Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Congress Fails to Enact Spending Bill for K-12 and Higher Education: Inaction Avoided Battle over Pork-Barrel Spending

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Congress Fails to Enact Spending Bill for K-12 and Higher Education: Inaction Avoided Battle over Pork-Barrel Spending

Article excerpt

The 109th Congress has adjourned without enacting a spending bill for K-12 and higher education--a situation that's part of a high-stakes political battle that is drawing concern from advocates.

With control of the House and Senate passing over to the Democrats in January, Republican leaders showed little desire to wade into the unfinished business of a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The GOP instead relied on short-term continuing resolutions to keep the U.S. Department of Education and other domestic agencies in operation through mid-February.

Democratic leaders say they simply may extend these resolutions through the rest of the fiscal year.

Going back to re-fight 2006's budget battles "ties the Democrats up in a knot just as they come back to the majority," says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "What they are leaving for Democrats is a minefield."

The lack of a budget may give Democrats little time to celebrate their mid-term election victory. They already have pledged to raise the minimum wage and cut interest rates on student loans during their first month in power. Also at issue is spending for thousands of domestic programs, ranging from education to health and transportation. The easiest solution is to maintain last year's funding levels through September 2007, though such a mechanical option leaves little room for effective policymaking, Nassirian says.

"We are disappointed that this Congress has not prioritized higher education," says Jennifer Pae, president of the United States Student Association. If lawmakers opt for a quick omnibus bill, "That gives us little time to get organized," she says.

Aside from Pell Grants, other programs still without long-term funding for 2007 include college work/study, aid to Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions and TRIO programs such as Talent Search and Upward Bound. Those two programs, along with GEAR UP, another college access and preparation initiative, were slated for termination by the White House for the current fiscal year. The final 2007 budget presumably would have to contain enough funding to protect those programs.

But devoting a large amount of time to 2006's unfinished business has other risks for Democrats. …

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