Educators Question Bush's Plan to Change Pell

By Troumpoucis, Patricia | Black Issues in Higher Education, March 25, 2004 | Go to article overview

Educators Question Bush's Plan to Change Pell


Troumpoucis, Patricia, Black Issues in Higher Education


A proposed rule change to the Pell Grant program in President Bush's budget aims to guard against future budget shortfalls, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Education. But critics say it's just a way to cap or slash the maximum Pell Grant award and would leave America's economically disadvantaged students in the cold.

The program is already facing a $3.7 billion shortfall, but this measure wouldn't chip away at that debt, according to the Education Department. It would instead act as a protective measure for the future, ensuring that there wouldn't be another shortfall.

It is for "future Pell shortfalls. The scoring change would make it harder for us to end up with an appropriation that's less than the estimated cost of the Pell program in any one year," according to a source at the Education Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "All the rule change says is, for example, if Congress were to appropriate exactly what the president requested, then there would be no impact one way or the other."

Still, not everyone sees it that way.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., called the proposed role change an "obscure proposal" during a speech at the Community College National Legislative Summit last month in Washington.

Clinton pointed out that it gives the Education Department the power to reduce the maximum Pell Grant award if the number of students applying for grants exceeds the maximum capacity of the program. Clinton also said this proposal was "buried deeply" within the president's budget in the hopes that no one would notice it.

In the budget, President Bush has requested $12.9 billion--an $823 million increase for the Pell Grant program to fully fund the cost of maintaining a $4,050 maximum award, according to the Education Department.

No students who qualify for a Pell Grant would be left behind, the department source said.

"I would agree that it was an obscure part of the budget, but it wouldn't have any effect on the number of students. I think there's some misunderstanding about this, but it doesn't by itself require Congress to pass a law saying that there would be less money for Pell," the source said. "The present budget would fund all the students who would be eligible for the program."

Community-college officials also are expressing their concern about the proposed change and what it might ultimately mean for their students.

"It's very important that all Pell-eligible students receive their full grant. If they don't, it has an enormous impact, especially on community-college students," said Linda Michalowski, interim vice chancellor for student services at the California Community Colleges chancellor's office. …

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