House appropriators Wednesday voted down a proposed amendment to increase the maximum size of the Pell Grant during a markup of a funding package that included education spending.
The package approved by the appropriations committee takes $3.3 billion out of the Pell Grant surplus while leaving the maximum grant flat at $5,920 for the 2017-18 academic year -- the first time in six years the size of the award has not increased.
Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, called for the committee to allocate those cuts from the program surplus to increase the size of the grant by $135. Pocan and other Democrats argued that money taken out of the Pell surplus should be reinvested in the program. But the amendment failed on a party-line vote.
A coalition of 40 higher ed and civil rights groups, including the Institute for College Access and Success and the American Federation of Teachers, sent lawmakers a letter this week arguing against the cuts to the Pell surplus. The groups pointed out that the cut came on top of $1.3 billion removed from the surplus in a May spending agreement for fiscal year 2017.
"Cutting an additional $3.3 billion in [fiscal 2018] would put much‐needed investments to strengthen the Pell Grant further out of reach, and place the program at risk of future cuts to grant amounts or eligibility that would exacerbate student debt and limit access to higher education," the groups said.
A House GOP budget resolution introduced this week claimed that the Pell program was on "shaky financial ground" and hinted at reform proposals that would restrict access to the program.
Also during the markup Wednesday, lawmakers voted down an amendment from Representative David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, to restore funding for the Fulbright-Hays international education program, which funds travel and research abroad by doctoral students. The appropriations package zeroed out funding for the $7 million program.