$100 Increase in Maximum Pell Grant

Congressional spending deal includes gains for student aid and NIH.

September 17, 2018
 

An appropriations deal reached by House and Senate negotiators last week largely reflects the priorities of the upper chamber, including higher spending on student aid, career and technical education, and university-based research.

The spending bill for fiscal year 2019, which begins October 1, would increase the Education Department's total budget to $71.5 billion -- a second year in a row Congress has boosted funding, despite calls for heavy cuts by the Trump administration.

The maximum Pell Grant would be raised by $100 to $6,195 in the agreement.

Perkins Career and Technical Education grants will get $1.26 billion -- a $70 million increase from the previous year.

Funding for an eligibility fix for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was extended to the tune of $350 million. The money is targeted to borrowers whose qualifying payments were counted as ineligible because of errors by their loan servicers.

And the National Institutes of Health would get $39.1 billion, a number sought by Senate appropriators and a $2 billion increase over the previous year.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said the agreement is a bipartisan effort to invest in the U.S. workforce and support students at each stage of their academic careers.

"I urge all of our colleagues to join us in getting this bill across the finish line," he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate appropriations committee, cast the agreement as a rebuke to the Trump administration.

"The message of this bipartisan agreement couldn't be any clearer: Democrats and Republicans once again reject Secretary DeVos's extreme anti-public-education agenda and are fighting back against her attempts to undermine our students and public schools," she said.

(The text of the legislation can be found here. And a detailed explanation of the agreement is here.)

The agreement, which is being packaged with a defense spending bill and other short-term funding legislation, averts the possibility of a government shutdown. Lawmakers have until September 30 to pass the bills and send them to the White House for the president's signature.

Unlike this past spring, when they passed a giant omnibus spending bill that drew the ire of President Trump, who complained about the legislation's size, Congressional leaders have been moving a series of smaller bills forward since earlier in the summer.

Student advocate groups had hoped to see larger Pell Grants that did more to cover the cost of paying for college. But they expressed optimism about the increase nonetheless and praised the inclusion of other items dealing with college access.

"This budget deal continues to invest in programs that remove barriers for students seeking higher education access. After years of declining or stagnant funding, this deal solidifies the investments we saw a bipartisan Congress approve earlier this year, expanding on-campus childcare and work opportunities for students," said Reid Setzer, government affairs director at Young Invincibles.

In addition to the PLSF funding, the bill would let student borrowers who are diagnosed with cancer defer payments during treatment without accruing interest.

Another provision would limit the Office of Federal Student Aid's plans to overhaul the student loan servicing system, directing that the so-called Next Gen servicing system include multiple servicers each managing a portfolio of student loans from disbursement to repayment.

And the deal also meets House priorities on spending for the TRIO program, bumping spending up to $1.06 billion for the college access program. Senate appropriators had sought $1.01 billion.

The new bill includes a $5 million appropriation for the creation and distribution of open educational resources, mimicking the initial $5 million pilot in the fiscal year 2018 budget. Proponents of open education have pushed for the renewal, arguing that the currently ongoing program is only a starting point toward achieving lofty goals for the proliferation of openly licensed course materials.

The bill delivers another win for proponents of career training just months after Congress passed an update to the Perkins Career and Technical Education law. Kermit Kaleba, director of federal policy at the National Skills Coalition, said the group was encouraged that the bill had rejected steep cuts proposed in the White House FY 2019 budget request.

"We hope that Congress will continue to build on the bipartisan support for education and workforce programs in FY 2020 and ensure that federal investments are brought in line with historic funding levels," Kaleba said.

Mark Lieberman contributed to this article.

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