increase in the maximum Pell Grant next year. "That's what makes the Kennedy amendment so important," says David Baime, vice president far federal relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

An education-spending bill is the first topic on the Senate's schedule when lawmakers return from their annual summer recess.

The budget debate is reaching its apex just as partisan tensions are running high about the merits of tax cuts and whether they are crowding out funds for domestic programs.

"The president and the Republicans should be honest about what they're doing," says Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., a Congressional Black Caucus member. "They're shortchanging kids to finance a tax cut for a small segment of America."

But GOP leaders say education funding already has increased substantially during the past five years. Lawmakers already are on record favoring another education budget increase, says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. Yet this year's increases are mostly at the K-12 level.

Education spending is just one item on Congress' fall agenda, however. Action also is possible on other hot-button issues affecting colleges and the education pipeline. Here is a look at other topics up for consideration:

* Higher Education Act: Congress may begin the process to renew HEA, the main law that sets policy on financial aid and higher education. Fall fireworks may begin in earnest if Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., introduces a bill to give the federal government a strong role in monitoring college costs.

The chairman of the House higher education subcommittee, McKeon has questioned the size of recent tuition increases and has said that more federal oversight may help. "We're spending more than ever on higher education at the federal level," McKeon said, but getting less to show for the investment.

One of his ideas is to penalize schools that raise tuition beyond a specific acceptable level. The government would create a "college affordability index," and those that increase prices beyond that level could face sanctions. Colleges and universities vehemently oppose such a change.

Another possibility this fall is a House bill to renew and extend college access and awareness programs, Baime said. Programs on this list include TRIO and GEAR UP, which help disadvantaged youth prepare for college.

* Digital divide: The full House this fall is scheduled to take up a bill with funds to help minority-serving institutions upgrade their technology infrastructure. A similar bill to address the digital divide already passed the Senate unanimously. …

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