Status Quo on Education Spending

Senate bill for student aid and health programs calls for flat funding for Pell Grants, TRIO and Gear Up, small increase for NIH.
July 19, 2006

Without its chairman and a handful of other members present, the Senate subcommittee that determines funding for education programs and the National Institutes of Health passed a 2007 spending bill Tuesday that largely resembles legislation passed last month by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.

The Senate version calls for a slight increase in NIH funding, and would sustain (at their 2006 levels) funding for several programs intended to prepare low-income students for college that were slated for elimination under President Bush’s budget request.

One noticeable difference: Where the House committee called for a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award, the measure approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies calls for level funding at $4,050 for the fifth consecutive year. The government's largest student grant program has been the subject of much debate throughout the appropriations process.

The $142.8 billion bill put forth by the Republican majority was passed unanimously by those at the "markup" session. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the subcommittee's chairman, missed the unceremonious meeting because he was attending another Senate event. News conferences and functions immediately following the Senate's  stem cell votes caused other absences, aides said. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said subcommittee members had agreed beforehand to withhold any amendments to the bill until Thursday’s meeting of the full Appropriations Committee.

The Senate’s spending bill would provide nearly $900 million more to the agencies covered by the legislation than the House bill passed last month, and about $5 billion in total more than the White House's request.

In the Senate subcommittee's spending plan, the NIH would receive $28.5 billion, more than $200 million more than the House's proposed funding, the President's request and the 2006 level. Specter and the top Democrat on the Senate panel, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), are strong supporters of the biomedical research agency.

Among other education programs, funding for TRIO would be maintained at its 2006 level of $828.2 million. Like the House's version of the bill, the Senate plan rejected the White House's more-than 50 percent cut to the program. Gear Up would be financed at $303 million -- equal to the House's spending request and program's 2006 funding. The Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program and funds for Perkins Loans would both remain roughly steady at $65 million. Upwards of $980 million is set aside for Federal Work Study in the bill.

While the Senate bill works its way to the floor, the House's version is reported to have stalled over minimum wage and other issues -- with discussion potentially put off until after the August Congressional recess.


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