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The Senate Weighs In

January 28, 2009

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved its version of the economic stimulus package, about which it also released significantly more details than had been previously available. President Obama met for more than two hours with Congressional Republicans to try to earn their support for the legislation, but many budget hawks continued to complain that the legislation is designed more to accomplish Democratic aims than it is to stimulate the economy.

The Senate bill (which is not yet available electronically) contains significantly more information about key provisions affecting higher education than were included in a summary the appropriations committee released Friday. Among them, the legislation would:

  • Provide $13.9 billion for Pell Grants, to increase the maximum grant by $281 in 2009-10 and by $400 for 2010-11, and eliminate an existing shortfall in the program. Comparatively, the competing version that the full House of Representatives began debating last night and may vote on as early as today would increase the maximum grant by $500.
  • Include $61 million in capital contributions for the Perkins Loan Program, which the House bill would not. The Bush administration consistently proposed killing the program, but the program has many supporters in Congress and is favored particularly by private colleges.
  • Provide $100 million for Teacher Quality Partnership Grants, which the Higher Education Opportunity Act (last year's renewal of the Higher Education Act of 1965) created to help train more qualified teachers.
  • Require that a share of the $3.5 billion sent to states for higher education facilities modernization be directed to community colleges in proportion to the percentage of full-time equivalent undergraduate students in the state who attend two-year institutions. Also, the legislation would direct states to give priority in awarding these grants to colleges that (1) receive funds under the Education Department's strengthening institutions program; (2) were affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita; (3) can show that the projects would help them comply with LEED energy standards.

Unlike the House legislation, the Senate bill does not call for increasing the annual and combined limits on how much students may borrow in unsubsidized student loans. That provision is of great importance to for-profit colleges, especially.

A comparison of the House and Senate bills follows (Note: This table has been updated from an earlier version to correct some information.):

The Stimulus and Higher Education

  House Senate
Aid for Students    
Pell Grants $15.6 billion to increase maximum grant by $500 and eliminate shortfall $13.9 billion to increase maximum grant and close shortfall
College Work Study $490 million Not included
Perkins Loans Not included $61 million for capital contributions
Loan Limits Increase limit on unsubsidized loans by $2,000 Not included
Higher Education Tax Credit Temporarily replace Hope tax credit with $2,500 credit available for four years of college. Credit phases out for individuals with income of $80,000, $160,000 for couples. Credit is 40 percent refundable. Cost: $13.7 billion over 10 years Temporarily replace Hope tax credit with $2,500 credit
available for four years of college. Credit phases out for individuals with
income of $80,000, $160,000 for couples. Credit is 30 percent refundable. Cost: $12.9 billion over 10 years
529 savings plans Not included Allow computers to count as qualified expenses under 529 savings plans
Education Aid for States $39 billion for school districts and public colleges, distributed through existing formulas $39 billion for school districts and public colleges, distributed through existing formulas
  $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs, "which may include education" $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs, "which may include education"
Infrastructure    
College/School Facilities (through Education Department) $6 billion for "higher education modernization, renovation, repair"; $1.5 billion for grants and loans to colleges, schools, and local governments for energy efficiency $3.5 billion to improve technology infrastructure of higher education facilities, including for energy efficiency
National Institute of Standards and Technology $300 million to construct research buildings at colleges Not included
Agricultural Research Service $209 million for facilities N/A
Computer centers (at public libraries and community colleges) Not included $200 million
Energy Department Not included $330 million for laboratory infrastructure
Scientific Research    
National Science Foundation $2 billion for research grants, $900 million for equipment and facilities, and $100 million for science education $1.2 billion for research grants, $150 million for infrastructure, $50 million for education
NASA $600 million for climate change and other research $500 million for science, specifically earth science missions
National Institutes of Health $1.5 billion for biomedical research, $2 billion for facilities renovation and capacity building $2.7 billion for biomedical research; $300 million for shared equipment
Energy Department $2 billion for energy efficiency research; $2 billion for basic physical science research $100 million for advanced computer R&D
Homeland Security Not included $14 million for cybersecurity research
National Institute of Standards and Technology Not included $218 million for external grants
Agriculture Department Cooperative State Research, Education and Economic Service Not included $100 million (Agriculture and Food Research Institute)
Job Training $4 billion $3.4 billion
Other    
AmeriCorps Not included $160 million
Teacher quality partnership grants $100 million $100 million
Preparing health care workers $600 million for training primary care doctors, dentists and nurses Not included
Student Aid Administration $50 million to help Education Department administer student aid in changing student loan environment Not included
Help for Lenders $10 million for larger subsidies for lenders Not included
Arts $50 million for National Endowment for the Arts Not included
Rural distance learning and telemedicine (Agriculture Department) Not included $200 million (for $813 million in loans and $180 million in grants)

Also on Tuesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a study showing that the enhanced higher education tax credit in the House bill (which is slightly more generous than the Senate version) would make nearly 4 million students from low-income families newly eligible for tax relief, and would give added relief to millions of middle income students.

 

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