A $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award is one step closer to reality after the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations passed a 2007 spending bill Tuesday that largely mirrors one approved last week by the subcommittee that allocates funds for education, job training programs and the National Institutes of Health.
The 2007 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies bill  calls for the first increase in the maximum Pell Grant in five years, which would bring the full award in the government's biggest need-based financial aid program to $4,150 from $4,050.
The full committee voted down an amendment from Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, that would have funded the Pell Grant at $4,350 and provided an additional $750 million for medical research at the National Institutes of Health. The NIH receives about $28.3 billion in the House bill, virtually equal to the amount it received last year.
The proposed $100 Pell Grant increase is perceived by many as a minor victory for higher education lobbyists. Last year, the House cut in half President Bush’s proposal for a $100 increase, and the Senate nixed even that $50 increase.
The House bill calls for $141.9 billion in discretionary funding over all, a slight increase from a year ago and a $4 billion increase over the budget proposed by President Bush in February . The bill hews closely to legislation passed last week by the Republican majority of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. The full committee's bill sustains at their 2006 funding level a number of programs that had little or no funding in President Bush's proposed budget. Among them are:
- TRIO, which would be restored to last year's $828 million level, rejecting a more-than 50 percent cut the Bush budget proposed.
- GEAR UP, which would be restored to last year's $303 million funding.
- The Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, which would receive level funding.
- Perkins loan cancellations, slated for extinction under the President's budget, would receive level funding.
The bill sets aside about $1.9 billion for vocational and adult education programs -- a $66 million decrease from the 2006 amount. Funds for the the Tech-Prep Prrogam would remain level. It also would sustain level funding for Federal Work Study (at $980 million) and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as for programs for Hispanic-serving institutions and historically black colleges.
As they did during last week's "markup session," the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), and Obey disagreed about the extent to which the bill would help low-income students attend college.
“This is a perfect example of how we set the policy,” Regula said. “I wish we could do more, but we have added money back that the President's budget left out.”
Obey said the bill "represents the most visible failure in this Congress in terms of defining our priorities,” once again sticking to the argument that Republican-sponsored tax cuts and rising war costs are draining money from education programs. Obey also argued before the full Appropriations Committee that the $100 Pell Grant increase doesn't go far enough in keeping up with college costs.
One of the lengthier discussions of the afternoon was in response to an amendment, which passed easily, brought forth by Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), that underscores existing law that prohibits state universities  from giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates or other education benefits unless the university also grants those same benefits and in-state tuition rates to students from all 50 states.
Culberson and a few Republican colleagues argued that some states -- and the Department of Education -- need a reminder about the standards set out in the 1996 welfare reform law, while a handful of Democrats questioned the necessity of the bill.